Ellen Reid’s SoundWalk

Ellen Reid is a sound artist who creates custom music linked to specific landscapes. This morning my wife and I sampled her newest project at Ijams Nature Center here in Knoxville.

Ijams is a 300 acre natural area a few minutes from downtown. Trails both paved and unpaved wind through the park, and for a group of these Reid composed music that can be downloaded to a smartphone along with the SoundWalk app, which uses GPS to match each particular piece to the specific trail the listener is walking. Performances by the Kronos Quartet as well as a group of fifteen musicians (the SoundWalk Ensemble) created the sonic landscapes to accompany the physical ones.

Ms. Reid has done SoundWalks in a dozen locations before turning her creative energy to Ijams, from Athens, Greece, to Central Park in NYC and to Wolf Trap, from Golden Gate Park to Fairmont Park in Philadelphia, and more. The Knoxville project is being presented by Big Ears, the same organization that creates the yearly Big Ears Festival and, some five years ago, brought John Luther Adams to Ijams for a performance of Inuksuit.

Ijams is a beautiful place, and SoundWalk adds another dimension to the enjoyment of the trails there. If you can make it to Ijams, I highly recommend the experience. Suzanne and I will definitely be returning to walk the trails we haven’t traveled yet, and probably revisit the ones we have. The SoundWalk is scheduled to run for one year, and I look forward to the changes in the experience as we move through the seasons.

There is no charge for enjoying the trails at Ijams, and the SoundWalk app is also a free download.

Many thanks to Ellen Reid for a fine listening experience that I’ll be enjoying several more times this coming year, and to Ashley Capps and the folks at Big Ears for another high quality musical experience for those of us lucky enough to take advantage of it. Also, to the staff at Ijams for providing us with such a wide variety of opportunities, from trails to canoeing to musical performances to movie showings, art exhibits, educational programs, and I’m sure I’m leaving out many other things. Y’all do good work.

Immersive and Magical

Yesterday afternoon we attended a performance of John Luther Adams’ “Inuksuit” at the Knoxville Botanical Gardens. We heard it first five years ago at Mead’s Quarry in Ijams Nature Center, also here in Knoxville. That performance was the culmination of the Big Ears Festival of 2016. This was also a Big Ears event, the first one in about 14 months. An hour long percussion work performed outdoors, it’s an immersive experience; the performers are scattered all around the grounds, and the listeners can move among them to get a changing perspective on the piece as it unfolds. Today’s involved a smaller ensemble than the one five years ago, probably not more than two dozen percussionists, but it was still a wonderful experience.

I set out to attend today’s event with mixed feelings. It’s been over a year since I did anything of a social nature, and I was uncertain, even a little scared (even though I’m vaccinated). After investing so much time and effort into staying safe and minimizing risk, going to a concert, even an outdoor one, was daunting. 

There were no parking spaces when we arrived and we were directed to the overflow lot some distance away. After a brisk walk we entered the performance area and found many people already there, waiting for things to start. With very few exceptions, everyone was masked and maintaining a respectful distance from their fellow listeners, and once the music started, it became everyone’s focus. I looked around at the group of people, from babies in strollers to elderly couples, and they were all transfixed by the performance taking place all around them. The few people who talked did so in whispers so low there was no interference in my enjoyment of the music. It was a lovely experience. Magical.