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*BUMP* Revisiting ‘The Conet Project”
Monday December 12th 2005, 12:29 pm
Filed under: art,music
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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

4 Comments so far
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Having found and listened to these stations on my shortwave radio, I can say they are very fascinating. I think it’s cool that they’re being incorporated into art and music. I’ve actually wondered whether the numbers on ABC’s Lost weren’t inspired by spy numbers stations.

Those who create the messages do seem to appreciate their “mystique”, and use interesting voices and music to identify and color their broadcasts. Some of the voices used are synthesized.

Whether the broadcasts are used for anything else, they are defiantly used to send information to intelligence agents in the field, or to at least give the appearance that messages are being sent to agents in the field. They utilize the only form of encryption that can mathematically be proven to be unbreakable, called one time pad encryption. No matter how many supercomputers or aeons you have to try and crack the code, you won’t be able to. Their only vulnerability is if you get your hands on the “pad” used to decrypt the numbers.

That there is anyone out there who would claim ownership of these broadcasts seems pretty lame. They’re obviously not meant to generate any kind of revenue or brand recognition.

Comment by eric 12.12.05 @ 1:10 pm

wow, thanks for the additional info about the encryption technique. it’s so freaky to hear some of these ghost-like voices counting, and suddenly the sound of a child’s music box.

i’m obsessed with these things, and i could listen to them all night. yeah, i don’t understand how Wilco could have been sued for using a sample from these great pieces. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Comment by hyperlexic 12.12.05 @ 8:56 pm

plaintext photomicrography 20, event 23, even…

beta seven torchlight…

index strobscopic…

distribution murder transparent transparency

(the sound of a record scratching, the needle stuck at the edge…)

caption antenatal

glasshouse mistral

profile situation,

“mark it zero dude…”

Comment by tao 12.12.05 @ 10:45 pm

tao, did you just order a spy to execute someone?

Comment by hyperlexic 12.12.05 @ 11:26 pm

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