Wolf Trap combines music, nature for interactive ‘Ellen Reid SOUNDWALK’

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Soundwalk at Wolf Trap (Part 1)

Are you looking for a creative way to enjoy the art of music and the outdoors?

Wolf Trap presents the interactive nature exhibit Soundwalk starting Tuesday.

“Soundwalk is a GPS-enabled work of public art,” creator Ellen Reid told WTOP. “It’s a sound art project. There’s a free app, you download it onto your phone, you put on your headphones and you go to Wolf Trap. As you walk around the grounds, the sounds of Soundwalk change as you are moving through the park and it should illuminate the landscape around you.”

Reid previously won the Pultizer Prize for an opera called “Prism” at the Los Angeles Opera, but now shifts gears to capturing the wonder of nature by combining musical styles.

“The music moves between chamber ensemble into synthesizers into jazz,” Reid said.

How does it specifically interact with the landscape?

“Say you’re going over a bridge with a stream going underneath,” Reid said. “As you approach the bridge, you might hear more tension, then as you’re standing over the stream, the sound of the running stream and the soundscape blend together into this chaotic excitement. As you move into the woods, the sound gets warmer and holds you the way trees and wooded landscapes do.”

Guests can choose their own adventure at Wolf Trap National Park.

“The whole point is that you take your own path,” Reid said. “In a way, I’m collaborating with all of the listeners because their pace, the paths they choose impact the sonic landscape around you. … Even if you do the same path more than once, it’s not going to be exactly the same because you’re moving at a different pace, so the way the sounds interact with each other is going to be different.”

The touring exhibit has previously played in New York and Los Angeles.

“Wolf Trap was one of the original co-comissioners, so they took a big leap of faith,” Reid said. “Everybody at Wolf Trap was really excited and got on board really quickly. We’ve done Soundwalks already at Central Park in New York, Griffith Park in Los Angeles and the Saratoga Performing Arts center. We’ve been looking forward to doing this Wolf Trap one since the fall.”

She said the Virginia landscape reminds her of where she grew up in Tennessee.

“I grew up in East Tennessee and I’m familiar with the landscape like Wolf Trap and the sound of the stream is something that’s so beautiful that I wanted to echo that with the music,” Reid said.

She said she got the idea a few years ago while jogging in Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

“I feel really connected to the routes I jog,” Reid said. “I watch them change as the seasons change, I jog on days that I’m really happy and on days when everything feels crappy. … I just felt a deep connection to the trail. I was thinking about how all of these different people felt the same connection to the trail throughout time and how parks hold this myriad experience in a rich way.”

The entire experience is free, just make sure you download the app.

“It’s much more compelling to do it solo,” Reid said. “There’s something when it’s just you and the sounds and you can take your time and you can explore yourself, whereas if you’re with a group of people, there’s a little less personal choice, which is a part of the project that’s important.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Soundwalk at Wolf Trap (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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