By Tyler Smith
Long before Oberlin Conservatory’s TIMARA faculty began their Sound in the Round performance on the evening of March 8th, Wurtzel Theatre was bustling with activity. TIMARA students had set up various installations around the lobby showcasing their work. Third-year Drew Smith made their “Child of [Electronic] Tree” installation available to peruse on one side, while alum Helen Hé showed off their “Octowaver” on the other side for people to explore. The concert itself, one of the most enthralling of the semester, marked the end of the 50th anniversary celebration of the TIMARA program.
Inside the circular theater, twenty-four speakers strategically arranged around the room immediately caught people’s attention, along with found objects such as bottles and handbells,
The concert kicked off with a fixed media presentation of professor Eli Stine’s Murmuration No. X, showing off the staggering effect of the array of speakers and immersing the listener into a world of sonorous colors. The quasi-improvisation was created by a program titled “The Murmurator,” designed by Stine. He describes the program as a three-dimensional bird flocking simulation with various effects allowing alterations within the core sound. The result was an immersive experience that oscillated between dense, ambient textures and fleeting, chaotic gestures.
Professor Peter Swendsen’s in the same bare place, color, finally featured alumni — percussionist Dan King and cellist Helen Newby. At the beginning, both performers face each other and use a shared rack of crotales. Inspired by a Wallace Stevens verse: “Full of the same wind/That is blowing in the same bare place,” the blending of cello harmonics with the bowed metals creates a bleak atmosphere. As the piece unfolds, interruptions of light snare drum and sparse woodblock transport the listener to a realm not unlike that of a desolate shipyard, with gentle waves and old wooden ships creaking in the light breeze under a cloudy sky.
((touch~)), an improvisatory meditation performed by professor Abby Aresty, focuses on the connections between touch and sound. It brought to mind concepts similar to the thought process behind Pauline Oliveros’ “Deep Listening.” Aresty’s hauntingly vulnerable performance beautifully encapsulated this feeling, putting the audience into a trance.
Afterwards, a more humorous take on the theme of “Deep Listening” was professor Tom Lopez’s sFound Objects: 3 Vertices & 24 Speakers, featuring alum percussionist Justin Gunter. Its sparse, peaceful opening involving handbells and drinking glasses evolved into a frantic free-for-all as Gunter scurried around between stations positioned in three corners of the theater.
After Eli Stine’s geometrically satisfying video art production Vestigial Wings, the concert concluded with a work for two dancers. Professor Aurie Hsu’s Shifting Reflections, performed by Hsu and professor Alice Blumenfeld, was a lively collaboration featuring influences from flamenco, butoh, and contemporary belly dance. This drastic shift away from the earlier meditative pieces was a great way to conclude a wonderful evening of experimental music.