Muted Sea Monster Attack Imminent: TIMARA Infects Audiences at the Cat

Olivia Menzer

The energy that abounded at the Cat in the Cream on Monday night felt infectious in an eerie, bug-up-your-pants-with-a-rusty-knife way. The occasion for such an uncomfortably thrilling sensation? TIMARA’s Winter Term Final Concert. The music performed delivered a mind-altering experience that enraptured and shocked the audience. In fact, it was clear that the musicians who presented the concert had themselves been infected in a multitude of ways by the unorthodox sounds they created.

The expectant audience settled in with cookies and a charming introduction by the class leaders, Double-degree second-years Matt Omahan and Paulus Van Horne, before the lights dimmed for 17 vastly different pieces. The dark room and empty stage kept the composers anonymous, while their projects played in seemingly random order from a single computer in the back of the room. Without a set list or artists’ statements to pore over for explanations, the audience was left to decipher what happened on their own. Some of these pieces elicited laughter, cheers, and tepid applause out of confusion or emotional disdain for something that was simply unappealing to the ears. Every three minutes or so, confused whispers were exchanged in reaction to the varied approaches taken in the final projects.

From the complexity of the music, it was evident how much technological knowledge and precision goes into making music this way. Classes covered how to collect sound, the use of computer programs to create synthesizers and occasionally even instructed students to simply make noise instead of what they traditionally defined as “music.” Previous students’ levels of experience ranged from none to independent production to classical instrumental training.

Common to all pieces were found sounds, some of which could be identified as trickling or gurgling water, Oberlin winter wind, fast-forwarded cassette tapes, doors creaking and slamming and guitar riffs. Carefully layered and disorienting static was frequent, as well as the general category of “monster noises.” The pieces evoked bizarre moods and experiences — flighty, inorganic unicorn echoes; a murderous piano bar; a freaky drug trip in the back room of a ritzy night club; bathroom oboes; jazz clown horror film; grey beach day chasing or being chased by a stranger; the language lab in Peters Hall; muted sea monster attack imminent.

A few soundbites were recognizable despite creepy and humorous distortions. College first-years Joseph Farago used sounds from the 2007 film There Will Be Blood; Siobhan Furnary sampled Britney Spears songs and interviews. Another College first-year, Michael Jappe, was a game-changer with his improvisational demonstration of some of the technology utilized in the course. His percussion provided a background for collected soundscapes from the Octapad, a digital percussion instrument.

One or two of the songs felt forced, looking too hard for that tone of static that delivers gut shivers, while some felt too rooted in traditional music to really step out of the box. All were certainly individual and thoroughly worked through, never leaving on wanting more development — only, occasionally, a longer track time.

Upon further reflection, the TIMARA Winter Term Final Concert was an unsettling, confusing and potentially perfect way to start the spring semester. It was a reminder that, as Jappe said, “We are on the fringe of music with experiments like this concert.” With new generations able to use these tools, people will continue to question and expand their conception of music.