A Walk Through the City (1981)

for 2-channel audio with poetry and reading by Norbert Ruebsaat
Commissioned by Two New Hours, CBC Radio Toronto Ontario Canada
First Broadcast: April 1981

Length: 16:05

A Walk through the City is an urban environmental composition based on Norbert Ruebsaat's poem of the same name (see below). It takes the listener into a specific urban location - Vancouver B.C.'s Skid Row area - with its sounds and languages. Traffic, carhorns, brakes, sirens, aircraft, construction, pinball machines, the throb of trains, human voices, a poem, are its "musical instruments." These sounds are used partly as they occur in reality and partly as sound objects altered in the studio. A continuous flux is created between the real and imaginary soundscapes, between recognizable and transformed places, between reality and composition.

The poem is spoken by the author and appears throughout the piece, symbolizing the human presence in the urban soundscape. Its voice interacts with, comments on, dramatizes, struggles with the sounds and other voices it encounters in the piece.

A Walk Through the City was composed at the Sonic Research Studio at Simon Fraser University and, in its final stage, at the CBC studios in Vancouver, with the technical assistance of Gary Heald. Many of the sounds were taken from the World Soundscape Project's environmental tape collection at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, including two of the street old-timers, recorded by my friend and colleague, the late Howard Broomfield. Some were recorded by myself.

The piece was commissioned by and first broadcast on CBC Radio's "Two New Hours."

by Norbert Ruebsaat

a walk through the city,
sunlight edge
and the cymbal crash

follow the burning signs,
the trail of bullets,
the embers dying

discarded shoe
like an open mouth,
a burn on the pavement

a house
containing three children
flashes once
and is gone

a single robbery

somewhere a man
is carving himself
to death
for food

day like an open wound

in the instant of the newsflash,
in the terror of the merchant,
in the gleam of the coin,
the child's eye

it occurs at gunpoint,
the barrel
laid across the heart

murder, the judgement,
with a lethal instrument

the whole city staked out
with eyes
like a giant crystal

catching the angles of light

the city borders the skin