Oberlin Blogs

De-stressing! Part 2

May 19, 2021

Ben Smith ’24

To say the last few weeks of my first year at Oberlin went by quickly would only be a half-truth. Every day felt like an eternity–early mornings, late nights–the feeling some of us know all too well. But every week just seemed to dissipate into thin air. As if to say, “the sooner, the better,” each week held a relentless energy that, I’ll admit, I never got entirely on-board with.

During Week 10 of the semester, with the fury of exams on the horizon, I made a promise to myself: I will make time for an exclusively fun project. The idea may sound counterintuitive. Subverting stress from school assignments by assigning myself a project–trust me, I see and acknowledge the irony behind that statement. Ultimately, I just knew that unless I made an explicit effort to do something purely for enjoyment, I wouldn’t do it at all. It was a preemptive move–an attempt to save myself from having to endure complete mental and emotional annihilation during finals week (*ehem* Midterms week, I’m looking at you). I was pondering ideas that would accomplish twofold: 

1. Remind me why I love what I do without all the pre-assignment/pre-recording session pep talks.  

2. Be something I can look back on (because while a jury performance, competition recordings, and final papers are things I’ll hold onto, my brain files all these items into the mental storage bin labeled: STRESS-INDUCING – PROCEED WITH CAUTION. For this project, I was looking for something that emanated a bit more serotonin).

Art was the first thing that came to mind, but it is only a hobby of mine and, truthfully, I harbored a little too much guilt to pursue it further knowing course readings and other assignments loomed overhead. Then, it hit me. If I could encapsulate my first year at Oberlin in one thing, it would be video game OST (Original Soundtrack) playlists with rain ambience. Walking to class, taking naps, writing papers, completing projects–a solid portion of my days had this relaxing musical backdrop encasing them. Well then… why don’t I make my own? The recording equipment setups available in Bibbins Hall classrooms are easy to use; I have plenty of scores from my favorite OSTs; I have a partner-in-crime, JY, who has had many a jam session with me; and I have the bare minimum amount of technological prowess to finagle the project together. All in all, the pieces were falling into place and the idea seemed like it could become a reality. Once I got the green light from JY, it was off to the races. 

Truthfully, JY and I really didn’t have to change a whole lot to our daily life to accommodate this project. This is exactly the way I wanted it to be, but it can be hard to “find” time when work is overbearing. And sadly, anything–no matter how much love you have for it–can feel like work. Once JY and I got to a stopping point with our assignments for the day, we often came together and noodled around with some of our favorite video game tunes starting around 10pm–him on keyboard, myself on flute. It was an awesome time to just sit back and bask in the nostalgic glory.

After deciding to move forward with the project, our jam sessions merged into practice sessions. We decided on 10 tracks to record for the finished product–tracks that we enjoyed and that required minimal effort to put together. Simultaneously relaxing and a surprisingly good exercise in chamber music, this proved to be a project that fit right in the sweet spot of being fun and productive. We recorded over the last two and a half weeks at Oberlin but our recording sessions were essentially half-practice/half-mayhem. Organized chaos, really. We got a few takes of each track and spent the rest of the time making jokes and enjoying our time together. Likewise, I’m keeping both the unedited files and the finalized recordings–they all emanate their own bits of serotonin. 

At the end of the day, we went in knowing this project wasn’t a serious endeavor but, regardless, we wanted to do a decent job. And, you know what, I'd argue that the whole project was a success! So, I’ve linked the finished YouTube video below. Once I arrived home–school assignments a mere thing of the past–I made a small digital illustration on FireAlpaca for the project's thumbnail. Had to get some art in somehow. Forced fun time, while it may seem contradictory, isn’t half-bad. :) 

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