Conet Project free online

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":
Conetshortwaveeee 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."

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."
Conet Project (Hyperreal), "Counting Spies" (Salon), buy Conet Project (Amazon)

Previously on BB:
Who owns recordings of numbers stations?


  1. I finally heard one of these stations “live” on shortwave a couple years ago, had known about them for years but never found them on the dial.

  2. I’ve always thought the number stations were one-time pads used by field agents for encrypting their communications back to the US. But maybe they are outward messages…

  3. Ha! I have these Cd;s somewhere in the basement. I love them. They scare the SHIT out of me though.

    It’s weird how now they’re free after Irdial sued WEA and Wilco.

  4. slighttangent

    one of my earliest memories of my grandparents house was a bedroom my parents slept in while we visited that i was -never- allowed to go into. having the room adjacent to theirs i was always tempted to have a look see. One day, after hearing her get off the phone and leaving the room to go downstairs, my ears pearked up to the lack of the door closing all the way. I slid off the bed and headed directly to the room that was off limits. once inside i saw all of my grandfathers WWII memorabilia, but not realizing what it was at the time. then suddenly an awful beeping noise coming from the darker corner of the room startled me. and as i crept closer to see what was making such an alarming noise, i hear a female voice squawking and i immediately got creeped out and left the room and headed downstairs to imform parents there was a weird noise comming from their room.

    It was the off-the-hook signal from the phone, and the eventual recorded prompt to check the number you were dialing. But from that day on, that kind of static laden missive has kept me at great unease.

    I’m with you Chang….it’s creepy stuff.


  5. I grabbed these from the internet archive years ago myself when a a friend Sherilyn Connelly mentioned them in her writings, and they are some of the best and oddest recordings, I have ever listened to (and I listen to some ODD stuff). I sometimes put a track or two on mix CDs for friends and usually I get an email or phone call a few days later asking what it is, and then I can spend the 5 or so minutes explaining them, and on more than a few occasions have burned audio cds of the whole project for them, because they are really great and in just the right setting kind of paranoia inducing.

  6. I have these from a few years ago as well. Nice sounds for the studio (but then again I enjoy station drift).
    I like “Russian Man Counting”.

  7. #14 – Ha! I also picked mine up at Aquarius a couple years ago. I don’t remember which number I am, and they just ran out of Polaroid film, so no enshrinement on the wall for me. Awesome music store them.

  8. In the early 80s I spent some time sailing between the Florida Keys, Jamaica and Cuba, and sometimes, late at night, we would pick up these number stations on the little radio on our boat. It was still Cold-War-ish then, and we didn’t know if they were secret spy codes or some pirate smuggling codes. Someone even thought they had something to do with cock-fight betting or numbers-running, or maybe even those Santeria-store “Dream Code” books that tell you what numbers to play in the lottery.

    The high and low pitched fading in and out of the signal, and being in the middle of the black-as-black ocean at night, and as @8 says, the “static laden”ness of it all was truly eerie and haunting, like being watched by spacemen or something.

    When I was a kid, on Sunday nights in Arizona there was a radio show that was somewhat a proto-“Coast to Coast AM” (as it was in the Art Bell days, not the Nooryfied Now)…following that (and a few Styx or ELO songs) there was another show called “Radio Tel Aviv”. On this show people constantly talked about the threat of nuclear annihilation. It faded in and out like a numbers station or a station you just barely pull-in at night on a long road trip across the desert. Sometimes there would be a moment of intense static and then dead silence. I always became afraid that the other side of the planet had blown up and the destruction was racing over the horizon towards me like the Sun’s devastation at the end of Niven’s “Inconstant Moon”.

  9. …so the farmer says,

    46673 68310 57220 88901 09812
    18404 49514 28443 83721 49956
    72878 12623 83299 10117 53902

    That one always cracked me up…

  10. Irdial sued, because they had a predecessor of the CC noncommercial license, I think based on the GNU documentation license, and Wilco was making use of it for commercial restricted-copyright release. The audio files have been freely downloadable for years; it was only the way it was used that was a problem. Same thing as incorporating GNU-licensed code into a commercial product.

  11. I know I’m late to the party now and probably nobody is going to read this, but just in case…! Does anyone know if there’s a way to grab them all at once using curl? The equivalent, basically, of
    but that clearly doesn’t work and I couldn’t figure anything else out… Been downloading them all manually but was just curious, this is bound to come up again…


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