Understanding TIMARA: Decoding the Program
Issuing from the basement of the Conservatory building are exciting and innovative sounds, compositions that combine musical expression with the latest computer technology. With a broad focus and plenty of paths from which to choose, the Technology In Music And Related Arts (TIMARA) majors are independent and have full creative license.
Oberlin’s TIMARA program is focused on learning to use modern software related to music composition, synthesis and production, as well as adapting these technical skills for use in the future.
“The idea is that once you know how to use one piece of software, it is easier to pick up other ones,” said senior John Bohnert. “Technology keeps changing all the time so it is necessary to adapt quickly. The major goal in all the classes is to actually write music with whatever software or technique the class focuses on.”
Some of the software students are focusing on these days includes programs like Pro-Tools (recording and editing), Max/MSP (a sound-generation programming language) and IsaDora (video processing). These are not merely college-setting learning materials; they are used by artists and engineers everywhere.
Department Chair Tom Lopez described some of the department’s more fascinating technological “toys.” One such gadget is the “Lemur,” a touch-sensitive control pad.
“You can design your own virtual controls, dials, faders and buttons,” Lopez said of the touchscreen device. He added that the artist can create circles to represent panning, which allows for control of speaker levels during live performances.
“I’ve also been researching using medical sensors on the body,” Lopez continued. “They detect muscle movement, heart-rate, brain activity and are wireless…We use information from the body to control music and video.”
The medical sensors are already being used in dance, and the department’s affiliation with the Theater and Dance department allows such experimentation.
As electronic music has such a wide and uncharted playing field, there is not a specific standard of learning. With encouragement from the professors and abundant resources at their fingertips, TIMARA majors have an enormous amount of artistic freedom, as well as the ability to create their own paths.
“We’re helping students find their artistic career,” Lopez said. “Some go on to graduate school, some go into the music industry, some go touring with bands, some go into software development. Students go all over the place…they have to find a path, and we provide opportunities to each of those areas.”
Senior Andrew Clark gave his perspective on the overall layout of the program:
“The course structure begins general, gets more specific, then broadens again; you get a big picture, spend a lot of time learning details, and then they basically set you free to create what you like in the end.”
The program is quite inventive; there is structure in learning the various tools of creation, but there is also freedom in choosing which tools to implement.
“I chose the major because I have so many interests,” Clark added. “TIMARA is a very large umbrella that accommodates just about everything and anything.”
Last semester, TIMARA saw a joint course with the Environmental Studies department called “Solar Music.”
“The overall purpose behind the class was to make music that could be integrated into the environment or use the environment in a productive way: for example, harness energy from the sun to power instruments,” said senior Kevin Alexander
Like this class, TIMARA classes are informative and hands-on. They are structured so that students learn broader, more basic softwares and are familiarized with early electronic and contemporary music. While the music is still relatively new, some important recordings include works such as Pierre Schaeffer’s “Etude Aux Chemins De Fer,” Steve Reich’s “Come Out” and Morton Subotnick’s “Silver Apples of the Moon.”
After more than thirty years of teaching, distinguished Professor of Electronic and Computer Music Gary Lee Nelson is about to retire, and the Conservatory is in the process of hiring a new professor for next year. Looking forward to new colleague, who will hopefully bring innovative ideas to the table, the TIMARA program is ready to climb to another level of excitement and discovery.
“We will be offering two sections of Tech 100 and 150,” Lopez said with animation, speaking of the first two levels of TIMARA courses. “[The classes] will be open to everyone, and there will be much more opportunity to take them, especially for College students.”
As the 100 and 150 courses are already popular with Conservatory students and even constitute requirements in the jazz program, more sections will help to establish the department even further with a more pronounced presence on campus.
During final week of classes in May, the TIMARA department is holding its first “reunion festival,” essentially a “big party.” Faculty, students and alumni will come together for concerts, jam sessions, installations and workshops, as well as a general celebration of the program and Nelson’s retirement.
“People from many decades will be interacting,” Lopez said.
One highlight, he said, will be the return of Olly Wilson, a former faculty member from the 1960s who helped to start the program and is a world-renowned African-American composer. He is currently a Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of California-Berkeley.
Many concerts are to be held in various performance facilities around campus, with some details still being hashed out. The coming festival will be an opportunity for people to get in touch with Oberlin’s contemporary and electronic music scene and to experience TIMARA more intimately.