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“Something at Wolf Trap that I thought was really unique is the creek that runs through the property,” says composer and sound artist Ellen Reid. “I created these layers of strings and drums to go over the creek every time the path crosses it.”
If you’re not familiar with Wolftrap Creek, you haven’t fully experienced Wolf Trap beyond its world-class concert venues: the Filene Center, the large, architecturally impressive outdoor amphitheater and its sloped surrounding lawn and picnic areas, and the acoustically rich and intimate Barns down the road.
While live, in-person concerts are set to make a return to the Filene Center in honor of the venue’s 50th anniversary in July, there’s no need to wait another two months to go — especially if you’ve never wandered the encompassing 117-acre national park, which is open every day in season.
And since April, the majestic Wolf Trap experience has been further enhanced with the launch of a Wolf Trap-specific Soundwalk, part of a series of GPS-enabled sound installations from the young, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer. Reid first conceived of the project years ago, when she lived near Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.
“I got inspired by the idea that my jogging path meant so much to me, and I knew every twist and turn of it, and that all these other joggers at the same time probably have the same connection to the path,” Reid says. “I was really interested in exploring that layered, connected memory, and how our landscape inspires us and grounds us, and celebrating that connection.
“Once the pandemic hit, it became clear that we could fast-track the process, and it would take on a different resonance and a different meaning because it’s a project that can be experienced fully right now: It’s meant to be heard solo on headphones.”
For Reid, Soundwalk provided a nice departure from her typical day-to-day routine of developing scores for opera and film and works for chamber ensemble and chorus, allowing her time to explore individual parks and develop site-specific works available through a specially created app. In addition to Wolf Trap, Reid has created Soundwalks for Central Park in New York, Griffith Park in L.A., Fairmont Park in Philadelphia, and the Elizabeth River Trail in Norfolk.
As one ventures down the mile-long trail at Wolf Trap, you hear a largely ambient soundscape of instruments played by a 14-member Soundwalk Ensemble, including Reid on synthesizer. The magnitude and intensity of the sound ebbs and flows as one goes, reaching a crescendo as one crosses over the creek or reaches a nearby pond.
Voices from the Young People’s Chorus of New York City also greet and serenade you at a certain point deep into the adventure. Keep in mind that what you hear is not always perfectly in step with where you are. “GPS is only accurate within 10 feet,” Reid says, “and with different providers, and just on a different day, the same person’s cell phone could place them at a slightly different location.”
Reid is in the beginning stages of devising additional Soundwalks. She also hopes to develop a Soundwalk recording available for posterity — unlimited by the confines of the app, which will stay up indefinitely but remain operational only with continual updating.
“Every time your phone updates itself, we have to update the app so that they can interface,” she says. Reid and her team are committed to doing that for the time being, in recognition of music’s general ability to help us endure “challenging times with some beauty.”
The project itself helped Reid at the outset of the pandemic.
“Soundwalk definitely brought me a lot of meaning and gave me a reason to get out of bed a lot of days when that was a challenge,” Reid says. “And one thing that I really like about Soundwalk is that it’s free and open to the public. I hope to continue to find ways to make art like that — figuring out ways to expand the reach of music through works of public art.”
Wolf Trap Soundwalk is available from sunrise to sunset through Sept. 6. Wolf Trap is located at 1551 Trap Road in Vienna, Va. Call 877-WOLFTRAP or visit www.wolftrap.org.
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