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Urban Intonation (2017)

Living under the paving stones, consuming our refuse, and incubating our diseases, the city rat is a ubiquitous part of global, urban capitalism. The revulsion rats inspire actually speaks of our closeness to them—rattus norvegicus burrows through the supposed human / nature divide. And just as we continually negotiate our place in a dynamic city, so have rats developed elaborate social codes intertwined with urban architecture and geography.

We are not usually privy to the vocal address of one rat to another, however, as they primarily speak in frequencies above the 20kHz limit of human hearing. For Urban Intonation, I recorded rats at multiple sites on the streets of NYC with an ultrasonic microphone. I then resampled and pitch-shifted the result into the range of the human voice and mixed it for playback over a human public address system, repositioning rat noise in public space as something that is recognizable, if not intelligible, as speech.

Support: TOW Center for Digital Journalism, Eyebeam. Thanks: Mark Hansen, Emily Bell, Marguerite Holloway, Jason Munshi-South, Michael Parsons, Matthew Combs, X Pitts, Jim Moses, David Feinberg, Kathy High, Jamie Allen, Jake Silverstein, Maya Livio, Steven Matijcio. Photos: Brian House, Dwayne Wilson, Paul Shin, Dina Litovsky. Audio feature produced by Kara Oehler: "Listen to the World".