continent. maps a topology of unstable confluences and ranges across new thinking, traversing interstices and alternate directions in culture, theory, biopolitics and art.
Issue 5.3 / 2016:

Urban Intonation

Brian House

"Urban Intonation - Brian House


“The Council Held by Rats”, Gustave Doré. 1867.



Living under the paving stones, consuming our refuse, and incubating our diseases, the mythos of the NYC rat reflects the underside of global, urban capitalism. The revulsion they inspire actually speaks of our closeness to them—neither domesticated nor "wild," the rat belies the notion that we are separate from nature. And just as we continually negotiate our place in a dynamic city, so have they developed elaborate social codes intertwined with urban architecture and geography.


Rarely, however, are we privy to the vocal address of one rat to another, acoustically masked as they are by the din of human activity. What if these voices, though unintelligible to us, were nonetheless broadcast into public space in the same way that our own concerns are so regularly announced? Could we hear in nonhuman communication the negotiation of anxiety that characterizes the contemporary human "public"?


For Urban Intonation, I have gathered recordings of rats from NYC. Snippets of audio featuring the squeaks, chirrups, and bruxing of murine social interactions are edited together and shifted into the human auditory range—the result is played back over human address systems.