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Christian Frederickson – The Hammer and the Feather


    Music samples from The Hammer and the Feather

    This is an excerpt from Part 3: Three Navigators. Designed as a musical orrery, the various instruments orbit the space at different speeds in the installation.
    This is an excerpt from Part 4: Supermassive. Pinwheeling viola arpeggios hover over a drone based on the resonant frequency of the installation site.

    The Hammer and the Feather began with a basic curiosity about gravity: what IS this force that shapes so much of our experience of the universe? Research led us to the history of scientific inquiry and how it parallels (and conflicts with) spiritual inquiry. We use the architecture of a requiem mass as a structural and conceptual framework to create a contemplative and spiritual environment where the audience can connect with large questions and pursue their own inquiries into the nature of existence. Bridging humanistic and scientific inquiry, the piece uses gravity as a poetic and conceptual departure point for musical, visual, and sonic material. There are no words in the piece but the material is inspired by universal themes contained in the text of a mass. For example, the text of a Kyrie, “God have mercy”, inspires the second movement, Endless Fall, which is about the feeling all people share of not measuring up, of needing mercy in their life. We are all equally affected by gravity, which was theorized by Galileo in 1638 and proved by astronaut David Scott when he dropped a hammer and a feather on the moon in 1971 (they landed simultaneously).

    Five projection surfaces and 21 speakers make this a singular experience of theatrical design; The Hammer and the Feather is installation as performance. We included live musical performance for the premiere, but it functions equally well as an installation. The design IS the experience, and audiences can navigate it, experience it, and discover meaning in it on their own terms. It was originally scheduled to premiere in the spring of 2021, but the COVID-19 pandemic meant that we couldn’t have a live audience. We discussed creating a VR version of the piece in order to stay on schedule, but our central inspiration was to create a large-scale environment with spatial audio and video projections that audiences could walk around in and experience from different perspectives. We made the difficult decision to postpone, to wait until people could be in a room together again and it finally premiered on May 4th, 2022.

    Production Credits

    MIT Theater Arts

    Composer – Christian Frederickson

    Scene Design – Gregory King
    Projection Design – Gregory King
    Sound Design – Christian Frederickson
    Lighting Design
    – Joshua Higgason

    Tech Director – Becki Gray
    Production Stage Manager – Sophie Ancival