Ellen Reid Soundwalk Ensemble
with Eliza Bagg, Gabriel Cabezas, Ashley Jackson, Nadia Sirota & Alex Sopp
Most of us imagine the soundtracks of our lives, but Ellen Reid goes further. The composer and sound artist, who won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her contemporary opera, p r i s m, is also the creator of Ellen Reid SOUNDWALK, an innovative work of geosynchronous composition that she has tailored to sites such as New York’s Central Park, LA’s Griffith Park, and Knoxville’s Ijams Nature Center, where it will blanket six miles of trails during Big Ears. Meanwhile, the festival offers a chance to hear the music in a concert by the ensemble it was written for.
In the public art project, Reid’s verdant orchestral, jazz, and electronic music is heard via headphones and a smartphone app; different pieces are keyed to different parts of the landscape so that the listener’s path arranges the composition in real time. Perhaps this fine attunement to the subjectivity and specificity of place comes naturally to someone from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, one of the “secret cities” of the Manhattan project, just twenty-five miles from Knoxville.
Yet Reid’s music is nothing so simple as a dreamy naturalistic tour guide. “As I came to a patch of flowers in some woods, I was surprised to hear a scratchy violin and bursts of nervous repeated notes for woodwinds and percussion,” Anthony Tommasini said in The New York Times, finding many other surprising contrasts and music-historical Easter eggs in the work’s expansive scope. Hear SOUNDWALK in a new light as flutist Alex Sopp, harpist Ashley Jackson, vocalist Eliza Bagg, violist Nadia Sirota, cellist Gabriel Cabezas, and Reid herself on synthesizer perform the remotely recorded music as an ensemble for the first time.