Friday, September 4, 2009

Weird Sample Fodder: Numbers Stations


Several years ago, my wife and I decided to go camping in a park near the base of Mount Rainier. We were looking forward to getting outside the city and enjoying a nice, quiet evening in front of a roaring campfire. Unfortunately, almost as if on cue, the moment we got our tent set up, a torrential downpour began. While it's true that the Pacific Northwest can be rainy in the fall and winter, this was a pretty spectacular storm that showed no signs of letting up. So we were pretty much relegated to our tent.

Luckily, many years earlier, my aunt gave me one of those hand cranked emergency radios. In addition to the standard AM and FM bands, it also received shortwave stations. So we dialed around seeing what weird stuff we could find. Among all the squeals and hisses you'd expect, we came across a station that consisted of nothing but a woman with a British accent reading off a sequence of numbers interrupted periodically by a tone. This would be odd enough on its own, but in the context of being in the pitch blackness of the woods while a class 3 Terrorstorm was going on outside made it even creepier.


When we got back , I decided to do some research to see if I could figure out what it was we heard. It turns out we were lucky enough to have found a
Numbers Station. No one is really sure what Numbers Stations are, but they exist all over the world in just about every language you can imagine. The most common proposed explanation is that they may be coded messages or work orders to spies or intelligence officers in the field. To be honest, I almost prefer not to know what they are. It makes it a bit more eerie and fun.

These make terrific sample fodder (I used some myself on a track by my side project Nerve Filter called "Machine Language"), but the obvious problem is that they're damn near impossible to find. The more I researched them, the more I realized how incredibly fortunate my wife and I had been to get to hear one. But, if you're not so lucky, head on over and check out the
Conet Project, an archive of recordings of Numbers Stations from around the world. If they don't creep you out at least a little bit, you're a bigger man than I.

7 comments:

Joshua said...

I've been to Conet project and downloaded some of those sounds. They truly are creepy (especially when imagining the settings you described while hearing them.) Damn, I was going to use them in a project but you beat me to that "original" idea... HA!

I had NO idea they were still being broadcasted, I thought it was a WWII era thing. Very interesting...

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/syikom
You can listen to one of my tracks here using numbers
enjoy
SYIKOM

aL said...

Back in 2003, I found an online shortwave radio java applet thingy and I found two different numbers stations. It was one of the creepiest things I've ever heard, and I LOVED IT! It especially blew me away because a few weeks earlier I had read "Cryptonomicon" by Neal Stephenson.

fixate said...

Anyone else think of LOST when reading this post?

Tom said...

The ones with the kids voices freak me out the most...

Jeremy said...

now that sound very strange indeed. I will check that out.

statik said...

I've had a similair, freaked my socks off experience, in Lelystad (the Netherlands). We were (a couple of friends and myself) in a small, but dark wood, in the summer around 1998, '99. We had a small radio with us and decided to see if we could listen to some late-night dance music - it was 03:00 in the night. Instead of dance music we found an angelic choir sustaining a sound, but slightly dissonant (think Ligeti's "Lux Aeterna"), and it went on and on and on, with slight changes in pitch and volume. After about 25 mins we were all freaked out as hell and we couldn't figure out why someone would transmit that sort of music continuously - but we also didn't want to shut it down :)

Later we learnt that close by there was an art project on a local radio frequency that transmitted angelic voice (the project was called "Angels" by Moniek Toebosch). It still freaked us out :)