Numbers Stations and the Fog of War

A series of moodily coded sound pieces by Norah Lorway

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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,,, and

(Thanks to Larry Johnson for the recommendation.)

10 thoughts on “Numbers Stations and the Fog of War

      1. 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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