«For Two or Three Instruments» is a composition by American experimental composer Pauline Oliveros, known for concepts of Deep Listening. This composition from 2016 was commissioned by Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNow Series and combines improvisation with meditation in a Deep Listening technique that «explores the difference between the involuntary nature of hearing and the voluntary, selective nature of listening». This composition was completed shortly before Oliveros’ death in November 2016.
Oliveros described Deep Listening as «a way of listening in every possible way to everything possible». Deep Listening focuses on cultivating a heightened awareness of the sonic environment—both external and internal—and promotes experimentation, improvisation, collaboration, playfulness, and other creative skills vital to personal and community growth. The Deep Listening practice includes bodywork; sonic meditations; interactive performance; listening to the sounds of daily life, nature, one’s own thoughts, imagination, and dreams; and listening to listening itself.
In «For Two or Three Instruments», musicians of unspecified instruments are provided with a series of options. The duration, dynamics, articulation, and structure of the performance are all free, and the sound created by the musicians can be any pitch, tone, or noise that does not identify as a pitch. Chigaoan reeds hero Mars Williams, cellist Katinka Kleijn (who plays in the International Contemporary Ensemble and The Chicago Symphony Orchestra) and double bass player Rob Kassinger (who also plays in The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and with the Silk Road Ensemble) premiered this composition in April 2017 and recorded it live at Chicago’s Elastic Arts in March 2018, adding improvisations inspired by this piece. This clever and delicate composition invites the listener into three curious and imaginative minds, constantly assessing in real time how to interpret Oliveros’ directions while creating music that may be a reaction, an initiative, or both. True to Oliveros’ vision, this performance intertwines the worlds of composition and improvisation in an impressive Deep Listening practice.
Mars Williams (reeds), Katinka Kleijn (cello), Rob Kassinger (double bass)