Charlie Abbott ’15 had played violin ever since he was three, but the first time he broke away from traditional music conventions was in his high school band, the Big Trucks.
“There was a ridiculous law firm commercial we saw on TV once, so we called the phone number they showed and recorded their phone extension directory—30 minutes of people saying their name slowly and annoyed, followed by whatever their phone extension number was—and made a song out of our favorite bits.
"I fell in love with that process and the idea of contextualizing sounds we hear all the time in a way that conveys emotions," says Abbott, a senior from Concord, Massachusetts.
Abbott’s passion for atypical musical styles led him to enroll in Oberlin’s Technology in Music and Related Arts program. “TIMARA was the only place I found where I could really pursue that in an academic setting," he says.
Abbott is one of about 180 students in the double-degree program at Oberlin: Along with his TIMARA major in the conservatory, he is pursuing a degree in cinema studies with a minor in East Asian studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. Though these disciplines may seem divergent, Abbott manages to blend them both inside and outside the classroom.
“The holistic approach that the double-degree program and the TIMARA, cinema studies, and East Asian studies departments offer is really unique,” he says. “For example, in my private reading, I’m doing all sorts of research on the cultural and historical aspects of different Japanese music and arts movements. My training in the conservatory gives me the tools and academic setting to analyze music and relate it to other music. My cinema studies major gives me the tools and academic setting to analyze and compare film and video art. And my East Asian studies minor lets me put all this into a specific cultural context.”
Over spring break 2014, Abbott conducted an independent study in Japan, where he researched, filmed, and participated in the underground electronic music scene—a true synthesis of his academic interests. During his time there, he traded three-hour visual projection sets at a music festival with a Japanese visual artist, opened for the artist Goth-Trad, and filmed 48 hours of concerts, interviews, and B-roll footage.
Outside the classroom, Abbott creates visual accompaniment for musical acts through Real Boy Digital, the company he co-founded with composition major Myles Emmons and fellow double-degree student Devin Frenze.
Abbott put his audiovisual training into practice for his own junior recital.
“This recital was a combination of the music and visual art that I had worked on over the course of the semester,” he says. “My partner stood on either side of the big projection screen in Stull Hall and tried to make it a fun, accessible environment for some harsh noise and geometric visual accompaniment. In my preparation for my recital, I figured out some of the fun aspects of working with the speaker system and my music. For instance, I learned how to perform my music so it makes the subwoofer rattle the ceiling and use the speakers so it sounds like some of the music is super-close to you.”
“I tried to use short, four-bar loops, with really off-kilter percussive material—taking influence from two Japanese hip-hop artists, Youtaro and Repeat Pattern—and develop the rest of the space by stitching together recordings of various familiar spaces, like recordings of my basement in a strong rainstorm on top of recordings from inside the dorm I was living in in Japan during a typhoon.
“Next year," he adds, "I'm really looking for ways to get back to Japan, so I can keep on working with all of these artists and people that have influenced me so much."