This fall, students in the Technology in Music and Related Arts department’s “Sonic Arts in Society” course, taught by TIMARA Technical Director Abby Aresty, met several times with Mrs. Bronwen Fox’s 7th grade choir class at Langston Middle School in Oberlin to explore how to use their voices, bodies, and new technologies to collectively compose a new piece of music. Students learned to record sounds with field recorders, perform Foley Art, use contact microphones to find and record hidden or soft sounds, made their own feedback instruments, and learned to use a drum machine and manipulate the sound of their voices in real time. They also experimented with a “Theremini,” a special type of MIDI-compatible Theremin. 

“I was incredibly proud of my students and impressed with Mrs. Fox’s students throughout the entire process,” Aresty said. “This was the first time my students and I had collaborated with Langston Middle School and with Mrs. Fox and her students. Thanks to Mrs. Fox’s generosity with her classroom space and time, we were able to try a lot of really cool new technologies and experiment with a wide variety of activities.” Benny Alexander, a first year student in the College, appreciated the opportunity to bring his passion for electronic music to the classroom: “The fact that we were working with electronic music with them was very special. Electronic music is a very central component of my life, and having the opportunity to show a class of 7th graders what is possible with electronic music was incredible. The students had a huge amount of energy, and though it was difficult to get them to focus at times, their incredible energy was what made the whole thing possible. I had a lot of fun, and I hope I can be a part of more projects like this in the future.”

“Sonic Wave,”” a new piece of music–with a sports theme–composed with sounds and images created by the 7th graders, emerged from these workshops. The piece was premiered by the students at the middle school choir’s winter concert. The piece featured live coding in the visual programming language Hydra, an animated graphic musical score, shadow puppets, live basketball, and some new electronic dance music composed in Ableton. The piece was structured as a series of vignettes of different sports scenes followed by a collaborative dance party. The piece also featured drawings, sounds, and a live performance with singing and body percussion by the choir students.

The week following the performance, Aresty’s students had an opportunity to present their work to Arizona State University Professor Lauren Hayes. Hayes attended Aresty’s class virtually to share a brief presentation of her own music technology education project, Sound, Music, Electronics, which brought music technology to around 900 8-12 year old students in Scotland in 2014 and 2015. “Professor Hayes’ visit was just an incredible opportunity for my students to learn directly from an artist and educator who understood both the challenges and the rewards associated with putting together these types of workshops and developing the piece with the 7th graders. It was a great way to wrap up this segment of the class before the winter break.”

What’s next for Sonic Arts in Society? “We still have several weeks left in the semester and the students were most excited about putting on another performance, so keep an eye out for another new multimedia performance and interactive presentation in the coming weeks!”