Archive for August, 2010



Many of you have probably heard of numbers stations at some point (“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” is named after and features samples from a transmission on a numbers station).  If not, they’re basically short wave radio signals that are mostly static but occasionally bleep and blurp out weird coded signals that are generally agreed to be transmissions from government agencies to embedded spies.  The idea is that the spy would know from some other source when to tune in to the station and would have some sort of decoder established to understand what the transmission was telling them.

Numbers stations, like all things spy and radio related, are mostly a thing of the past at this point, but recently there’s been a flurry of activity on a station of Russian origin called UVB-76.  You can check out a Wikipedia entry for the station here.  Scroll down a little to see all the recent transmissions, and check this one out for an idea of how weird these things are (Russian file-sharing site seems sketchy but it’s legit). There are a couple of levels on which I find this interesting.  The primary two are probably that blogs (and by extension, subcultures) like this exist where people who spend their evening hours listening to solar wind and Russians speaking in muffled tones moving boxes around a radio station congregate and share information.  It’s sort of like a distant cousin of noise music mixed with the Boy Scout dweebiness of HAM radio enthusiasm.  The other level is that somewhere, someone is huddled over a little radio jotting this stuff down knowingly.  At this point the information is probably devoid of all the Cold War era intrigue and deception, but there were probably times where it was a matter of life and death to hurry back to wherever the radio was and listen to a disembodied voice repeat numbers over and over.

A few years ago there was a big box set called the Conet Project that compiled tons of numbers station clips from over the years.  It’s available for free here.  Definitely worth checking some of it out.  A lot of them have passages of music before or during the transmissions that are an interesting listen.  Some of them are just sort of spooky.

Some more information about numbers stations here.


On a Second Pass

Unemployment brings nothing if not time. Surely by now you’ve all read the NYTimes magazine article about 20-somethings or Slate’s response. Large numbers among our generation seem to be swamped with time that the previous generation might have filled with an office job, a spouse, or children. I know I have too much time. Time can be filled with attempts at exercising off anxiety or crafting of a perfect cover letter, but even after attending to these thankless tasks the hours tend to be hard to fill in a way that feels meaningful. Some fill the time with totally arbitrary or foolish projects. For instance, I have decided to re-evaluate my cultural (and media) history by taking a second pass and revisiting those things that I used to love and those things that I have never really given myself a chance to feel anything about. I will be attempting to listen to my entire music collection alphabetically.
I will not be so spartan that I won’t allow myself to listen to specific albums when I want to, I just want to force some thoughtful engagement. Without putting too fine an economic or political point on the thing, I find that since I started reading musical criticism online, I consume far too ravenously, too readily; my love of culture has spilled over into a tendency to stockpile. I had been inspired by this site, aptly titled The Second Pass, in which writers re-view old works in the same spaces they review new works. I hope, in so revisiting what I already have (and possibly writing some small essays) to devalue empty novelty for myself–not to eliminate the blush of excitement one finds with novelty, but to curtail my tendency to value it for its own sake. I would like to re-engage with those things that I already have, to discover new wrinkles and folds. Maybe I can change a few of my listening habits in the process. Maybe I can work on my own ability to write about music, write more like Lester Bangs on Astral Weeks and less like Pitchfork on Kid A.
To paraphrase something Nabokov once said–only the second reading actually counts.
I have another project in mind, which seems to me to be just as difficult judging by my own ignorance to visual culture–I will watch through the entirety of the Criterion Collection. I will probably blog about this too, but I won’t pretend that I know enough about film to say much of interest. Maybe I will by the end of it. Hopefully I can at least watch the films at a clip that outpaces their new additions.

August 2010