Sarah Peebles: Composer/Performer

108—Walking Through Tokyo

An audio-visual portrait of Tokyo at the turn of the century (50 minutes, 2002/2018)

Sarah Peebles
soundscape portrait of Tokyo
Christie Pearson
images of Tokyo's architecture, spaces and life choreographed to sound

With an essay on Tokyo's soundscape past and present by the late Yoshimura Hiroshi

"What could emerge as self-indulgent noise is instead an absorbing
episodic sound collage, recalling a more cohesive version of one
of Glenn Gould's 1960s radio documentaries."   
— Eye Weekly

A walk through the city, the microphone reveals the soundscape in a way one would perhaps perceive the world while walking: one’s attention focused and refocused in any given moment, the lines between reality, imagined and remembered, blurred. Tokyo’s ambient sonic environment is especially active and compelling. Even the space between sounds reveals intriguing aspects of this city, a place which has several large centres, each with their own distinct character, and no one downtown core. This sonic journey was created from audio recorded in a planned as well as a spontaneous fashion. Our walk takes us chronologicallythroughout the city’s various districts via real physical paths, and through places significantly transformed in time and space. It weaves together modern and traditional hawking, evangelists' sermons, train riding, video arcade and pachinko parlour sound worlds, kendo en masse, and, at the centre of the piece, "joya no kane" — the annual ringing of temple bells 108 times at 12:00 A.M. each New Years Eve.

“Walking Through Tokyo” is a sonic and visual journey where images and sounds immerse the viewer in an alternative cityscape, composing a staggered narrative that doubles back on itself.

Photos of Tokyo by Christie Pearson
click on thumbnails to view larger image

Canadian artist/architect Christie Pearson’s photographs of Tokyo taken 1999-2000 create synchronized visuals in response to Peebles’ audio composition. These images immerse the viewer into an alternative cityscape, composing a staggered narrative that doubles back on itself. The sequence mirrors the audio piece’s movement through a city of amplified juxtaposition: Eros and Thanatos; brightness and darkness; engagement and alienation. Tokyo shows us the fullness and void of the electric night.

Video excerpt

Full video presented online by The Wire.

"108—Walking Through Toyko" is also a soundscape and E-CD (2001-2002)

The architecture of Tokyo brings the visitor into a free-fallout of expectations.  It is a city constantly reconfiguring itself. Western conventions relating individual buildings to the public realm are absent, while startling adjacencies of scale, function, materials, and age question and reveal codes by which we attempt to read what is of value. Where to direct the eye amidst the simultaneous stimuli? In a cellular city devoid of street addresses, any mental map of monuments quickly becomes a mirage. A hasty consumption of physical forms creates a sense of the material world’s evanescence, transient fashions collapsing as quickly as buildings. The visual sequence here mirrors the sonic movement through a city of amplified juxtaposition: Eros and Thanatos; brightness and darkness; engagement and alienation. Tokyo shows us the fullness and void of the electric night.

In writing his introduction to this audio work , Japanese soundscape scholar and composer Hiroshi Yoshimura (1940 - 2003) penned an intriguing discourse on the nature of human sound from an Asian perspective, highlighting his observations on “sound chaos” and his research into temple bells of the Edo period. "The soundscape common to all of Asia is hustle and bustle. The noises of a bustling bazaar are indeed proof that the city is vibrant and viable... This is the same soundscape found in any city around the world, but compared to areas based in a European culture, there is a certain boisterous quality characterizing the soundscapes of cities of Asian culture. This soundscape seems almost to lose the quality of noise, and comes across more as a smell, almost like body odour, so that the noise of the city that might have been perceived as bothersome becomes soothing. In the globalized digital world only uniform information has come to be communicated. It is lacking in that something extra that we perceive only with our five senses. This is why it is more important than ever that we can be given a glimpse of the true face of a city through the refreshing perspective of soundscapes captured by human ears.”   —Hiroshi Yoshimura (exerpt)

"Between each evocative street scene, Peebles masterfully creates a palpable sense of the joy of motion through urban spaces – the solid pneumatic hiss of the doors on the JR trains, station jingles and the learned nasal twang of a streetcar conductor. Christie Pearson's street photos on the enhanced CD add another dimension to an exquisitely sequenced piece of audio verité."
— The Wire

Distributed by Vtape (

Programme Notes    Credits & Bios    Synopsis    Installation and Performance History

Physics Room Annual Catalogue essay (2003)

Essay on “Walking through Tokyo" soundscape, “sound chaos” and Asian soundscapes
(by Hiroshi Yoshimura): English | Japanese
A retrospective of Yoshimura's work is catalogued online.

"Streets of Tokyo speak up" by Peter Goddard (Toronto Star)

Audio CD release (Post-Concrète records (post-004, 2002) details here.

The soundscape, "108–Walking through Tokyo at the Turn of the Century", was commissioned and broadcast by
L'espace du son on Chaîne culturelle of Radio-Canada (Premiered February 3, 2001). Produced by Mario Gauthier.


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