Shining a Light on Composition

January 31, 2020

Oli Bentley '21

TIMARA student demonstrates a photosonic composition using a turntable and lightbulb.
Photo credit: Oli Bentley '21

TIMARA students devote Winter Term 2020 to creating light through music—and vice versa.

Alex Christie ’09 visited campus in spring 2019 to take part in the (T)echs Machina Festival, a showcase of technology-enabled approaches to making music in which the former TIMARA student demonstrated his own work in photosonic composition.

Christie returned to Oberlin for Winter Term 2020 to lead a workshop on the subject, which revolves around the use of light as a tool for creating and performing. With sensors and lightbulbs, students designed projects that generated light through sound, others that generated sound through light—and some that achieved both.

“The photosonic composition workshop proposed a marriage of light and sound that we had scarcely explored in cinema or theater,” says Hannah Sandoz, a third-year double-degree student majoring in TIMARA and cinema studies. “Thinking of light as an intervention in our performance practices, we were led through a series of workshops involving technologies we’d never used, ultimately inspiring and shaping our final works.”

The workshop concluded with demonstrations of the students’ creative interpretations of photosonic composition. The following projects were among those shared by TIMARA majors who took part:

• Rachel Gibson ’20 customized a hat with light-detecting sensors and equipped a glove with LED lights that create sound.

• Jack Hamill ’20 used a record player, lights, and various means of making sounds directly on vinyl. When a needle or contact microphone hit the spinning record, one of the lights connected to it would illuminate.

• Helen He ’20 made a sculpture that involved swinging lights above a sensor. Different speeds of swinging caused variations in sound as each light hovered over the sensor.

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