Audio Walking Tour Is a Spine-Tingling Experience
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Audio Walking Tour Is a Spine-Tingling Experience

Performance artist creates audio tour of John Street and offers a new interpretation of urban movement.

Gathered on the bridge between the CN Tower and Rogers Centre on Tuesday evening, a small group listens as Cara Spooner hops on a bench and thanks everyone for meeting her here, at the edge of the city. She has prepared an audio walking tour of John Street; everyone was equipped with her audio track on an iPod and on her count, descended over the bridge, peering down at the train tracks, for a zen-like stroll through the city.

The walk doesn’t begin immediately though—instead, Spooner’s voice instructs us to look around and asks if we see what she sees. The group, however, is standing in a circle and no one is facing in the same direction. On the background of the audio is a constant melody of birds chirping behind Spooner’s voice—and then beneath the bridge a GO train storms by, the sounds of the metal click and clang not uncomfortably, but curious against the soundtrack coming from the headphones.

Spooner’s voice tells everyone to move forward.

John Street leads from the foot of the CN Tower to the back of the AGO, cutting directly through the Entertainment District and passing some heavyweights in the neighbourhood: MuchMusic, Scotiabank Theatre, and a slew of lively pubs. It is also slated to become a pedestrianized street in the near future, and already has a certain festive air on certain stretches. In Spooner’s eyes, John Street is the spine of the tour—literally, as she has named it the Spine Walk—with the CN Tower anchoring the city as its pelvis and the AGO as its head. There’s a lot of room for interpretation there, which is the beauty of Spooner’s work.

Spooner is a dancer and is interested in movement in public space. Throughout the tour, her narration dwells on the mechanics of walking and the interactions between walkers: “I see this as the choreography of many, but we are all autonomous,” she says.

Her voice speaks softly into the headphones about different parts of the body, the centre of the body, the angle of the collarbone, the arch of the neck. When she talks about making figure-eights with the hips, the walkers start swaying their hips and almost look like dancers themselves. Passersby on the street don’t seem to notice, Spooner says gently on the audio track. With her voice and the sound of birds chirping filling the participants’ ears, few sounds permeate from outside. The removal of external sound heightens and desensitizes the stroll at the same time.

One of the participants, Andrea Spaziani, says she loves how the audio tracks reinterpret walking for her—she’s never considered the anatomy of the city before. She describes the experience of being given permission to move at a different pace, and taking the time to use her whole body in the course of what is such an ordinary part of daily life, as an almost out of body experience.

The tour ends by telling people to lie down in the grass in Grange Park. Spooner’s voice washes over the birds chirping one last time: “This is where you are supposed to be.”

Spine Walk is part of the Goethe Institut’s The Future of Mobility programme, which has a focus on pedestrianism, renewal, and environmental planning in cities. There will be a second tour on June 25, and audio tracks will be available to download for a self-guided tour.

Photos courtesy of the Goethe Institut Toronto.

CORRECTION: June 7, 11AM Previously, and quite anachronistically, we referred to the Rogers Centre as the SkyDome. The correction has been made above.