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the conet project
Wednesday January 19th 2005, 10:36 am
Filed under: General
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My latest obsession: The Conet Project

Call me late to the party, but I recently discovered this. In short, The Conet Project is the title of a collection of recordings from shortwave radios all around the world. But these are not simply people jabbering with each other. These are recordings of ‘numbers stations’. The first time I heard one of these recordings, I was haunted. Here’s a quick description of what one of these broadcasts sound like:

“Static. Faint voices. Seven slow, monotonous tones. A pause. Suddenly, you hear music–one of those wind-up songs played by a child’s toy. The melody repeats three times. A pause. Suddenly, you hear a female voice counting off the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0 in German. A pause. She repeats the numbers. A pause. The children’s toy melody returns.”


What are these wild, random noises? Popular folklore says that these numbers stations are actually coded instructions from government agencies to spies or groups of spies. The individual sounds themselves have no discernible logic or meaning. But when you’re an obsessive person like me who will listen to these absurd and wonderful noises on an endless loop, you start to hear patterns.

While it’s pretty cool to think that these recordings are encrypted messages, to me it sounds like the work of performance artists. Some musicians have embedded the spirit of these recordings into their work. Boards of Canada are clearly influenced by numbers stations. Wilco used a sample of one of these recordings on their groundbreaking album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. They were summarily sued and the case was settled out of court:

“On the first of the discs, a woman in an indecipherable accent — a Mossad agent, according to legend — keeps repeating three words: “Yankee … hotel … foxtrot.”

It’s the same recording that loops for a minute and a half during “Poor Places,” the 10th track on Wilco’s 2002 album. After a two-year legal fight, Tweedy agreed in an out-of-court settlement to give Akin Fernandez, Irdial’s owner and sole employee, a substantial royalty for the recording.”


How someone can claim ownership of these shortwave recordings is beyond me. Blame the lawyers.

Of course I immediately began incorporating these sounds into my own ‘music’. I use the term “music” rather loosely, as I tend to gravitate to absurd and random noises.

These recordings are freely available online. Here’s disc 1,2,3,4. I don’t know the legality of downloading this, so take your chances.


Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

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Hey, I found this old Bay Guardian article on the Conet Project – not sure if you saw it. Would love to hear how you’ve incorporated this – aurally hieroglyphic randomness/found art transmissions/spookiness by the “spooks” – into your music.

Comment by tao 08.11.05 @ 9:50 pm

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