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?
Coming after improvements to Firefox and continued unease at Google’s life-pervading insight, this image is outperforming the ███████ ████ Virality Control Group today (via). It got me thinking about all the promises that were made. Here’s the earliest article in Google News to contain “Big browser” in its headline, published by Time Magazine on Nov. […]
The WiFi232 is a traditional old-timey old-schooley Hayes-compatible 300-115200 baud modem, no wider than its own parallel DB25 port. Automatically responds with a customizable busy message when already in a call. The killer app seems to be using it to get internet onto ancient retro portables like the TRS-80 Model 102, but it’s been put […]
Most tech-media takes on the iPhone’s 10th anniversary are bland and self-congratulatory, but I like Tom Warren’s at The Verge. He laments how Apple’s pocket computer killed his inner nerd. As a youngster, he’d be constantly tearing down and building computers, even in the sweltering heat of summer. But now… …All of that tinkering and […]
The current web development landscape is rife with buzzwords and technology that gets abandoned almost as soon as it’s made. If you’ve never written a line of code before, it can be hard to figure out what’s coming, what’s here to stay, or how to get ahead.This Beginner Web Development Bundle is a great place […]
The Fader Stealth Quadcopter from TRNDlabs packs incredible flight performance into a package small enough to land on your phone screen, and it’s available now in the Boing Boing Store.The Fader’s six-axis gyroscope module gives it perfect balance in the air. This makes the onboard 720p HD camera all the better for shooting amazing flight […]
Although fully autonomous vehicles aren’t yet allowed on public streets, they are poised to dominate the roads in the not-too-distant future. But before that happens, Apple, Google, Uber, and other companies now investing in self-driving tech are going to need talented developers that can account for the dizzying array of factors at play when a […]