Soprana Elissa Edwards combined nature sounds recorded at Winterthur with traditional music scores to create a soothing soundtrack for the exhibition 'Outside In: Nature-inspired Design at Winterthur. '

Image Caption: Soprana Elissa Edwards combined nature sounds recorded at Winterthur with traditional music scores to create a soothing soundtrack for the exhibition 'Outside In: Nature-inspired Design at Winterthur. '

Elissa Edwards combines historic music and sounds from nature to create a unique soundtrack.

While researching the wide range of historical scores in the Winterthur Library, Elissa Edwards found many pieces that celebrated the rich tradition of nature-themed music.

“I just wanted to look at everything,” Edwards says. “I dug deeply into the music collections and really took a lot of notes, documenting what was there because I was delighted to find this wonderful collection and knew I wanted to revisit it.”

Edwards is an operatically trained exponent of early music, who has a particular interest in historical music manuscript collections owned by women as well as historical music made by women, both of which she wants to raise awareness among modern audiences. Edwards breathed new life into forgotten works from the Winterthur Library by weaving parts of them with sounds from nature to create a soundtrack for the exhibition Outside In: Nature-inspired Design. Her musical creation is part of the Transformations installation of works by contemporary artists. 

Transformations highlights work by Winterthur’s Maker-Creator Fellows, who get special access to the collections and staff for research and inspiration. The installations in Transformations celebrate how Winterthur’s landscape and material culture moved the Maker-Creator Fellows to turn their impressions of the past into artistic and experiential representations that comment on the present. Outside In, with its display of bird nests, seashells, and other natural objects, explores how objects from nature inform design motifs of wallpapers, textiles, China, furniture carving, and more, and the ways those themes are integrated into interior designs.

To create the Outside In soundtrack, Edwards first selected the scores from the Winterthur collection that she wanted to record, intending to convey some sense of the breadth of the Winterthur collection. Dr. Basil Considine, a renowned musicologist and former Winterthur fellow, transcribed hand-written scores into modern editions, which made for an effortless collaboration between the musicians.

“I also knew that I wanted to work with female collaborators, then create a variety of different instrumental textures to express the playfulness of the different characteristics that you hear in the music,” she says. These included mimicking birdsong with a flute or plucking the strings of a harpsichord.

“I love the idea of using the harp because there is a beautiful early pedal harp in the Winterthur collection, and while we recorded on a modern harp, I think the sound of the harp has such an alluring quality and really highlights the sumptuousness of the collection,” Edwards says.

In various outdoor locations at Winterthur, Edwards and her husband, Jeremy Sheeler, of Awarehouse Productions, recorded the nature soundscape, capturing the burbling of Clenny Run, the buzzing of insects, and breezes blowing through the trees and meadows. He also recorded Edwards singing, embellished with baroque ornamentation techniques. They were all mixed into the soundtrack by Edwards’s brother, Ryan Edwards, of Coincident Sound. 

“I approached the project as if I were the listener, thinking about what would be emotionally gripping to someone who is experiencing all of this for the first time,” Edwards says. “I think the sensory experience of that Brandywine Valley area, being by the river, takes you out of your day-to-day self and allows you to come into a place with a more thoughtful approach to what you’re doing. It’s my hope that the music transports visitors to a place of heightened historical whimsy, this kind of pastoral romanticism, which is experienced whenever you walk the Winterthur grounds and garden. It’s an absolutely delightful place to experience, and I wanted the music to have unique surprises and to captivate the listener.” 

Hear Edwards’s composition in Outside In: Nature-inspired Design at Winterthur. See the work of the other Transformations artists in the galleries area.