Midways and Electrophonics
March 17, 2020
Claire O’Brocta ’23
Most majors in the Conservatory require Junior and Senior recitals, which are exactly what they sound like: recitals you play towards the end of your time at Oberlin. As a double-degree TIMARA major, I can choose any combination of my last three years of school to have my two recitals, and I have even more freedom when it comes to the subject matter (TIMARA recitals can pretty much be whatever we set our minds to, as long as we can accomplish it with sound and technology!). However, I am still in my second year, so it’s not quite recital time for me yet. This luckily doesn’t mean I’m completely void of ways to show my music! This spring, I’ve had compositions in two concerts.
Concert Number One: Second Year Midway Composers Concert, February 22nd
The beginning of the spring semester is populated yearly with three concerts known as the Midways. These are for first, second, and third-year composition, TIMARA, and jazz composition majors to present their works, with each class year getting their own Saturday to do it. These Saturdays conveniently line up with Conservatory audition weekends, so auditioning students often come to watch, which is very exciting. When I was a first-year, I had a collaborative piece on the Midway with fellow blogger Cait entitled “Beans.” I met a current first-year in one of my classes last fall, who went to the concert during her audition. She recognized my name from "Beans," which she specifically remembered the title of! I didn’t necessarily expect the first time I was recognized for my music in college to be related to legumes, but I do find it kind of funny.
This year, I had a solo electronic fixed media piece on the Midway, which (for those of you who don’t know) means there were no instrumentalists, it was just music played through the speakers. This is a common thing for TIMARA-involved people to do, and something I’m definitely fond of, as it allows me to edit my piece as last-minute as I need to without having to worry about making things difficult for the people who need to play it. “Beans” last year was structured a bit differently. It started with a fixed media component, which I created based on a melody Cait wrote. We then had live singers come in at the end for a fun twist!
One of my favorite things about the Midway concerts is the fact that they’re student-run. Each person who has a piece in the Midway chooses a role, such as poster maker, audio technician, communications director, or recording engineer (plus many more options). This year, I was in charge of gear, so the day before the concert, I checked out speakers, amps, cables, gaff tape, stands, and a mixer from the TIMARA department with some helpers, and the next morning, we set it all up. Additional gear was checked out by our recording engineer for purposes related to his role, so we had a lot of stuff to get ready! Luckily, it was audition day, which, if you’ve read the blog I wrote last February, you know means free tea and donuts. The sugar and caffeine were extremely helpful in keeping me energized and on my toes through all of the setup hiccups (such as a delay effect on the mixer that we did not know was turned on), and by the time the show started at 2pm, we were in good shape.
It feels so good to have been a part of the Midway through not only composing, but also through the organization and setup processes. Being involved in multiple facets forged a strong connection between me and this event that I was a part of, and made me want to make it that much better. Maybe I just like event logistics and putting on shows. I am in multiple student organizations that deal with those sorts of things! But I think it was really the combination of doing that, having my music in it, and doing it all with my fellow composer friends that made the Second Year Midway extra special.
Concert Number Two: Exquisite Electrophonics, March 7th
This year, TIMARA is celebrating its 50th anniversary! We’ve had numerous celebratory events this year because of it, with one of the most recent being Exquisite Electrophonics. TIMARA has Electrophonics concerts regularly, which show off musical student work in electronics, video, sound art, and more. This one was extra special because there was a 15-minute long piece at the end that featured 28 TIMARA affiliated students, myself included. This piece followed the exquisite corpse model (hence exquisite in the name), which, according to the program from the concert (that got this definition from the Museum of Modern Art), is:
“A game in which each participant takes turns writing or drawing on a sheet of paper, folding it to conceal his or her contribution. The game gained popularity in artistic circles during the 1920s when it was adopted as a technique by artists of the Surrealist movement to generate collaborative compositions.”
This model was interpreted sonically through each of the 28 participants submitting a 5-second “seed” of audio to our professor. Our professor then put our names in order, and we had to take the seed submitted by the person ahead of us on the roster and create a 30-second “sprout” composition based on it. We then had to tack our own seed onto the end of our sprout, so the piece flowed smoothly from one person’s sprout to the next.
My “seed” for Exquisite Electrophonics was a highly processed recording of a sound I made by hitting something against my hydroflask, and the person ahead of me submitted a recording of water. In my sprout, I was then able to play with the connection between water and water bottle, which was perfect.
The section in the program for the exquisite corpse piece featured all of the participants’ names in order in one column, beside another column with our corresponding sprout titles. When the piece was played, I attempted to follow along with the program and map each person’s name to their sound. But, towards the end, I lost track. I think that speaks well of the piece, though, because it shows that it’s relatively seamless and cohesive. If the piece didn’t fit together as well as it did, it probably would have been easier to keep track of changes from one person’s sprout to the next.
A Third Concert? Maybe Next Year...
When I started writing this blog, I had fully intended on wrapping it up by talking about how enthusiastic I was for the third Oberlin concert I was supposed to participate in this semester, which has now been cancelled for obvious reasons. This concert, which would have been held at the Apollo Theater and showcase video content made by TIMARA faculty, was going to feature the Silent Film Ensemble playing along to the video. I’m in this ensemble, so I would have performed! As someone who tends to compose more than perform, this was a new experience and change of pace I was excited for. Looking forward, I’m hoping the Silent Film Ensemble will be offered again in a future semester so (at least some of) my ensemble-mates and I can still have this opportunity. I’m glad that I got to participate in two concerts this semester, regardless, and I’m eager to hopefully be a part of many more in the future, both as a composer and as a performer.
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