What does a TIMARA major do in their spare time? Well, if your name is Jack Hamill, you build a community around an incredible weekly ritual of listening to a broad, diverse collection of new music in the basement of Bibbins. Hamill, a 5th-year dual degree student in TIMARA and philosophy, has held over 130 listening sessions in TIMARA’s Studio 3 — our multichannel studio that boasts a 15-channel speaker array in addition to a stereo pair of monitors. Hamill says that, “[the listening sessions] initially began…as a space for myself and a small group of friends to immerse ourselves in experimental music that we felt was not being represented enough in the conservatory as a whole. Over time, the programming of the listening sessions has changed a bit, moving from a pretty Eurocentric contemporary classical focus to a much broader range of often very obscure experimental music from around the world.

One of the wonderful things about TIMARA students is the way they build connections all across the conservatory and the college. Jack points out: “Since the beginning, many people have come through to the listening sessions. There are a few regulars who come somewhat consistently, and for some of them I think that the listening sessions are basically a staple of their educational experience at Oberlin. For others, who might pop in with a friend out of curiosity, they can simply be a one-off opportunity to be introduced to something they have not experienced before. Everyone is welcome, and it is always really fun to have new people come through.

Several students have found the listening sessions to be a critical part of their musical growth here at Oberlin. Joshua Reiner, a fifth year student in composition and Comparative Literature has found that the listening sessions have been one of the cornerstones of [their] musical education at Oberlin. “In no other setting have I been exposed to so much great new music, so consistently, at such a wide range.” Second year Orson Abram, a percussion and cinema studies dual degree student concurs: “Jack’s listening sessions were pivotal to my growth as a musician and listener of music as a whole, especially in my first year of college. In a way, I felt a sense of belonging as these sessions also introduced me to others who are passionate about thinking deeply about avant-garde music. Finding these sessions are the unexpected but beloved surprise of my Oberlin career thus far.” Hamish Robb, a fourth year in musical studies and computer science appreciates not only the curated listening experience but also the community, “Jack is so meticulous about what he picks and why. Often he scours the ends of the internet to find tracks, scores, and any info about the artists. It is always a great time, and it has been great for giving me a sense of community and friendship within experimental music.

So, what is on the menu at one of these sessions? According to Jack: “I really try to program some of the most avant-garde music that I can find, and what is amazing to me is that more often than not, the feedback is pretty positive! When people are together in the studio, the lights are off, and they are surrounded by a group of other people listening as carefully as they can, it is a really special, almost sacred kind of experience. And because of that, I think people tend to have more positive experiences with the music than they would if they were listening to it on their own with no context. At the same time, people sometimes do have very negative reactions as well, and that often leads to some very fun and interesting conversations. And sometimes, people will have a negative reaction to a piece, but then weeks later will tell me that they re-listened to it and loved it! All in all, it is really just about being introduced to something new.

Want to check it out yourself? Check out what Jack and co are listening to online at Jack’s studio 3 listening blog which is updated before each listening.