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Overheard at Oberlin

Oberlin College and Conservatory was established in the year 1833 and is well known for its academic and musical excellence. It is a place where people hear and listen in on the world from diverse perspectives. As such, there are many sounds that make up Oberlin College. "Overheard at Oberlin" is a sonic exhibit curated by sound students in the First Year Seminar titled "Soundscapes: Listening the Past/ Hearing the Present."  "Overheard" showcases the aural cultures that define the people who live, work, and learn at Oberlin, both the institution and the town.  By resourcing, researching, and curating the sounds that distinguish our political, social, and environmental soundscape, this exhibit participates in projects that seek to challenge the predominance of visual culture in our society.

Our exhibit includes five individual collections: Oberlin Music, Oberlin Learning, Oberlin Labor,  Oberlin Leisure, , Oberlin Activism. These collections include the voices and vibrations emanating from the Conservatory, the clicking of fingers on keyboards at Mudd Library, the whirring of a blender at Cowhaus Creamery, the spinning of a potter's wheel at the ceramics studio, and voices raised in protest throughout Oberlin history. We invite you to embark on a sonic journey through the sounds heard and overheard, past and present, at Oberlin.

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Student Soundscapes: Life as a Listener

The purpose of this exhibit is to develop an understanding of the sonic makeup of the spaces that students at Oberlin College inhabit. We began with the following definition of a “soundscape”: the organic and inorganic sounds that shape a physical environment, as well as the ways in which the physical environment allows for the production of certain sounds.

The sounds and collections that follow are animated by some of the following questions: What sounds do we associate with certain spaces? In which ways are soundscapes crafted? And in which ways are they organic? And, finally, what happens when we actively listen to the soundscapes that we usually relegate to the background noise?

The exhibit is divided into three collections: Natural Sounds, Commercial Sounds, and Institutional Sounds. These divisions allow us to categorize and classify these sounds in terms of the spaces in which they are generated; however, there is overlap between all three of these imposed subsections. For instance, the “Arb” is categorized under Natural Sounds but it is a space that was designed by the College in 1892 as an outdoor space for women, and today the sounds of traffic on Professor Street are an inseparable element of this soundscape. Similarly, in a small college town many commercial spaces are shaped by and intended to cater to students, faculty, and university employees. For example, “DeCafe” is a convenience store owned and run by the College thereby making it a commercial space that is controlled by the institution. And as the examples above suggest, the sonic and situational influence of “the Institution” pervades the many soundscapes collected here.

As you explore the following exhibit we invite you to think of these sounds both within and outside of the conditions in which they were recorded, to imagine yourself as a student at Oberlin and as member of a small midwestern town, and to begin life as a listener into your own soundscapes.


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