If you ever look behind and don’t like what you find
There’s something you should know, you’ve got a place to go.
“Ben” – Michael Jackson
New York. City that never sleeps. City of aspirations. City of possibility. City known as one of the top ten in the world for rat populations , according to Animal Planet. There are currently about 2 million ratty residents under and around us.
What about the rat himself? What is his life like? The darkest, dirtiest corners of the city, the patches that we fear and avoid, he calls home. The gunk and rubbish that we throw in the trash, he calls dinner. The creatures that we viciously call vermin and pests, he calls his colony. The rat lives in our sight and in our shadows, and we are is in constant hustle to eradicate them. However, these creatures are trying to survive and live just like the rest of us.
Inspired by animal cognition and behavior, Gal Nissim and I are bringing the umwelt of the rat to life, giving the audience the chance to experience the world from the point of view of the city rat.
Our initial inspiration came from this article in the NY Times that talks about the PTSD and emotional trauma that pet birds experience in their lifetime. We struggled with understanding why people would just leave their pet bird behind or discard them. We wanted to explore the empathy of that space, the feelings that the animals experienced by placing that feeling on an audience. Being in New York City, we see the rat almost daily. It is an animal that we freely discard.
PROJECT IDEATION PHASE
We spent a lot of time trying to narrow down exactly what experience we wanted our audience to have when encountering this sound-based readymade and what the parts would be.
We did narrow it down to rats and bones and giving the audience the perspective of the rat.
We initially wanted to create large scale space with the readymade, for people to enter and have the experience. We thought about tubes and tunnels, putting wardrobe boxes or large black garbage bins together to create the effect of a sewer. Inside the tube would be rat bones from owl pellets and garbage. When certain sensors were set off, sounds of the subway, dripping and other rat noises would fill the space.
After talking with Gabe, we started to look at the project from a different scale, not large but smaller, rat-sized in a sense. So our minds took off and we started thinking of the object itself – bones + what? We planned on having the user pick up a rat skull and listen to sound through a speaker in the skull. But what would be the rest of the readymade?
And then it hit us!
The audio story gives the user the chance to experience a day-in-the-life of a New York City rat. They enter the space and see a tall stand with a spotlight shining down on it. In the spotlight, on the table sits a sewer grate, with a rat skull on top. This is at eye-level to someone of average height, giving the perspective that a rat seems from the grate. They hear noises coming from the skull which intrigues them. They pick it up, hold it to their ear, and as they walk around the sewer grate, they hear the sounds of the rat’s day in three acts:
The Street Sounds
China Town Park Sounds
Each sound transitions to the next, mapped to a sensor that isbased on where the user is around the grate.
We needed a manhole cover. We needed a rat skull. We needed owl pellets. STAT!
We were able to order a rat skull and owl pellets, waiting for their arrival.
We called various junk shops, the NY Department of water, 311, and scrap metal shops (one of which told us how completely it was to have and deal city manhole covers). Manhole covers sold online were either not the right kind of manhole, thousands of dollars, or they were only available for pick up…in Alaska.
So we searched and found a new alternative – a sewer grate. Vintage. The path led us to these two items and we are waiting to hear back from the shipper to see how soon we might be able to get the item to make this a reality.
In retrospect, our quest maybe sounded a bit bizarre…but #YORO (You Only Readymades Once – am I right?)!
We have many technical questions on how to get this all to come together including:
-What sensors will be best for this?
-Will we get our parts on time?
-How can we program MAX to have sounds coming out of the mouse when it is stationary on the platform/grate versus when it is being held up to one’s ear? Accelerometer?
-How are we going to get MAX MSP to connect the different sound story chapters based on the sensor readings?
-How will we get the blue tooth device to work?
-How will be we able to make this wireless?
*Featured image from Etsy Store – ChimeraCurio