Ed Orser, professor of American studies, and Steve Bradley, visual arts graduate program director, might not seem like the likeliest pair to collaborate; Orser is an urban historian, while Bradley is an audio artist. But the two have a shared passion in the outdoors that led them to create an innovative podcast journey down the Gwynns Falls Trail.
Both Bradley and Orser have a connection to the trail, which winds through green spaces and city neighborhoods from the outer edges of Baltimore to the Inner Harbor. Orser was a member of the Gwynns Falls Trail Master Plan Group when the trail was planned in the early 1990s, an involvement that led to his book “The Gwynns Falls: Baltimore’s Greenway to the Chesapeake Bay” (History Press, 2008). Bradley worked with students on the trail as part of the U.S. Forest Service’s “More Kids in the Woods” initiative.
“I’m out biking the trail one Sunday, and here’s Steve with this microphone dangling into the water and a group of kids around him!” Orser says.
Though the two UMBC professors had never collaborated before, Parks and People brought them together to create a podcast for the trail when the foundation received a National Park Service grant. They trusted that the urban historian and acoustic artist would create something unique together.
“We had very little guidance as to what it should be like,” Orser said.
So, Orser and Bradley set off to walk the trail and decide how to approach the project. Along the way, they met people and recorded their conversations, learning about how and why people use the trail. The conversations became the basis for their final product. “It just evolved,” explained Bradley.
Over six months, Orser and Bradley walked the 15 miles of trail, recording the noises they heard and the conversations they had. They also sought out people with a particular connection to the trail.
“What people will expect is, ‘what you’re seeing here is the old railroad bridge,’” said Orser. “Our idea was that it’s a tour, not so much of the trail per se, but of how people encounter and engage with it.”
“I loved being commissioned for this because my interest is in environmental sounds,” Bradley said. Pockets of ambient noise are included in the nine podcasts, which correspond to trailheads and are about 25 minutes long, along with conversations and bits of history. “I’ve listened to it a number of times with some distance, and it holds up because it’s an artistic, social piece.”
In fact, the podcast can be listened to—and possibly better enjoyed—when not on the trail, either as an introduction to it or as a way to learn more about it. Orser and Bradley hope that the podcast inspires people to pay more attention to sounds and understand that, even though they might only encounter a couple of people on their walk, the trail is used by a variety of people for many purposes.
For Orser and Bradley, the project was also rewarding because they got to collaborate to benefit something they both love. “In the humanities you kind of work as a lone ranger off on your own, so to be part of a team was really fun,” said Orser.
The podcasts can be found at: http://urbantells.net/gwynnsfalls/