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Bibbins Hall, home of Oberlin's TIMARA Laboratories. Oberlin music1.jpg
Bibbins Hall, home of Oberlin's TIMARA Laboratories.

TIMARA (Technology in Music and Related Arts) is a program at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music notable for its importance in the history of electronic music. Established in 1967, TIMARA is well known as the world's first conservatory program in electronic music. [1] Department alumni have included Cory Arcangel, Christopher Rouse, Dary John Mizelle, Dan Forden and Amy X Neuburg. [2]


The major in Technology in Music and Related Arts is intended for students who desire a career in which traditional musical skills and understanding are combined with the exploration of the very latest techniques for musical expression. The program prepares a student for specialized graduate study in computer music, digital media and new performance.

Early history

Oberlin's extensive history with electronic music dates back to the mid-19th century due to its relationship with inventor Elisha Gray. Gray, considered to be the father of the modern music synthesizer, served as adjunct professor of physics at Oberlin [3] and following his tenure, was granted over 70 patents for his inventions. [4]

Grey's electromechanical oscillator paved the way for another Oberlin physicist, Thaddeus Cahill, who created the telharmonium in 1877. [5] The instrument, although no recordings have survived, is considered one of the first electronic instruments to garner international attention. [6]

The TIMARA department was officially founded in 1967 by composer Olly Wilson as a response to the number of composition students who pursued studies in electronics. The program became the first in a series of departments in American universities to allow for experimentation in analog synthesis as well as mixed media art.

Current History

TIMARA now boasts two ensembles, OINC (Oberlin Improvisation and Newmusic Collective) [7] and WAM (Women in Arts and Music). Its current faculty include professors Peter Swendsen, Tom Lopez, Aurie Hsu, and technical director and lecturer Abby Aresty. Recent faculty include the engineer John Talbert as well as composers Morton Subotnik, George Lewis, David Lang, Gary Lee Nelson, Per Bloland, Joo Won Park and Lyn Goeringer.

TIMARA Laboratories

The TIMARA Laboratories consist of five studios, each containing a state of the art audio workstation. Additional labs contain the department's extensive collection of instruments including original models of the ARP 2600, the Buchla 200e and the EMS VCS 3. A secondary public lab contains multiple audio workstations that can be used to edit and process audio and video. The workstations can be used to transfer audio between formats, or create and edit creative projects. Each workstation has a Yamaha DX7, a mixer and an M-Box. The workstations run ProTools, Max/MSP, Amadeus, Peak, and other programs.

The laboratory was the recording location of Josh Ritter's eponymous debut album, [8] as well as the original recordings of The Mars Volta, Chris Eldridge, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Liz Phair.

The lab was also the space where REAPER, a digital audio workstation, was first created.

Alles Machine

The Bell Labs Digital Synthesizer, better known as the Alles Machine or Alice, was an experimental additive synthesizer designed by Hal Alles at Bell Labs during the 1970s. The Alles Machine, the world's first digital additive synthesizer, [9] used 72 computer controlled oscillators whose output was mixed to produce a number of discrete "voices." Only one full-length composition was recorded for the machine, before being acquired by TIMARA in 1981. [10] Several commercial synthesizers based on the Alles design were released during the 1980s, including the Atari AMY sound chip.

Related Research Articles

Computer music is the application of computing technology in music composition, to help human composers create new music or to have computers independently create music, such as with algorithmic composition programs. It includes the theory and application of new and existing computer software technologies and basic aspects of music, such as sound synthesis, digital signal processing, sound design, sonic diffusion, acoustics, and psychoacoustics. The field of computer music can trace its roots back to the origins of electronic music, and the very first experiments and innovations with electronic instruments at the turn of the 20th century.

Digital synthesizer Synthesizer that uses digital signal processing to make sounds

A digital synthesizer is a synthesizer that uses digital signal processing (DSP) techniques to make musical sounds. This in contrast to older analog synthesizers, which produce music using analog electronics, and samplers, which play back digital recordings of acoustic, electric, or electronic instruments. Some digital synthesizers emulate analog synthesizers; others include sampling capability in addition to digital synthesis.

Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments, digital instruments and circuitry-based music technology. A distinction can be made between sound produced using electromechanical means and that produced using electronics only. Electromechanical instruments have mechanical elements, such as strings, hammers and electric elements, such as magnetic pickups, power amplifiers and loudspeakers. Examples of electromechanical sound producing devices include the telharmonium, Hammond organ and the electric guitar, which are typically made loud enough for performers and audiences to hear with an instrument amplifier and speaker cabinet. Pure electronic instruments do not have vibrating strings, hammers or other sound-producing mechanisms. Devices such as the theremin, synthesizer and computer can produce electronic sounds.

Electronic musical instrument Musical instrument that uses electronic circuits to generate sound

An electronic musical instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound using electronic circuitry. Such an instrument sounds by outputting an electrical, electronic or digital audio signal that ultimately is plugged into a power amplifier which drives a loudspeaker, creating the sound heard by the performer and listener.

Music technology (electronic and digital) Music technology

Digital music technology encompasses digital instruments, computers, electronic effects units, software, or digital audio equipment by a performer, composer, sound engineer, DJ, or record producer to produce, perform or record music. The term refers to electronic devices, instruments, computer hardware, and software used in performance, playback, recording, composition, mixing, analysis, and editing of music.

A music sequencer is a device or application software that can record, edit, or play back music, by handling note and performance information in several forms, typically CV/Gate, MIDI, or Open Sound Control (OSC), and possibly audio and automation data for DAWs and plug-ins.

Analog synthesizer synthesizer that uses analog circuits and analog computer techniques to generate sound electronically

An analogsynthesizer is a synthesizer that uses analog circuits and analog signals to generate sound electronically.

A software synthesizer, also known as a softsynth or software instrument, is a computer program or plug-in that generates digital audio, usually for music. Computer software that can create sounds or music is not new, but advances in processing speed now allow softsynths to accomplish the same tasks that previously required the dedicated hardware of a conventional synthesizer. Softsynths may be readily interfaced with other music software such as music sequencers typically in the context of a digital audio workstation. Softsynths are usually less expensive and can be more portable than dedicated hardware.

A music workstation is an electronic musical instrument providing the facilities of:

Barry Lloyd Vercoe is a New Zealand-born computer scientist and composer. He is best known as the inventor of Csound, a music synthesis language with wide usage among computer music composers. SAOL, the underlying language for the MPEG-4 Structured Audio standard, is also historically derived from Csound.

Programming is a form of music production and performance using electronic devices and computer software, such as sequencers and workstations or hardware synthesizers, sampler and sequencers, to generate sounds of musical instruments. Programming has been used in most electronic music and hip hop music since the 1990s. It is also frequently used in "modern" pop and rock music from various regions of the world, and sometimes in jazz and contemporary classical music.

Oberlin Conservatory of Music American private college music school

The Oberlin Conservatory of Music is a private music conservatory in Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. It was founded in 1865 and is the second oldest conservatory and oldest continually operating conservatory in the United States. It is one of the few American conservatories to be completely attached to a liberal arts college, allowing students the opportunity to pursue degrees in both music and a traditional liberal arts subject via the five year Double-Degree program. Like the rest of Oberlin College, the student body of the conservatory is almost exclusively undergraduate.

Gary Lee Nelson is a composer and media artist who taught at Oberlin College in the TIMARA department. He specializes in algorithmic composition, real-time interactive sound and video along with digital film making.

Synthesizer Electronic musical instrument

A synthesizer is an electronic musical instrument that generates audio signals. Synthesizers generate audio through methods including subtractive synthesis, additive synthesis, and frequency modulation synthesis. These sounds may be shaped and modulated by components such as filters, envelopes, and low-frequency oscillators. Synthesizers are typically played with keyboards or controlled by sequencers, software, or other instruments, often via MIDI.

The Kurzweil K250, manufactured by Kurzweil Music Systems, was the first electronic musical instrument which produced sound from sampled sounds compressed in ROM, faster than common mass storage such as a disk drive. Acoustic sounds from brass, percussion, string and woodwind instruments as well as sounds created using waveforms from oscillators were utilized. Designed for professional musicians, it was invented by Raymond Kurzweil, founder of Kurzweil Computer Products, Inc., Kurzweil Music Systems and Kurzweil Educational Systems with consultation from Stevie Wonder; Lyle Mays, an American jazz pianist; Alan R. Pearlman, founder of ARP Instruments Inc.; and Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog synthesizer.

Olly Woodrow Wilson, Jr. was an American composer of contemporary classical music, pianist, double bassist, and musicologist. He was one of the preeminent composers of African American descent in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He is also known for establishing the TIMARA program at Oberlin Conservatory, the first-ever conservatory program in electronic music.

The Bell Labs Digital Synthesizer, better known as the Alles Machine or Alice, was an experimental additive synthesizer designed by Hal Alles at Bell Labs during the 1970s. The Alles Machine used 64 computer-controlled oscillators whose output was mixed to produce a number of discrete "voices" for output. The Alles Machine has been called the first true digital additive synthesizer, following on earlier Bell experiments that were partially or wholly implemented as software on large computers. Only one full-length composition was recorded for the machine, before it was disassembled and donated to Oberlin Conservatory's TIMARA department in 1981. Several commercial synthesizers based on the Alles design were released during the 1980s, including the Atari AMY sound chip.

Gareth Loy is an American author, composer, musician and mathematician. Loy is the author of the two volume series on the intersection of music and mathematics titled Musimathics. Loy was an early practitioner of music synthesis at Stanford, and wrote the first software compiler for the Systems Concepts Digital Synthesizer. More recently, Loy has published the freeware music programming language Musimat, designed specifically for subjects covered in Musimathics, available as a free download. Although Musimathics was first published in 2006 and 2007, the series continues to evolve with updates by the author and publishers, and the texts are being used in numerous math and music classes at both the graduate and undergraduate level, with more current reviews noting that the originally targeted academic distribution is now reaching a much wider audience. Music synthesis pioneer Max Mathews stated that Loy's books are a "guided tour-de-force of the mathematics of physics and music... Loy has always been a brilliantly clear writer. In Musimathics, he is also an encyclopedic writer. He covers everything needed to understand existing music and musical instruments, or to create new music or new instruments... Loy's book and John R. Pierce's famous The Science of Musical Sound belong on everyone's bookshelf, and the rest of the shelf can be empty." John Chowning states, in regard to Nekyia and the Samson Box, "After completing the software, Loy composed Nekyia, a beautiful and powerful composition in four channels that fully exploited the capabilities of the Samson Box. As an integral part of the community, Loy has paid back many times over all that he learned, by conceiving the (Samson) system with maximal generality such that it could be used for research projects in psychoacoustics as well as for hundreds of compositions by a host of composers having diverse compositional strategies."

Tom Lopez is an American composer of electronic music. He serves as Director of the Computer Music Program at The Walden School. Lopez is best known for his extensive history with the TIMARA Labs at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

Giorgio Nottoli Italian composer

Giorgio Nottoli is an Italian composer, musician and academic.


  1. Zilber, Ben. "TIMARA: Technology in Music and the Related Arts". Oberlin Conservatory. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  2. "TIMARA- Alumni". Oberlin Conservatory. Archived from the original on 14 February 2014. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  3. "What is a Synthesizer and how does it work? |". Playpiano.com. Retrieved 2013-09-02.
  4. "Elisha Gray". Oberlin.edu. Retrieved 2013-09-02.
  5. Holmes, Thomas B.; Thom Holmes (2002). Electronic and experimental music: pioneers in technology and composition. Psychology Press. pp. 42–49. ISBN   0-415-93644-6.
  6. "Electrical World". Electrical World (McGraw-Hill). 47 (13): 656. 1906. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  7. Boland, Per. "OINC Ensemble" . Retrieved 23 February 2014.
  8. WEINSTEIN, ELIZABETH. "Another Chapter for Josh Ritter". Oberlin College. Retrieved 23 February 2014.
  9. Joel Chadabe, "Electric Sound", Prentice Hall, 1997, ISBN   978-0-13-303231-4, pg. 178
  10. "A Technical History of Computer Music" Archived 2011-07-20 at the Wayback Machine