Friday, September 4, 2009
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.