Please stick with me on this.
In the early 90’s there was a late night Channel Four show called ‘Manhattan Cable’, made by World of Wonder productions (WOW). It was introduced by Laurie Pike, and had RuPaul on it as a reporter. It featured clips of Public Access TV Broadcasts from the Manhattan area. There are a couple of clips that stick with me – one with a guy singing ‘Happy Birthday Filthy The Dog’ in a weird, muffled voice while spinning a camera around a dog (presumably the ‘Filthy’ the song was dedicated to). The other as a regular spot featuring a woman who would roll her eyes back and ‘channel’ the voices of the dead through her. The sound was a bit ‘hissy’ and the disturbing ‘voices’ emanating from this woman leaves quite an impression. You can check it out (in fact, you can check out some full length broadcasts of ‘Manhattan Cable’) here;
Manhattan Cable Episode 1
If I took the image away, and left the sound of that woman channelling the voices of the dead, then the effect would still be startling. It gives a feeling of unease, something that can’t quite be rationalised. I get the same feeling when I listen to clips of ‘Numbers Stations’. Its the sense that the sound is coming from a place you do not want to be at. It is the stuff of nightmares or disturbing dreams.
Numbers Stations – described as;
“… shortwave radio stations of uncertain origin. They generally broadcast voices reading streams of numbers, words, or letters (sometimes using a phonetic alphabet).
The voices that can be heard on these stations are often mechanically generated. They are in a wide variety of languages, and the voices are usually women’s, though sometimes men’s or children’s voices are used.
Evidence supports popular assumptions that the broadcasts are channels of communication used to send messages to spies. This has not been publicly acknowledged by any government that may operate a numbers station, but in one case, Cuban numbers station espionage has been publicly prosecuted in a United States federal court.
Numbers stations appear and disappear over time (although some follow regular schedules), and their overall activity has increased slightly since the early 1990s. This increase suggests that as spy-related phenomena, they were not unique to the Cold War.
Number station characteristics vary greatly. Some follow strict schedules, whilst others may be at seemingly random times. The voices may read out numbers, letters, words, tunes or morse code. The voice reading the information may be automated or on-the-spot, it may be a young or old(er) person and may be male or female.”
(Source – Numbers Stations on Wiki)
There have been several instances of Numbers Stations being the inspiration for musicians;
Kraftwerk – Their song ‘Numbers’ (from the album ‘Computer World’) is influenced by numbers station transmissions.
Boards Of Canada – their work on a general level seems infused with the sense of unease and confusion that comes from listening to Numbers Stations transmissions. On a more specific level, the ‘Gyroscope’ track from ‘Geogaddi’ album is thought to contain a sample of a child counting provided by the Conet Project.
The ‘Conet Project’ (http://www.irdial.com/conet.htm)is a 4 cd collection of Numbers Station recording on the Irdial label, from where a lot of the recent interest in Numbers Stations has stemmed from.
Wilco – On their masterpiece ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ (the title itself is taken from a Numbers Station broadcast, which is sampled in the song ‘Poor Places’).
Pitchfork review of ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’
A Labyrinth 13 produciton all about Numbers Stations;
Achtung! Gong & Chimes Numbers Station from Labyrinth13 on Vimeo.
and then the same guys really sum up the sense of creeping dread with their ‘visual representation’ of the ‘Swedish Rhapsody’ – depending on your state of mind, it may not be advisable to view this on your own with the lights off at 3 in the morning – seriously;
Attention! Achtung! AtenciÃ³n! from Labyrinth13 on Vimeo.
To hear the ‘Swedish Rhapsody’ broadcast in audio only (courtesy of The Conet Project);
The Swedish Rhapsody