siren song


In the first years of the twenty-first century, New York City police officers had six different siren noises at their fingertips to alternate and overdub as they attempted to bore through stagnant traffic. The “Yelp” is a high-pitched, rapidly oscillating, jumpy sound that suggests a small dog with large teeth has hold of your thigh and is not about to let go. The “Wail” is the classic keening noise that the Furies might release while pursuing vengeance. The “Hi-Lo,” or “European,” is whiney, forlorn—prone to depression, but undeniably civilized. The “Air-Horn” is vulgarity incarnate—a burp, a rasp, an all-out bursty blast. The “Fast” or “Priority” resembles a hysteric who’s just mainlined crystal meth. The “Manual” is an outcast loner raising its rifle in a solitary low-to-high pulse. The summer of 2007 saw the first broaching of the possibility that a seventh instrument might be added to the ensemble.1 The Rumbler™, developed by Federal Signal Corporation, is described in the company’s promotional material as an “intersection-clearing system.” The “revolutionary new concept” behind this technologically simple combo of an amplifier, two high-output woofers, and a built-in timer is the Rumbler’s capacity to interact with most existing siren amplifiers and create secondary, low-frequency tones.

more from George Prochnik at Cabinet here.