Although New York City was at the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic this past spring, the public parks throughout the city never became victims of the shutdown. In fact, people often came to the parks (practicing social distancing, of course) and escaping with headphones into the wonderful world of music.
Ellen Reid decided that simple escape wasn’t enough. Reid, a Pulitzer Prize-winning musician and composer wrote new music for an app called Soundwalk, a GPS-enabled app created to accompany those walking through Central Park.
While Reid had been brainstorming this idea for many years, it wasn’t until the start of the pandemic that she finally decided to get in her studio and get to writing.
Her idea in creating the app was based on “thinking about creating beauty for people to be inspired by and a place to find joy and a way to connect with our phones, actually in a way that connects us to something larger than ourselves.”
The idea behind Soundwalk is quite simple. Prior to starting your walk, you download the app’s music and enable GPS on your phone. Wherever you choose to walk will constitute the music you hear. The way the app is designed essentially allows the walker to act as the “composer.”
However long the walker chooses to sit in specific areas determines the soundscape.
When you walk into Strawberry Fields, the small Central Park region dedicated to John Lennon, you see a small mosaic on the ground with the word “IMAGINE.” Buskers love the spot and Reid feels that it creates a lovely moment for listeners when outside music combines with hers.
The app includes 25 musical “cells,” each of which is inspired by the natural surroundings. When Reid was done composing the musical cells, New York Philharmonic members recorded their individual parts in remote locations. Reid then hired an engineer to mix all of the parts together before walking through Central Park with her sound designer to test it out.
The app includes music for the Mall (a long pathway with trees and statues on both sides), Sheep Meadow (an expansive 15-acre field in Central Park), and The Ramble (a spot that made the news this past year when a white woman, Amy Cooper, called the police on black birdwatcher Christian Cooper when he asked her to put her dog on a leash.
“I went through the interview [New York Times] and wrote down all of the birds that [Christian Cooper] named, and then I transcribed their musical calls. And that is what is in the background of The Ramble.”
The Soundwalk app was later commissioned by several institutions, including the New York Philharmonic. As of now, Saratoga Springs users can enjoy Reid’s music at Spa Park. By next year, there will be even more locations.
While Reid and many others have high hopes for the end of the pandemic by this next year, she believes that it was a huge part of how her music came about. She hopes that Soundwalk can remain an app for those who want to refresh.