Sound Installations and Composed Environments

Cordillera

    Poetry and Reading by Norbert Ruebsaat

    A composed environment for four-channel tape, Length: 45 Minutes

    Cordillera is a compositional working of Norbert Ruebsaat's reading of the long title poem from his book Cordillera.The piece combines the voice with environmental sound from the landscape-the Western Canadian mountain wilderness-which first inspired the poems, and thus places them back into their correct context.

    Cordillera means a ridge or chain of mountains. It is also used generically to describe the continuous range stretching from Tierra Del Fuego to Alaska. The poem describes an ascent and movement through the high country. It is composed of 17 shorter poems or "snapshots" of specific locations, and these are each given their own acoustic shape as the composition proceeds.

    Cordillera is about landscape, about wilderness, about the human presence and voice in places that are still considered by many to be barren and silent. It attempts to bring back to the city listener the sense of space, time and acoustic identity we experience when we manage to tear ourselves from the noise that clutters most of our daily lives.

    Cordillera was commissioned by and first installed as an acoustic environment at the Western Front Gallery in Vancouver, Canada, for its New Wilderness Festivalin the Spring of 1980.

    Hildegard Westerkamp

    Listen to the sound excerpts below. Sound clips are also embedded in their proper place within the poems.

    The poems that follow have been reprinted with permission from the author and publisher.
    They appear in: *CORDILLERA* by Norbert Ruebsaat, published by Pulp Press, Vancouver, Canada, 1979

    My Image

    I

    the echo, returning from the valley
    does not recognize my voice,
    the wind will not release
    the presence of a breathing thing,
    sheer rock is faceless fact

    waterfall thoughtless waterfall
    tightens
    tightens
    bends from the mountainlip
    leans into air
    burns into gravity

    there where the fish feed
    silent, as bubbles

    *
    I have been here briefly
    like hands in a glove,
    slyly, like winter

    I have been here briefly,
    crept into the cold
    like fingers

    I have been here briefly
    like skin
    like touch

    like fur
    like frost

    & now I vanish
    like traces of blood

    *

    ten winters carved in my palm
    ten winters pushed into flesh,
    this valley was my hope among the fleeing peaks
    the charged rocks
    the tree-line
    traced like a knife-wound

    there were places that throbbed with undergrowth,
    fat as moss
    or the great swell of cedar,
    places
    hungry with insects,
    the mud flesh of creekbeds

    this valley
    which did not want want me,
    never needed me,
    was immune to my glass - like skin

    this valley
    deep as the moon,
    a place you could plunge
    a knife into

    *

    hands
    hands cupped & blown into, hands
    slapped against shoulders,
    rubbed in the snow

    hands deep in pockets,
    curled into fists,
    tight hands
    clasped between thighs,
    under armpits
    hands with blue knuckles

    white, dreaming, trembling hands,
    bone hands,
    hands rubbed together
    like a pair of sticks

    *

    deep green pools
    like a knife thrust in
    & the green leaks out

    these are the silent pools
    formed out of twilight

    pools like blank eyes
    like ears
    where there hasn't been sound

    pools-in-the-stone
    in the grip of stone
    in the jaws of stone

    pools held like iron
    or water

    here are the jade fish
    fragments of light

    ice-pools
    frosting over

    that sound

    *

    II

    ice which contains
    the secret memory of water,
    ice which is nearly
    mad from the cold

    ice which knows
    the amazement of rock,
    the time it takes for the echo

    *

    the fists became dreaming
    geological beings,
    coiled into violence,
    the shape of a scream

    the fists collected the cold & the silence
    into a kind of sinew

    the fists became blind
    like a rock is blind

    fists cut off
    from the stump of the wrist

    *

    birds of prey here,
    lean cunning birds,
    shaped like the break in a bone

    razor-birds
    cut out of stone,
    suspended by hooks from the sky

    keen-sighted birds
    sheer
    as a dagger

    flesh-eaters
    blood-dreams
    angles-in-space

    *

    here on the edges
    here on the talus slopes
    slate-grey cliffs
    I try out my human voice
    try-out-my-human-voice

    human voice echo
    human voice stone
    human voice thunder recoils like a blow
    like a fist hurled through into silence

    the jagged black line of a crow
    tears across the sky,
    red on its beak,
    spawning

    My Image

    III

    now everything has eyes
    now everything is ice
    now everything has teeth

    small uncertain cracks

    things with no names
    creep from beneath the mineral blocks

    like a species
    not yet invented

    mica-eyes
    flakes,
    nothing has been here

    *


    no earth for this conversation
    no gravity
    no language for it

    deep in the earth
    a thinking starts,
    a muscle begins to dream

    a scarlet trickle forms
    a form of pain leaks out
    & tightens

    I must not lose my footing
    here among the stones,
    this crossing
    hazardous as bones,
    treacherous as eyes

    a thin muscle of water
    curls & grips my calf,
    silent, unbending

    *

    ice which contains
    the secret memory of water,
    ice which is nearly
    mad from the cold

    ice which knows
    the amazement of rock,
    the time it takes for the echo

    *

    the fists became dreaming
    geological beings,
    coiled into violence,
    the shape of a scream

    the fists collected the cold & the silence
    into a kind of sinew

    the fists became blind
    like a rock is blind

    fists cut off
    from the stump of the wrist

    *

    birds of prey here,
    lean cunning birds,
    shaped like the break in a bone

    razor-birds
    cut out of stone,
    suspended by hooks from the sky

    keen-sighted birds
    sheer
    as a dagger

    flesh-eaters
    blood-dreams
    angles-in-space

    *

    here on the edges
    here on the talus slopes
    slate-grey cliffs
    I try out my human voice
    try-out-my-human-voice

    human voice echo
    human voice stone
    human voice thunder recoils like a blow
    like a fist hurled through into silence

    the jagged black line of a crow
    tears across the sky,
    red on its beak,
    spawning