500 Musicians Can’t Be Wrong

November 11, 2019

Erich Burnett

TIMARA presents Kaleidosonic, November 16, 2019. Illustration of Finney Chapel atop a globe.
Photo credit: Illustration by Oli Bentley ’21

TIMARA’s Kaleidosonic Festival honors 50 years of electronic music with a uniquely Oberlin sonic experience. And food trucks.

For those who create in Oberlin’s TIMARA studios, compelling performances often require no more than a laptop.

This time, Tom Lopez is thinking much bigger.

The associate professor of computer music and digital arts is the driving force behind the Kaleidosonic Music Festival, a free, marathon performance taking place throughout Finney Chapel on Saturday, November 16. Beginning at 7:30 p.m. and lasting late into the evening, it will draw upon the efforts of some 500 musicians, sourced from throughout the college and conservatory, as well as the Oberlin community.

Kaleidosonic is one of numerous events produced this year by TIMARA—shorthand for Technology in Music and Related Arts—to commemorate the 50th anniversary of computer music studies at Oberlin. The first electronic music curriculum was offered in 1969, thanks in large measure to the groundwork laid by faculty members Olly Wilson and John Clough ’53. In the decades since, the department has gone on to launch a multitude of innovative careers across countless disciplines.

In the span of one evening, Kaleidosonic will serve up a continuous wave of sound that, if delivered in separate performances, could fill an entire semester of programming in Finney Chapel. It will feature musicians performing on stage, in the aisles, the balcony, lobby, and just about everywhere else.

TIMARA professor Tom Lopez
Tom Lopez
Photo credit: Conservatory Communications

The festival is intended to be enjoyed as a drop-in experience: Guests are free to come and go as they wish, to take breaks to enjoy the food vendors who will be parked outside Finney Chapel from 7 till 10 p.m.—or even to ride out the entire concert, from start to finish. Not that Lopez (pictured, right) expects such unwavering attention.

“We don’t want to imply that it’s a traditional concert, with all the social norms that go along with that,” he says. “This will not be a traditional concert experience, where you walk in and sit down in silence and be absolutely quiet and hope you don’t applaud at the end of a movement instead of the end of the piece.

“It’s going to be more like a fair. The audience will be invited to move around and see what the concert sounds like from a different space and maybe get a bite to eat if they want. It’s going to be a very loose, informal experience. And you can applaud whenever you feel like it if you hear something you really like!”

So while a MacBook will indeed be used to manage the flow of sound around the room—in addition to multiple mixing boards, effects processors, and more—Kaleidosonic is more about the Oberlin High School Marching Band and the Oberlin Choristers, the Northern Ohio Youth Orchestra and the Oberlin College Black Musicians Guild, as well a cappella singers, bagpipers, taiko drummers, Javanese gamelan players, and more. The list of collaborators goes on and on—and so will the music.

“It will be one big long sonic collage, and the thread that will hold it together is the electronic part,” says Lopez. “It is absolutely a TIMARA event because there will be 20 speakers positioned around the audience. It will be an immersive, surround-sound environment. I want to demonstrate how TIMARA acts as a sort of glue on campus between departments and in the community.”

Lopez himself is a 1989 graduate of Oberlin. He was inspired to stage Kaleidosonic in part thanks to a presentation by avant-garde Russian composer and sound artist Sergey Kuryokhin, who appeared on campus during Lopez’s senior year. That performance interwove disparate sounds from opera to folk to electronics and beyond, and it left an indelible mark on Lopez, who participated as part of a synthesizer ensemble.

“The aspect that really stuck with me was the way that all of these very different styles of music all blended together so well,” says Lopez, who is also inspired by the sound collages of 20th century modernist composer Charles Ives. He hopes to capture some of that magic at Kaleidosonic.

“It will all overlap and blend and dovetail with each other,” he says. “It’s exciting to me as a creator and sound artist that I have an opportunity to play with sound collage on such a grand scale.”

Learn about other upcoming anniversary celebrations produced by TIMARA at oberlin.edu/artsguide.


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