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The Ruby is a catalyst for creativity and a home for making art at Duke.

5 Questions for Brooks Frederickson, Creator of Here to Hear // Hear to Here

Published By Katy Clune
Published on: February 6, 2020

"I wanted to give people an opportunity to make music who may not otherwise have the chance to do so." Brooks Frederickson, a PhD student in music composition at Duke, has designed a new kind of music-making experience in the Ruby.

If you are like most of us, you probably limit your singing to the car, shower, or other private spaces. To fully experience Here to Hear // Hear to Here, a new installation in the Rubenstein Arts Center, you need to bring your signing voice. This installation by music composition PhD student Brooks Frederickson invites you to put on a pair of headphones and sing simple notes—and if you’re able to do so on key, you are rewarded with your own private musical experience.

Frederickson is a composer and artist from Indiana who came to Duke Music by way of Brooklyn, NY, after completing his masters in composition from NYU Steinhardt (MM). Learn more about Frederick and his motivations for creating this interactive work in the following interview.

Visit the installation between now and February 16, and join the Nasher Museum of Art for “Music in the Galleries” on February 13 to experience work by Frederickson and other Duke Music musicians.

Tell me about your path to Duke.

I really love to teach, and I’ve taught ages from kindergarten through high school. As soon as I started college, I realized that I loved academic institutions and that I wanted to teach at a college. I did my masters at NYU, and I stuck around the city for a couple of years making music and teaching and working in the arts.

When I applied to PhD programs, I found that Duke was a really good fit. Since I moved down here, I’ve found that Durham is also a really good fit. There’s a lot going on—but not an overwhelming amount. I can still focus on my work and do what I need to do, but I have a community of people around me who are doing interesting work.

Visitors in the installation. Photographs by Jillian Clark and Robert Zimmerman.

Why did you want to make Here to Hear // Hear to Here??

Here to Hear is an interactive installation that prompts its users to think about sound and location. There are six headphone and microphone stations, and at each station music is generated in response to your voice—you cannot go back and try to rebuild your exact experience.

“I wanted to give people an opportunity to make music who may not otherwise have the chance to do so.”

With this piece, I want people to think about what experiences we’re able to share easily on social media, and what experiences we are only able to have in the moment. There’s a lot of art that is happening now that is geared towards sharing on social media. With this installation, you cannot share your experience directly on social—it is only happening in your headphones. You have to just be there with it.

I also wanted to give people an opportunity to make music who may not otherwise have the chance to do so. I make music every day and I love it, but a lot of people don’t have that experience. Here to Hear shows people they can participate in music-making in ways that are aided by technology, or otherwise different than just actually playing an instrument.

What have you learned since the installation opened?

I’ve learned a lot since the installation opened. This is my first long-running installation and I’ve had to learn how to live while my work is on display. With music, there’s the concert and usually I’m there, and usually the stress is compressed to the few minutes before the piece is played, but with this installation, I’ve had to learn how to exist in a building where my art is and where people are interacting with it.

More importantly, though, is that that I’ve learned that people are better singers than they give themselves credit for. I’ve not had anyone come up to me to say that they couldn’t get the installation to work. Everyone—from kids to grandparents—have been successful in making the installation work and everyone has had a different take on it.

What is it like studying music at a research university?

This past semester I was TA for an acoustics class taught in the Department of Physics. It was interesting to be able to work in a different department and see how a large lecture-style physics class is run. I’ve only studied music in higher education, so I only know what a music class feels like. I’ve also veered into Art, Art History & Visual Studies Department (I’ve taken a number of classes with Kristine Stiles) and the Computational Media, Arts & Cultures department where I work closely with Bill Seaman and Mark Olson.

I also have the super interesting opportunity to give tours in support of the Nasher Museum of Art’s Cosmic Rhythm Vibrations exhibition. That is an inherently interdisciplinary position where I need to connect the visual art to ideas about music, while thinking about what story I am trying to tell and leaving room for people to interpret my words and share their thoughts and feelings.

How are you collaborating with the American Ballet Theatre?

I responded to a call to composers in the PhD program asking for recordings that Stefanie could use in the residency she has with the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company that is taking place over three years at Duke. When Stefanie and I started talking, I began taking recordings of my music and excerpting little pieces to build something new.

The work that we made last year in the Ruby’s “Cube” dance studio was a really exciting experience for me. I was in the room with them a lot, making music as they were dancing, whereas I normally work alone. There is this direct feedback loop that happens when we are working on a section. While Stefanie is giving notes to the dancers, I’m on my headphones, adjusting the music, and tweaking things. I’m getting instantaneous feedback, both from Stefanie and also from just the way that the dancers are moving to the music.

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