Central Park Gets Site-Specific Soundtrack from D.C. Duo

By Amy Zimmer on August 29, 2011 10:37am 

Bluebrain's Ryan (left) and Hays Holladay have composed music for Central Park.
Bluebrain's Ryan (left) and Hays Holladay have composed music for Central Park.
View Full Caption

MANHATTAN — It's not unusual to see people in Central Park with headphones on, moving to their own soundtrack as they stroll through the green pastures or wooded areas.

But the Washington, D.C.-based duo Bluebrain has taken things a step further: creating a site-specific "album" called "Listen to the Light," with music that can be listened to via an iPhone or iPad app while in Central Park.

Rather than a playlist, the music seamlessly changes in different locations thanks to the phone's built-in GPS, which tracks where the listener is walking and shifts the sounds accordingly.

Bluebrain, composed of brothers Ryan and Hays Holladay, made its first "location-aware" work for the National Mall in Washington, D.C. For their second installment — which will be released on Oct. 4 — the two ventured from the city where they grew up and now live, to New York, where they once resided for many years and spent "hours and hours" in Central Park.

"It's certainly the most amount of exercise we've ever gotten making an album!" Ryan Holladay wrote in an email. "The process generally consisted of walking around the park, taking a hard drive's worth of digital photos and also notes about what we were hearing in our heads."

After that, they would return to their D.C. studio to write and record.

"Then we'd hop on a bus and head back to try and see what worked and what didn't," Holladay said. "It's a pretty different way to record musicn but then again, recording for a landscape requires a different way of approaching the whole process."

Holladay said they tried to balance music that "melts" into other arrangements or motifs with "fun, sometimes non-musical hidden things" throughout the park. For example, when walking through Sheep Meadow, there's a sound of a piano seemingly in the distance, and as the listener reaches the middle of the green patch, there's a full orchestra in surround sound. In the Central Park Zoo, Bluebrain replaced the actual animal habitats with made-up animals sounds they composed.

"This has certainly been the most ambitious project we've taken on," Holladay said, "and which has required the most planning and creating entirely new systems for creating music."

The duo, which formed in 2009, has built a reputation for their hyper-local and unorthodox projects. They created an outdoor silent dance performance, where the audience listened on headphones while the dancers moved around the crowd. They also made an unauthorized musical guided tour of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.

They're currently working on a project called "The Living House," where they're taking over a rundown 3-story house and composing music that runs through each with sounds of footsteps and pianos playing opposing parts upstairs and downstairs, for example.

They selected Central Park, Holladay said, because "it's one of the most beautiful parks in the world and also one of the most visited, so we're excited to be able to get this music and this concept to what will hopefully be a much larger audience."

But there is a catch: The 1-gigabyte-sized soundtrack will have to be downloaded before coming to the park.

"You can't actually download it while at the park," Holladay said. "Although, there is an Apple Store with free Wi-Fi at Central Park South where it can be downloaded from," he said of the Fifth Avenue store.

Neighborhood Sponsors