Electrophonic Ensemble Features Experimental Musicians – The Oberlin Review
On Tuesday, October 25, the Electrophonics ensemble from the TIMARA department gave their first concert at Cat in the Cream. Electrophonics is an electronic ensemble that combines visual arts, experimental music and live performance.
The show consisted of eight fixed stereo audio tracks, which ranged from ambient noise to sample-based hyperpop to synthesized singer-songwriter compositions. The works featured in this show were all pre-recorded and the artists went behind the sound booth to manage the audio output as their music played at the Cat in the Cream. Two performers, Oliver Harlan in the first year of the double degree and Orson Abram in the third year of the double degree, concluded the ensemble performance with their individual audiovisual experiences, in which their visual art merged with experimental sound design.
The TIMARA department, a staple of Oberlin, attracts experimental musicians from around the world to study within the experience and resources of an established electronic arts program. Students are able to learn and practice with different musical instruments and technologies.
Artists who have shared their work at Electrophonics have worked with a wide range of electronic tools, from TIMARA synthesizers to software like Ableton, Logic and Bitwig.
Harlan created a sample-based audio-visual experience named “Ephemeral” using recordings from NASA’s Sample Library. The raw audio files recorded by the Perseverance Mars Rover were accompanied by video art created by Harlan.
“I used visuals because, if I’m doing something for a concert to show people, I just want it to be the most engaging experience possible,” Harlan said. “The content was mostly recorded on my phone. I approach the visuals in a way similar to how I sample, edit and manipulate music, but with footage. I also used the DALL generator- E AI. I uploaded a picture I took, then I created AI variations of it, then I took one of those pictures and I made AI variations of it , and I kept doing it over and over. It all started as the image of a museum in [Los Angeles]and the final image was just a square.
Sometimes there is a hierarchical relationship between music and visuals, with one supporting the other. It moves in different contexts, from film to music video. Musicians can set scores for films, in which video is prominently featured, and some visual artists work on designing music videos, which revolve around music. However, engaging with experimental sounds and visuals could allow for even more collaboration between mediums.
“By engaging with multiple mediums, you can create something that might not otherwise make sense,” Harlan said. “Audio or visuals alone might not make sense, but together as one piece they do. I was a little worried that the video wouldn’t take anything away from the audio, people focus more on the visuals I’ve done a bit of film music and it’s fun but for that the music isn’t the main focus so people don’t really lend to it attention. It’s interesting to do it the other way around, with the music as the focal point. I think doing visuals to accompany the music can enhance it.
The audience consisted not only of other musicians and electronic experimenters, but also of other students who are interested in experimental electronic music.
“I have two friends who had plays that were performed at the show, so I went partly for them and partly because I love everything that happens in the TIMARA department,” said Danilo Vujacic, first year in college. “I’m really interested in the music they perform and curious to explore the classes in the department soon. I love noise music, I find it fascinating, and being in a place like Oberlin, there are a lot of great opportunities and people to meet who are interested in that kind of stuff.
For audience members, the multidisciplinary experimentation was effective in connecting with the soundscapes.
“There is certainly an interesting relationship between experimental noise music and its translation into film,” Vujacic said. “We saw it with some of the pieces from the concert. The visuals enhance the experience and elevate the atmosphere created by the music. I think this interaction is interesting and valuable. It adds another dimension to the music.
Other audience members included visual artists, some of whom had not encountered electronic music before coming to Oberlin.
“I think it’s so cool to do art in a place where there are so many different people doing so many different things, because you naturally combine different ideas and mediums,” said Frances McFetridge, first year in college and a visual artist. “This performance was a great example of that – of the fusion of technology, art, visuals and music. It felt like an expansion of the artistic spirit into other mediums that made it more interesting and nuanced.
Presentations like the Electrophonics Concert allow TIMARA students, electronic musicians, and visual artists to connect with a diverse audience to connect through technology and multidisciplinary arts.