This article examines the connections between experimental composer Pauline Oliveros, the US somatics movement, and the new musicology. While scholars tend to position Oliveros’s work within the familiar framework of women’s liberation and queer activism, we should instead understand Oliveros as a somatic feminist for whom somatic practice was synonymous with women’s liberation. Oliveros helped instigate an influential movement to integrate somatic discourse and practice into US musical culture—including music scholarship. Scholars of the so-called new musicology concerned with issues of embodiment also applied somatic concepts in their work. Oliveros and the new musicology share a history rooted in US popular culture of the 1970s. Across this period and beyond, US composers, performers, and scholars alike worked within and alongside the somatics movement to legitimize the performing body as a source of musical knowledge.
Pauline Oliveros, Somatics, and the New Musicology
John Kapusta is an assistant professor of musicology at the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester. His research focuses on musical life in the twentieth-century United States. His articles and reviews are published or forthcoming in the Journal of the Society for American Music, Cambridge Opera Journal, and American Music.
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John Kapusta; Pauline Oliveros, Somatics, and the New Musicology. Journal of Musicology 1 January 2021; 38 (1): 1–31. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jm.2021.38.1.1
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