“What is Deep Listening?

Deep Listening is a composer’s sound practice devised by a legendary composer and thought leader, Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016). The question is answered in the process of practicing listening with the understanding that the complex wave forms continuously transmitted to the auditory cortex from the outside world by the ear require active engagement with attention. Prompted by experience and learning, listening takes place voluntarily. Listening is not the same as hearing and hearing is not the same as listening. The ear is constantly gathering and sending information – however attention to the auditory cortex can be tuned out. Very little of the information transmitted to the brain by the sense organs is perceived at a conscious level. Reactions can take place without consciousness.


What is consciousness?

Consciousness was considered an epiphenomenon by the scientific community and not seriously studied until more recently. Consciousness had no location. Further more, evoked potentials in the brain appear up to a half-second before the individual is aware of a stimulus. The brain then remembers the stimulus as happening in the present moment of the immediate instant in one’s sense of time. So perception of time is an illusion.


So what is consciousness?

Consciousness is awareness of stimuli and reactions in the moment. Consciousness is acting with awareness, presence and memory. What is learned is retained and retrievable. Information, knowledge of events. feelings and experiences can be brought forward from the past to the present In this way one has self-recognition.

Deep has to do with the complexity and boundaries, or edges beyond ordinary or habitual understandings – i.e. “the subject is too deep for me” or “she is a deep one”. A submect that is “too deep” surpasses one’s present understanding or has too many unknown parts to grasp easily. A “deep one” defies stereotypical knowing and may take either a long time, or never to understand or get to know.

Deep coupled with Listening or Deep Listening for me is learning to expand the perception of sounds to include the whole space/time continuum of sound – encountering the vastness and complexities as much as possible. Simultaneously one ought to be able to target as sound or sequence of sounds as a focus within the space/time continuum and to perceive the detail or trajectory of the sound or sequence of sounds. Such focus should always return to, or be within the whole of the space/time continuum (context).

Such expansion means that one is connected to the whole of the environment and beyond.


What is the difference between Deep Listening and mediation?

Deep Listening is a practice that is intended to heighten and expand consciousness of sound in as many dimensions of awareness and attentional dynamics as humanly possible.

The source for Deep Listening as a practice comes from my background and experience as a composer of concert music, as a performer and improviser. Deep Listening comes from noticing my listening or listening to my listening and discerning the effects on my body mind continuum, from listening to others, to art and to life.

Deep Listening is a practice and term that does not come from any religious context, even though religious practitioners sometimes use the words. Which Nhat Hanh is a Zen Buddhist monk whose usage of the term “deep listening” has a specific context as of the “Five Mindfulness Trainings” that he proposes. This is a compassion-centered listening to restore communication in order to relieve suffering and bring happiness to all beings. Listening (as a practice in this sense) would be training to respond with calmness and clarity of mind. It is a determination and commitment to reconcile and resolve conflicts.

Meditation in all the meanings of the word is found and defined in diverse religions and spiritual practices. Meditation is used in all its rich variety of meanings to calm the mind and to promote receptivity or concentration.

In religious settings, attention is directed to moral and ethical issues, values, beliefs and tenets of the particular faith and to connection with the divine, or a divine being, or beings.

Whether one is dwelling on something carefully and continually, or engaging in a serious study of a particular topic, planning or considering an action, meditation both religious and secular is attention engaged in particular ways. There is emptying, expansion and contraction of the mind; there is relaxation or “letting go” and focus (attention to a point). Meditation implies discipline and control. There is something to practice!

Deep Listening is a form of mediation. Attention is directed to the whole space/time continuum of sound/silences. Deep Listening is a process that extends the listener to this continuum as well as to focus instantaneously on a single sound (engagement to targeted detail) or sequences of sound/silence.

In order to acquire the discipline and control that meditation develops, relaxation as well as concentration is essential. The practice of Deep Listening is intended to facilitate creativity in art and life through this form of meditation. Creativity means the formation of new patterns, exceeding the limitations and boundaries of old patterns, or using old patterns in new ways. ”

” Quoted from Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice, Pauline Oliveros ©2005)


As a requirement of my certification I have begun a Deep Listening group here in Orlando to experience and share experiences, techniques, dreams and fellowship in this Deep Listening practice. It serves my life and creativity and provides me something of value to share with others – which I am very grateful for.

It is my hope that our group will attract serious listeners who are attracted to developing their listening technique, understanding of sound, imagination, body awareness and dreams with a group of like-minded people. Sharing this in our group will help us all develop our creativity and sonic acuity – as well as connect us as a community.

If you are interested in becoming a part of our group, please use the contact link on the top of the page to email me. I want to answer any of your questions and welcome you to our monthly meetings. Each month, we will be expanding our agenda

If any of you would like to hold one of these meetings at your home, let me know!

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  • Reply

    David Beatriz

    25 05 2018

    What a great idea!

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