Visitors exploring the trails of the Saratoga Spa State Park are privy to a symphony of sounds; from the rush of running water to the trills of birds in the trees.
Starting Monday, they’ll have the chance to hear a new kind of soundscape.
Called “Ellen Reid Soundwalk,” visitors can participate in an experience that blends music and nature, using a GPS-enabled app. It was created by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Reid, and co-commissioned by the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, among other organizations.
It premiered earlier this month in New York City’s Central Park, with different pieces of music playing depending on where visitors walk using the app’s map. For participants at SPAC, there will be “Easter eggs” throughout the path to find that incorporate music from the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Soundwalk is a timely work and one that is meant to be experienced on your own.
“One interesting thing about an experience like this is that it has to work from any direction. You can’t curate the way that anybody will experience it,” Reid told The Gazette in a recent interview. “Somebody could start the walk on one side of the path or the other side of the path and it has to be equally moving in any direction.”
Reid came up with the idea a few years ago, after visiting a park by her apartment in New York City and noticing how many people there seemed to have a personal relationship with the place.
“I started thinking about that and how beautiful that was. It really inspired me to create a musical space to hold all of those different experiences,” Reid said.
While at the start of this year the idea was on the backburner, in March, it was moved to the forefront of Reid’s projects.
“When the pandemic hit and a lot of concerts were canceled and everybody’s spring and summer and fall [plans] started shifting, we realized that this project could happen now and it would take on such a different meaning. It would be more essential and more poetic than what we had imagined initially,” Reid said. “It felt good to make something able to be experienced fully right now.”
She worked with nearly a dozen other musicians to record the music earlier this year.
“The first thing I wrote is the theme that’s at SPAC. It’s a theme that was inspired by water and it has this crystally high ostinato that goes through and it feels like the sparkling of water and these different melodies that occur in different key signatures that flow together as you move through the walk,” Reid said.
The path charted out on the map in the app is about a mile long. It features the Vale and Geyser Springs and when participants walk by certain areas, musical cells are triggered and will play the corresponding piece in Reid’s work.
“Any creative path is filled with challenges, but the cool thing about Soundwalk is that the challenge is also part of what makes it special, which is that the technology is growing as we’re building the experience.
“So we’re working with this living, breathing, real technology that is morphing to fit the experience and the experience is morphing to fit the technology. There’s this interesting dance between the app and the music and the capabilities of GPS and the experience and that we’re trying to find the furthest point that we can take all of that together so it’s been incredibly collaborative,” Reid said.
The piece is a part of the SPAC Reimagined 2020 season. As the performing arts center had to cancel its originally scheduled concerts and performances because of the coronavirus pandemic, including residencies with the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra, SPAC has been offering virtual programs as well as collaborating with community members to present health and wellness classes.
Many of these have been firsts for SPAC and Soundwalk is no different.
“Bringing this project to our park is part of our vision to connect the unique beauty of our natural surroundings … the lush pines, woodland walks, geysers and natural springs … with art and music,” said Elizabeth Sobol, SPAC’s president and CEO, in a statement.
“We’re excited that Saratoga is only the second place, after NYC, to present the installation — and excited to be offering this unique art/nature experience to visitors to the Saratoga Spa State Park.”
Soundwalk will be available starting Monday and run through Nov. 1. The app is called Ellen Reid Soundwalk and it’s free to download. For more information visit spac.org.