sonic ghosts

august 25, 2004.

Five of my Sound Chronicles montages are included in the third Sonic Ghosts programme, alongside works by Nicholas Virgo, Mhairi Macfarlane & Andrew McKee, Pippa Murphy, Pete Stollery and Alistair MacDonald. The third edition of Sonic Ghosts is this week's 'live (mp3) transmission' at New Media Scotland's DRIFT Radio. Sonic Ghosts ("reconstructing and processing moments in time and space, events now gone, and found sound atmospheres") is one of the three 'themes' in Resonant Cities, a series of radio programmes curated by Robert H. King

Drift, "an exploration of sound art and experimental music featuring radio broadcasts, moving image, publications, and live events", is taking place throughout 2004. The project's web site gives access to a large archive of well-documented Drift-transmissions, freely available upon registration.

[ added april 04, 2008 ] From the contributions that he originally selected for Resonant Cities, curator Robert King made a second selection, "exemplifying the range of material that was initially available on the streaming broadcasts", to fit onto two audio CDs.
resonant cities CD It took quite a while for this 'Resonant Cities' document to appear (it is dated july 2007). It took so long that in fact I had more or less forgotten about it. Therefore it was a pleasant surprise when - as if out of the blue - a package from Scotland arrived with my 'artist copies'. (But also that as a matter of fact is several months ago now.)
It has been worth the wait, though. The two CDs come together with a 24-page booklet with detailed information on the artists and their contributed tracks, a descriptive selection of a number of web sites and resources relevant to sound art, field recording, phonography, sonic intervention and radio art, and a short essay by Robert King on the project, in which he nicely recounts the personal 'sound memories' that led him to pick the three themes for the broadcasts: Sonic Ghosts, The Narrative Journey and The Remembered Journey.
On the two CDs there are seventeen tracks, by seventeen contributors from all over the globe: Claudio Yituey Chea, Mario Mota Martinez, Ed Osborn, Aaron Ximm, Erdem Helvacioglu, John Levack Drever, Pippa Murphy, Pete Stollery, Thanos Chrysakis, Roger Mills, Viv Corringham, Charlie Pulford, Michael McLoughlin, Nicholas Economos, Lorenza Lucchi Basili, Adrian Newton and myself (with the Sound Chronicles track 'GrandTirage').

Together the seventeen tracks make for a great pattern book of sonic explorations of our 'fragmented city soundscapes', involving a wide range of approaches to recording and composition with field recordings.

The first time I listened to 'Resonant Cities', one of my 'immediate favorites' was Aaron Ximm's contribution, the very 'musical' Buriganga Canon, which also struck me as being strangely familiar. Of course I had heard it before, in the Drift web stream; but I also had heard there all the other contributions, so that could not account for the evident 'resonance' I experienced when re-hearing Aaron's piece ... humming-topThe track is constructed by layering copies of a single recording he made from a row boat on the Buriganga River in central Dhaka (Bangladesh), featuring the sound of diesel boat motors and horns. It later occurred to me how similar the sound of Buriganga Canon is to that of a track I did a really long time ago (London, 1981), and in which I layered a recording of a metal humming top. The fast turning of the top comes with a 'clicking' sound that is just like the sound of the diesel boat motors in Aaron's track, and the top's humming sounds a lot like the horns ... So that had been the reason for the immediate attraction that I felt for the Buriganga Canon. The sounds of boats on the Bangladesh river conjured up a sonic ghost, and unconsciously took me back to a Bayswater room in the London of the early 1980s, where one day I sat on the floor and played with a humming top ...

[ I actually do not know whether the Resonant Cities double CD + booklet can be bought and/or ordered somewhere. The New Media Scotland website only mentions the production of a 'Drift companion CD', but gives no further information. I still have a number of nicely packaged 'n' sealed copies though, so if you are interested in obtaining 'Resonant Cities', do drop me a line ... Aaron Ximm's track Buriganga Canon is, btw, available as a free download on his compilations-page. ]

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icepie - number stations

august 21, 2004.

While being in Kürten I bought a couple of CD's, among which a copy of Kurzwellen, one of the earlier Stockhausen works, composed in the late sixties. During a performance of this piece, which usually will last about an hour, "six players react [...] to unforeseeable events which they receive via short-wave radios."

It was a funny sort of coincidence that when checking my mail shortly after having listened quite a lot to this recording, I read a message to the phonography mailing list about shortwave number stations.

"Number Stations are radio broadcasts that appear in the Shortwave bands twenty-four hours a day, on many different frequencies. They are used to transmit short text messages. [...]

"Numbers Stations send enciphered messages in the form of groups of figures or letters using a cryptosystem known as a one time pad. In this system, two identical sets of random numbers, printed on numbered sheets are generated (the pad); one pad is kept by the sender and the other is kept by the recipient. [...] The only way that messages sent with one time pads can be deciphered is if your enemy retrieves your set of random numbers, or pad, or if the sender re-uses a pad."

source: 'The Conet Project CD booklet'

Akin Fernandez, of Irdial-Discs, accidentally came across a shortwave number station in december 1992, and discovered many more in the weeks to follow.

"One of the most shocking stations featured the sound of a child's voice. This station started its broadcast precisely on the hour by playing a series of short tones followed by several repetitions of a music box rendition of the Swedish Rhapsody. Then the sound of a female child began barking out numbers in German."

source: 'The Conet Project CD booklet'

Now, even though for a short moment one just might suspect these to be transmissions en direct from the Kettenberg in Kürten ... ... but no, of course they are not :) ... Fernandez became nothing short of obsessed by these curious broadcasts when he slowly started to realize that in fact "not only no one really knew what these Number Stations were for, but that the location of the transmitters was also unknown."

This marked the birth of Akin Fernandez' Conet Project.


He found out that Shortwave Number Stations are, it is as simple as that: ... spy-tools ... they were and are used, among others, by intelligence agencies across the globe to transmit secret messages. For many years he recorded these curious broadcasts, collected other recordings of number stations, documented them, traced the transmitters, looked for information, for people that once somewhere had been behind the voices reading these messages ... The results of this more than a decade long obsession are documented in the Conet Project CD box, released by Irdial-Discs. Four CD's, containing 150 recordings of shortwave number station transmissions, spanning the last twenty years and to which short wave radio listeners from all over the world have contributed... The box comes together with an 80-page booklet, with detailed documentation.
An exemplary document, whether you are interested in the spy-stuff that's behind it, or, as me, simply enjoy the sounds of the ether's cracklings, the bizarre synthi- and other tunes and, of course, all of them eerie voices, that go on and on reading numbers, numbers, numbers, in many different languages ...

You can order the Conet Project box from Amazon's.
In accordance with Irdial's Free Music Philosophy, all of it, including the booklet, is also available as a free download for personal use (hosted by the Internet Archive)...

[ There are many more recordings of number stations available elsewhere on the web, and a lot of additional information. If you're interested, have a look at, or visit Simon Mason's shortwave espionage site, which includes the complete text of his out-of-print booklet "Secret Signals - The Euronumbers Mystery". ]

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philippa's dream

august 21, 2004.

"My partner had a dream about a lovely instrument, an electronic triangle which you draw in the air and then play like a normal musical triangle," Dan Stowell writes in a message to the oddmusic mailing list. Dan realized Philippa's dream. Sort of. As a Java program. Available as a free download. There's a version for MacOSX (I had it up and running on the OS's version 10.3.5 in a matter of seconds), as well as one for Windows.

Nice toy. Very poetic, no?

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