Faculty News

Nick Brooke Premieres Ten Transcendental Etudes at MASS MoCA

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Nicholas Brooke, music faculty member at Bennington College, will bring his creative collaborators to MASS MoCA for a week-long residency culminating in a work-in-progress performance of his latest piece, Ten Transcendental Etudes, on March 1-2. The show will also run at HERE performing arts center in New York City April 4-7. 

“The Etudes is the culmination of four years of work composing and workshopping,” said Brooke “I’m so happy to have such a great group of collaborators, and MASS MoCA and HERE, to finally bring it to the stage!”

Ten Transcendental Etudes is an evening-length piece for six performers and melds sampling, sound design, and physical theater. It looks at how songs dominate how we talk about each other, beginning with a phonemic breakdown of a single Elvis phrase, “I can’t help falling.” 

It blooms into dense fugues of text, song fragments, and visceral movement, using familiar pop and recorded sources while recursively sampling itself, creating a work that Culturebot described as “operatic in scope, unfolding in layers that constantly reveal new meanings.”

Like Brooke’s previous work, the Etudes weave sampled audio collages with physical theater. Productions start as a collage of many recordings, which the ensemble learns to imitate and create a gestural vocabulary in lock-step with the samples. 

The production has included participation from several Bennington-related creators from across disciplines, including faculty members and instructors Sue Rees, Michael Giannitti, Richard MacPike, Kerry Ryer-Parke, Michael Chinworth ’08, and others. 

“The Etudes looks at listeners’ ability to transcend the microphones, speakers, and instant-replay love songs that surround them,” said Brooke. “The ultimate effect is something between arena rock, a decathlon, and a 19th-c. amateur circus.” 

Brooke creates music across disciplines, from collages of recordings with live theater, to home-built instruments inspired by gamelan, a traditional instrumental ensemble of Indonesia. 

Brooke has received awards and residencies from the Guggenheim Foundation, New Music USA, American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), the Rockefeller Foundation, Djerassi, and the MacDowell Colony. His instrumental works have been performed across the United States and in Europe and featured at the Lincoln Center Festival, the Ecstatic Music Festival, the Spoleto Festival, and the MATA Series. They have been played by Talujon, Bang-on-a-Can All Stars, the Paul Dresher Ensemble, the Nash Ensemble of London, Orchestra 2001, Dan Druckman, Speculum Musicae, Sekar Anu, and New York’s Gamelan Son of Lion. 

Brooke was instrumental in bringing the Schonbeck collection of music instruments from Bennington College for permanent exhibit at MASS MoCA. He holds degrees in music composition and philosophy from Oberlin College and a PhD from Princeton University. Brooke has taught at Bennington College since 2004.

For tickets and information, visit massmoca.org/event and here.org.