Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Conet Project (1997)

Jeff Tweedy's inspiration for various facets of the Wilco album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—including the title—provided a fascination for many. I understand it was even a bit of a fad some 10 or 12 years ago, used in the Vanilla Sky movie and championed generally by the likes of Tweedy, Devendra Banhart, so on so forth. Now I've had my own infatuation with it. Released as a 4-CD set, with something in the neighborhood of 150 separate tracks, it's culled from hours and hours (and hours) of tape recordings of the mysterious broadcasts on so-called numbers stations (Wikipedia: "shortwave radio stations of uncertain origin believed to be operated by government agencies to communicate with spies 'in the field'"). Most often it's just voices, speaking in many different languages, saying numbers (usually, though not always, one voice and one language per broadcast), in any number of accents. Sometimes it is letters of the alphabet, or words. All kinds of voices, young and old. Sometimes there is music. Sometimes there is only music. Various beeps and tones flutter around in peripheral audio. Some of the electronic ambient noises remind me of Sonic Youth breaks (or Wilco's, for that matter). It's raw, hot, unfiltered, staticky, and riveting. For me, the attraction is how unsettling it all is as documented reality. They sound like broadcasts because they are broadasts, they sound like humans because they are humans, but they also sound unhuman and meaningless in the totality (achieved in seconds of play) of the bland recitations, which nonetheless proceed with purpose. There's a sense of a thousand people hearing, a hundred thousand, a million, but few who understand. At this point, as classified intelligence, no doubt the value is nil—on a par with most email or motel registries from 20 years ago. Yet its power to exclude remains strong. One always feels on the outside; it must tap directly into a portion of the brain that directs paranoid thinking. The conspiracy feeling is strong with these. It's just hard to know what to make of them, but for a long period I compulsively kept coming back to hear more, and I still love hearing them emerge out of the shuffle stream. They have the sound quality of late-night AM radio between the stations, fading in and out, cutting in and out, hissing—which I suppose is a nostalgic pleasure for me there. But there's a weird and undeniable urgency to it too. Here.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like free downloads of demos for a new Oneohtrix Point Never album. (Or, b/f them, Nurse with Wound or Smegma, etc.) Who knew where all this stuff came from?! Is any of this stuff used in The Conversation? Also, a strong family resemblance. Anyway, interesting. Thanks.