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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Numbers Stations and the Fog of War

A series of moodily coded sound pieces by Norah Lorway

4 5 97 02 04

If you tune your radio between stations and come across someone reading numbers like these, it’s likely because you’ve stumbled upon a numbers station, a lo-tech and enticingly antiquated means of transmitting encoded information.

The numbers up top contain basic information about numbers stations. The popular comprehension of numbers stations is largely founded on The Conet Project: Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations, a collection that initially consisted of four and, later, five compact discs. The set was released by the label Irdial-Discs in 1997. In 2002, the band Wilco used some of the sounds in a track, “Poor Places,” off its Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album. That album’s title is itself sourced from a phrase uttered on the Conet album. (Wilco later, in 2004, settled a suit about this unauthorized use.)

In a series of haunting pieces of subsumed numbers recitation, the England-based musician and sound artist Norah Lorway threads a needle. She maintains enough of the source audio that it is recognizable if not always comprehensible, yet buries it in enough sonic detritus that the result gives listeners the experience of having, on their own, come upon the numbers. At times, the numbers are kept entirely from sonic view, the voices giving way to harsh static, and to sudden noises that might be heard as air raid sirens or the clash of machine guns. The voices themselves are at times warped, rendered anxious, as if the utterances contain not just coded factual information but also raw emotional content.

This is a set of two of Lorway’s pieces. According to the brief accompanying note, there is also a third:

More from Lorway, who is based in Birmingham, England, at norahlorway.com, academia.edu, twitter.com/norahlo, and norahlorway.bandcamp.com.

(Thanks to Larry Johnson for the recommendation.)

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , / Comments: 10 ]

10 Comments

  1. Larry Johnson
    [ Posted July 9, 2014, at 7:23 am ]

    Third track must be “blur:spin” from this album: http://xylemrecords.bandcamp.com/album/kul-r-2

    • Marc Weidenbaum
      [ Posted July 9, 2014, at 7:25 am ]

      Well done, sir. Thanks for having located that!

  2. irdial
    [ Posted July 9, 2014, at 7:32 am ]

    Now in a 5 disc edition, with a new disc of Noise Stations:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00BFEWC2E

    Yes, FIVE.

    • Marc Weidenbaum
      [ Posted July 9, 2014, at 7:35 am ]

      Thanks for that update. I love that the artist/author listing is “MI5, CIA, MOSSAD, Various KGB.”

  3. Swen
    [ Posted July 9, 2014, at 8:36 am ]

    irdial offers the first 4 CDs as a mp3 download via https://archive.org/details/ird059

    • Marc Weidenbaum
      [ Posted July 10, 2014, at 9:18 am ]

      Thanks for the reminder!

  4. jmmy kppl
    [ Posted July 10, 2014, at 6:20 am ]

    CONET/numbers stations covers would be a rad Junto.

    • Marc Weidenbaum
      [ Posted July 10, 2014, at 9:19 am ]

      I need to noodle that. I love it.

      • Lee Rosevere
        [ Posted July 10, 2014, at 6:19 pm ]

        Marc, I expect you’ll be doing something similar to this with your modular setup: http://goo.gl/2FydSO

      • Marc Weidenbaum
        [ Posted July 11, 2014, at 8:42 am ]

        Thanks, Lee. I’ll check that out — I may have to try my hand at it. By the way, I made a fix to the URL in your comment. Apparently there was a conflict with my markdown plugin. I need to look into that.

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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