On September 26th, 2023, in Oberlin Conservatory’s Stull Hall, a beautiful blend of sound and storytelling unfolded. Oberlin alum Alex Overington (’11) and Simon Adler graced the stage to share their live podcast performance, “Mixtape,” a RadioLab project, with a captivated audience. Before the era of podcasts and smartphones, there were cassette tapes and Walkmans – humble devices that left an indelible mark. They allowed individuals to carry stories with them, creating intimate connections to the content. Mixtape, a creation by Radiolab, dives deep into the profound impact of cassette tapes on our lives.
This special event was a part of Professor Tom Lopez’s sonic storytelling course, a new addition to Oberlin’s StudiOC program. Oberlin College’s StudiOC initiative encourages students to tackle complex, real-world challenges from multiple angles. It nurtures meaningful connections among students and faculty, creating a vibrant community of collaborative learning. At the core of StudiOC are courses like TECH 108OC: Tools for Sonic Storytelling, led by Tom Lopez. This course serves as a gateway to the world of sound in storytelling, teaching students the art of recorded narrative sound. Soundwalks, sound art, and explorations of recording histories enrich students’ understanding of storytelling through sound. The course dovetails with WRCM 220OC: Writing for the Ear, taught by Professor David Gutherz. During their visit, Overington and Adler also visited Professor Lopez’s class and spoke to the entire department during a joint studio class.
Radiolab, the creative force behind Mixtape, is celebrated for its insatiable curiosity and innovative storytelling. The show embarks on a journey to explore profound questions through investigative journalism, seamlessly weaving science, legal history, and global perspectives. Simon Adler, a senior producer at Radiolab, embodies the diverse paths that can lead to a career in radio. His journey, from early aspirations to be an astronaut or a writer, musician, to his current role as a radio producer, underscores the multifaceted nature of sonic storytelling. His work exemplifies the possibilities sound offers in crafting narratives.
Meanwhile, Oberlin alum Alexander Overington, who graduated with a double major in TIMARA and Composition, has carved a niche as a composer, producer, and sound designer. His music resonates across the airwaves and in podcasts, including Radiolab, 2 Dope Queens, The Daily, Nancy, and Radiolab Presents: More Perfect. Notably, his technical direction on More Perfect earned a Webby Award for “Best Sound Design/Musical Score.” Overington’s journey commenced as a recording engineer under the mentorship of Valgeir Sigurðsson and Ben Frost at Greenhouse Studios in Reykjavik, Iceland. This experience laid the groundwork for his genre-fluid approach to music production, which continues to shine in his work. During his time at Oberlin Conservatory, Overington earned dual degrees in music composition and Technology in Music & Related Arts (TIMARA). His studies with Lewis Nielson, Tom Lopez, and David Lang provided the foundation for his successful career in the realm of sound.
The recent presentation by Alex Overington and Simon Adler was a hit with students and faculty alike. It showcased how interdisciplinary learning enriches our understanding of sound’s role in narratives and how alumni like Overington are leaving their mark in this evolving landscape.