Oberlin News Center

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Oberlin News Center

In four decades with Oberlin's TIMARA department, John Talbert has gone from programming computers with floppy disks to creating instruments using Arduino microcontrollers. 
photo by Erich Burnett

John Talbert was asked recently to serve up a résumé highlighting his career. It didn't happen.

The last résumé Talbert needed was created on a typewriter in the 1970s. If he were to have one today, he’s not even sure what it would say.

“I’m not a faculty person who goes around and does concerts and performs pieces and gets awards,” he says in his typically understated manner. “I’m sort of the wizard behind the curtain.”

Now 40 years into his wizardry, Talbert is set to retire this spring from the only job he ever craved: electronic music engineer in Oberlin’s TIMARA department. In that capacity, he has been a pioneer in marrying analog and digital technologies, he has created a multitude of unique electronic instruments, fixed what was broken, updated what was outdated, and taught generations of students who came through the program. And he learned from them as well. Through it all, he has maintained a voracious appetite for new technology.

“That’s what was so cool about the job,” he says through a grin: “Every year it was a new job. Every year things changed.

“There were some years where you would maybe say, ‘Let’s hold off on the new technology. Let me catch my breath.’ But then you would have students who come in and say, ‘Check this out! We’ve gotta get this!'”

This week, TIMARA will host a series of concerts and a reception in honor of Talbert, with numerous former students and faculty—including longtime TIMARA professor Gary Lee Nelson—returning to campus. Though Talbert is unmistakably honored by the outpouring, it's exactly the sort of fuss that the unassuming engineer never would have invited.

He pauses when asked about it all, then musters only this in response: "It'll be fun to see all the folks."

The schedule of events is as follows (all are free and open to the public):

Thursday, March 2
8 p.m. concert by Travis Johns ’04 and TIMARA faculty in Clonick Hall.

Friday, March 3
4 p.m. reception for Talbert in Clonick Hall.

8 p.m. open house in the TIMARA studios, featuring installations and instruments from returning alumni.

Saturday, March 4
1:30 p.m. concert in Stull Hall featuring performances by Associate Professor of Integrated Media Julia Christensen, Kyle Hartzell from the Oberlin Center for Technologically Enhanced Teaching, Patrick Richardson '04, and others.

3 p.m. concert in Stull Hall featuring music by Aaron Dilloway, Paulina Velázquez Solis, and current and former TIMARA faculty JooWon Park and Gary Lee Nelson.

8 p.m. concert in Fairchild Chapel featuring performances by Hunter Brown '17, Peter Blasser '02, Travis Johns '04, and Sarah Snider.