All anyone needs is a pair of headphones, a cell phone and a comfortable pair of shoes to experience Rain Cycle: A Denver Soundwalk. The sonic experience takes listeners on a self-guided tour through Cheesman Park to the backdrop of a chorus re-creating the sounds of rain.
The orchestration was composed by Divya Maus and recorded by LA Choral Lab in an effort to keep making music during a year without live performance. However, the soundwalk also allows a different way to experience music, Maus says. Listeners have both front-row seats to a choral performance and the freedom to move and explore a well-known city park.
Rain Cycle works through the ECHOES Explore App, which pairs specific locations with various parts of the piece. Depending on where the listener moves, different songs start playing.
“I keep calling it a musical choose-your-own adventure...which combines enjoyment of nature and music,” Maus says. “It’s all personal agency, and you can take your dog.”
Depending on where listeners enters Cheesman Park, they might hear different segments of the choral piece. There are four sections: “Cloud Cover,” “The Tempest,” “Rain” and “Spring.” “The Tempest” is dramatic; it creates the aural sense of being blown across the field by gusts of wind. But there are simpler moments, such as “Bee Melody,” which evokes the buzzing sound of bees. There are chirping birds, too, and a section called “Garbage Flies.” Rain Cycle ranges from quirky, weird and wild to deeply poetic and meditative. And every sound is created by the human voice.
The LA Choral Lab is a nonprofit formed in early 2014 by professional musicians as a passion project. Maus, who is a composer, lyricist and librettist, created Rain Cycle with the voices of her friends involved in the Lab in mind. The piece combines technically challenging choral movements and a way for the singers to experiment with their voices.
Rain Cycle was originally created for Griffith Park in Los Angeles. But Maus felt the piece could translate to different places, and, having grown up in Boulder, she wanted to bring the piece to Colorado. Her parents did the initial test walks through parks around the city, and together they chose Cheesman because of its expanse and the pavilion, which is accompanied by the title movement, “Rain,” a progression awash in harmony.
The music itself is an ode to rain. Maus explains that living in Los Angeles fundamentally changed her relationship to rain. She spent her younger years in northern Germany before moving to Boulder. It rains often in Germany, and in Colorado, summer brings daily thunderstorms. Los Angeles is different. There, only the spring brings long moments of rain.
“I like the thunder, the wind and the gales,” she explains. “I get so excited about walking in the rain, the sound of the rain on the umbrella.”
Maus hopes that the soundtrack can appealnot only to those who already love the rain, but to others who might learn to appreciate it. “The creator part of me wishes the weather is a little gloomy and a little overcast [when people embark on the soundwalk],” she says. “It doesn’t have to be a perfect sunny day to enjoy a park, to hear the leaves rustling, a sprinkling of rain on your cheek. It can be an edgier, darker experience.”
She also hopes the soundwalk will be relatable to kids. While she’s not involved with music education herself, the way music is taught to kids is often a subject of conversation between her and her peers. “They’re being put in a chair and told, ‘Sit still, don’t move, be quiet and listen,’” she notes. Rain Cycle is completely different. To aid in children’s experience, the LA Choral Lab website includes interactive guides for parents and teachers who want to help deepen their kids’ and students’ experience of the soundwalk. Maus hopes it inspires conversations across generations.
“It’s not a heady experience that only adults will find enjoyable,” she says.
Rain Cycle: A Denver Soundwalk runs through June 20; visit the website to learn more about how to experience the performance. Learn more about LA Choral Lab here. While this event is free, the group welcomes donations to support future performances and projects.
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