Interview with Dr Rebecca Fiebrink

You’ve joined Goldsmiths from Princeton University. What made you decide to move here?
I came to Goldsmiths because I’m excited by the focus on high-quality interdisciplinary teaching and research that I see within the Department of Computing and around the College. I think Goldsmiths will be a fertile place to do my research, which intersects with music, computer science, machine learning, design, and human-computer interaction.

Working here, I get to be surrounded by colleagues, collaborators, and mentors who are doing high-impact research in related areas. Furthermore, I get to be a part of teaching students who come here to study things like Music Computing and Creative Computing. This is a really unique place!

If you could you sum up your research in one sentence, what would it be?
Through my research in computer science and human-computer interaction, I create technologies that enable people to express themselves more effectively and in new ways, that help them discover and exercise their creative potential, and that improve their sense of efficacy in their interactions with computers.

You’ve worked on a number 1 iTunes app (I Am T-Pain). What did you learn from this experience and do you have any tips for staff or students who are perhaps trying to work on an app?
There’s so much effort and attention that goes into making an app like this work. I think that implementing the ‘technical’ part of an app (e.g. getting the phone to play sound and tune your voice in real time, for example) can be pretty easy in comparison to getting the design right and communicating the app’s potential value to the user— not to mention getting the idea right in the first place! Of course, having a good team around you also helps. I was one small piece of a fantastic team of people at Smule, whose engineers, project managers, graphic designers, marketing people, etc. knew how to go about answering these questions (and also put in the long hours to pull it all off).

My advice for anyone wanting to build a successful is to develop their ability to think and act effectively across all of these questions: You need strong technical skills to make it all work, but you also need to start with a good idea, to develop and refine that idea over time, and to build a worthwhile experience for the user. Fortunately, in the Department of Computing, I think we’re teaching Goldsmiths students all of these skills!

It seems that you’re quite the musician (you’ve performed as the principal flutist at the Timmins Symphony Orchestra). What artist, band or performance should people look out for in 2014?
Actually, two of the concert series I’m most excited about this year are happening very close to Goldsmiths. First, Goldsmiths Computing’s Embodied Audio-Visual Interaction Group (EAVI) has an ongoing concert series at the Amersham Arms, in which EAVI faculty, students, and friends will be playing some great live electronic music. The next concert will be this Thursday, 9 January (doors open 8pm).

Second, Goldsmiths is hosting the New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME) conference 30 June–3 July 2014. As part of the conference, we’ll be having a bunch of concerts and club performances of experimental, interactive, electronic music, which will be open to the public.

Beyond Goldsmiths, I’m also looking forward to going to some concerts by St Paul’s Sinfonia, a chamber orchestra based in Greenwich and Lewisham. They’ve got some terrific programming coming up, with a nice mixture of classical and contemporary repertoire.

On a personal note…

Where is your favourite place to eat in London?
I’ve eaten in so many good places so far, so this is a tough call! Maybe the London Particular?

What are your new year’s resolutions?
I’m resolving to 1) Learn more British idioms, slang, and food names so I’m not perpetually confused when people tell me things like how knackered they are after the knees-up and all they want is to eat a jacket potato and some spotted dick. 2) Spend some quality time out and about, getting to know London. 3) Learn to cook decent Indian food.
This interview with Rebecca originally appeared in Goldsmiths Staff News