Pauline Oliveros

To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation

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In 2010, Minneapolis-based Roaratorio Records released a vinyl LP compiling two different realizations of an orchestral work by Pauline Oliveros which bears the title "To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation". Oliveros' magnum feminist opus has a protracted tonal structure comparable to the work of Giacinto Scelsi. Its tenebrous expressivity is beautifully matched by the cover art, which is credited to Judith Lindbloom, whose prints and paintings have also appeared on albums by uncompromisingly creative musicians like Joe McPhee. To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation was commissioned by Hope College in Holland, Michigan and premiered at that institution's Wichers Hall with a 14-member ensemble in 1970. The audio documentation of that event is paired with a recording of the piece as interpreted by an orchestra of 43 participants (including a considerable electronics contingent) at Wesleyan University's Crowell Concert Hall in 1977. Oliveros' choice of Monroe and Solanas as dedicatees was a profound and thought-provoking gesture in light of the challenges facing women in general and female artists in particular within a patriarchal and often mercilessly profit-driven cultural environment.

Marilyn's artistic ambitions were smothered by the inflated inanity of pop erotica as she was coerced into tightly scripted emulation of buxom, breathy, baby-talking sex symbol Jayne Mansfield. The posthumous exploitation of both individuals speaks volumes about the necrophiliac tendencies of U.S. pop culture. Monroe's death placed a permanent spin on the imposed image/persona which nearly obliterated the actual person beneath. Her desperate saga is paralleled with the tragic extremities of Valerie Solanas, mainly remembered as the woman who gunned down Andy Warhol in June 1968 and ultimately outlived him by only a little over a year. Warhol's silkscreened Marilyn portraits add another provocative layer to the complexities referenced here. Author of the astringent SCUM manifesto, Solanas has inspired several distinctive artistic responses, ranging from Lou Reed and John Cale's angry, vengeful "I Believe" on their album Songs for Drella (1990) to Mary Harron's controversial film I Shot Andy Warhol (1996). Oliveros' To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation predates both of these by many years, and without condoning or condemning takes an intelligent stand by recognizing and acknowledging the backgrounds and circumstances which caused things to play out the way that they did. And it's all done without words.

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