Xeni and I were just talking about the wonder of Wilco and their performance at the recent Outside Lands festival
. As many of you know, Wilco's magnificent album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
was named for (and uses samples from) the Conet Project
, a four CD collection from Irdial-Discs of "numbers stations." For decades, intelligence organizations have reportedly broadcast one-way messages to their agents in the field via shortwave, and the transmissions happen to sound weirder than any Stockhausen score or minimalist electronica you've ever heard -- a child's voice, or the obviously synthesized intonation on what's known as the "Lincolnshire Poacher" station, named for the folk song accompanying the numbers. The Conet Project contains recordings of 150 of these stations. I wrote about the Conet Project in 1999 for a feature article
in Salon. (Cory also blogged about the project on BB after Irdial oddly sued WEA, Wilco's label, for copyright infringement.)
Since then, Irdial has posted the Conet Project audio on Hyperreal. From my Salon article, titled "Counting Spies":
My preferred dose? One CD of Conet before bedtime. Repeat if necessary. Be warned, though: Side effects may include grainy and nihilistic nightmares starring a grayscale spy cabal armed with an arsenal of dead media. Conet as soundtrack to a J.G. Ballard noir documentary. Indeed, Ballard's style of (non) fiction blends seamlessly with the blurb on Conet's stark, minimalist packaging: "The origin of these stations is in dispute. Their purpose is unclear. Some of these organizations should have been closed down after the 'end of the cold war,' yet they continue to transmit like clockwork."
Conet Project (Hyperreal)
And therein lies the mystery that keeps headphones on hundreds of numbers listeners around the world. Most of these people aren't the avant-audio enthusiasts who frequent Aquarius (Records, where I bought my copy). They don't know from musique concrete. These shortwave buffs are knob-twiddlers of a different sort. For them, the process of numbers stations is more interesting than the product. Under the mainstream radar, numbers stations Web sites, online chat rooms and e-mail lists thrive with listeners sharing frequencies, recordings, rumors, stories and speculations about the strangest sounds on the dial.
"If you tune in to the BBC World Service, you know where the studios are, who the intended audience is and where the transmitters are, but with numbers stations you don't know any of that," says Simon Mason, a chemistry lab supervisor in England who in 1991 penned one of the first texts detailing the numbers racket, "Secret Signals: The Euronumbers Mystery." "It's like a mystery novel or television show, but the difference is no one will ever come out with a solution."
, "Counting Spies" (Salon)
, buy Conet Project (Amazon)
Previously on BB:
• Who owns recordings of numbers stations?
You’d be forgiven for thinking the videocassette format long-dead, but it turns out that Betamax is still around. Sony is finally going to withdraw tapes from sale, bringing a 40-year story to an end. The last recorders were sold in 2002. ベータビデオカセットおよびマイクロMVカセットテープ出荷終了のお知らせ [Sony; via The Verge]
A leaked Comcast memo discloses that the company’s consumer data caps have nothing to do with network congestion, contrary to its public claims. The internet service provider has often complained (such as when lobbying against net neutrality) that it must impose limits on service to prevent network congestion. The argument suggests that these measures are […]
LA Makerspace co-founder Tara Tiger Brown shares a project that her kid-friendly maker workshop is trying to make a reality.
Celebrate Cyber Monday with some brain food. Save on any eLearning deal in the Boing Boing Store today using coupon code: CYBERMONDAY25. Below are a couple of our favorite eLearning offers: eduCBA Tech Training Bundle: Lifetime Subscription:Welcome to your personal online classroom, where you can finally study at your own pace, on your own time (and […]
This minimalist multi-tool will see to it that instead of rocking a tool belt, you’ll carry just one. It’s shaped slightly like a key and weighs less than an ounce, so it plays nice with your keychain. The strong surgical-grade stainless steel blade will last, and is handy for everyday tasks like opening boxes and […]
The Code Black is our top-selling drone of all time—and for good reason. This powerful, palm-size drone is not only insanely fun to fly, but can capture some serious video footage from up above. With a flight time of about 10 minutes and an ultra-smooth ride, it’s a great introductory drone for anyone looking to […]