By Maris Goldmanis
Shortwave radio and modern music have rarely met together. Especially the numbers stations that sound obscure or even creepy to newcomers. There are few examples when shortwave signals, and particularly numbers stations have been used in modern music. German band from Frankfurt Ok had their leading song Okay, filled with samples full of recordings from newsreels and TV broadcasts, that used the recording of S10 the Czech Lady in its final part. The Boards of Canada used recordings from the Conet Project Collections in their ambient tracks. The Besnard Lakes used the Conet project recordings as well. The American punk band with a fetish for Nazi Germany band Hanzel und Greitel in their explosive single Third Reich from The Sun used roaring UVB-76 the Buzzer in song beginning. The US industrial rock band Combichrist used my own recording of screaming American preacher Terry Blalock for their track The King has Spoken. In most cases the ones who would use the shortwave radio and numbers stations recordings would be industrial, electronic and ambient music artists who often fill their tracks with samples from movies, TV and radio broadcasts. One of the earliest who would do that was band Cromagnon in their legendary album Orgasm in 1969 that pushed the boundaries towards industrial and electronic rock music. But was there ever a whole musical album entirely devoted to shortwave radio and numbers stations?
One of the examples is slow electronic ambient Shortwavemusic by William Basinski on 1998. Its includes shortwave radio samples mostly digital transmission modes that makes the music sound like endless spectrum where you sometimes meet strange signals. Other known is The Failure of the Shortwave Radio by Moscow Coup Attempt that is instrumental rock and electronic ambient mix that includes various samples of numbers stations. oecently I came across new album. Its made by Növö or Laurent Boudic a electronic music artist from France. He has made five albums of electronic ambient music focusing on many themes like world order, military conflict and technology. Now he has made a new album called The Shortwaves.
And yes the album is really focused on Shortwave radio and numbers stations. 11 tracks of 46 minutes of electronic ambiance filled with recordings from shortwave radio broadcasts, numbers stations and other recordings from shortwave spectrum. You can listen to previews here. When I learned of this album I was impressed that this artist is from original late 80’s electronic music scene and its distributor Alfa Matrix from Belgium is specialized in this kind a music that also works with VNV Nation, Nitzer Ebb, Apoptygma Berzerk and Front 242. Last one needs no introduction to the fans of EBM and industrial electronic music for they were the ones who are credited as founders of this music genre. So after being impressed from previews I decided to order this album dedicated to our field of research. So today album is freshly arrived so review will be based on second time listening. This is first time I review a musical album, but to remind I am lover of EBM, industrial music, electronic ambient, dark wave and early digital music and know my great share of numbers stations so I feel I should review this album for potential listeners. I have also made my own attempts in making of this kind a music so here the review goes.
First the few words on music genre. Its sound like darkish ambient electronic music that features multiple shortwave radio samples. Most of them are from The Conet Project and other unidentified recordings. There are recordings of old broadcasts and some distorted voice samples. The album art is nothing original the antenna in the album cover has been seen before but nevertheless it fits the album theme.
First track the Gongs and Chimes features of course the famous East German numbers station and other tones from radio. Also the famous Chinese Robot featured also on PC game Wasteland 2 appears there. From the start you know what you will be listening. Then comes the title song The Shortwaves starting with repeated ..the shortwaves the skywaves and words like radio transmissions to.. as dedication to shortwave radio theme. The song reminds of Kraftwerk style songs about Transistor and Radioactivity. Again the Chinese Robot and distant Gong and Chimes are lurking somewhere in the notes.
Then comes Whiskey Tango Romeo. A true digital techno beat accompanied with military radio transmissions. I consider as one of the best tracks in this album. It also reminds me of Frank Klepatzky music and Front 242 tracks. The track is techy, vibrant and dark a kind a track I like in this genre. It feels like you are in high tech communications center for military and listening to constant communications sent to units in the field. The beat increases making the track more energetic and reaches towards it end with V02 lady calling numbers.
Fourth song Emergency also features slavic numbers stations, and with alarming rising beat creates the feeling of incoming dramatic event as issued by these slavic messages from Czechoslovakia, Poland and other Warsaw pact countries and then followed by distorted voice samples. Is this the emergent fall of Eastern Block that is heard here one can create many interpretations.
Fifth track Radio Moscow starts from old Radio Moscow broadcast to Africa, goes along with rising scale tone and… UVB-76 the Buzzer. Of course would not be Moscow without Buzzer. The recording sample seems 2010-2015 era when Buzzer used callsing MDZhB. Also Russian military communications can be heard that are possibly Russian Air force. A nice dedication to Russia a one of the most devote to shortwave radio.
We continue with Groupe 8/2. A song dedicated to numbers stations. There you can hear another Cold war numbers station and Japanese Slot Machine the Japanese Naval digital signal and Morse code transmission. The beat is mystifying and intense and sounds like beat from spy action movie. One can imagine James Bond or Miss Kate Archer listening to these transmissions and then heading for their danger filled assignment.
Then comes Radio Peking. A dark mystifying track featuring old Radio Peking now China Radio International and sweeping radar tone. Song beat goes in depth becomes more slower then other songs before and makes impression that song is about the most largest modern day shortwave radio service that has taken over the shortwave radio broadcast spectrum on expense on other declining radio stations.
Eight track Radio Japan features tracks from Radio Japan and other radio broadcasts. The track again becomes more vibrant but still low energetic as most of the songs in this album. They are dark, intense, and mysterious. The track also features some bits from seventies classical Jean Michelle Jarre themed music. Its like we are entering the radio studio in seventies in Tokyo while listening to Yelow Magic Orchestra in the Sony transistor radio.
Track nine Backwards Station – so obviously a shortwave radio phenomena the Backwards Music station or Whales that today is regarded as nothing more as high pitch looping microphone feed is featured here. Along with other Cold War numbers stations recording it creates a dark mattered track based on mystery of the shortwaves.
Track 10 The News features bit from Voice of America. Beat is again intense and sounds like something from Command and Conquer game. Sounds like its about propaganda war on shortwave that still takes in place in shortwave as we also hear Radio Iran and reports from Iraq. This seems one of the best tracks of the album. Track is one of the most high beat tracks of the album.
And the last one the The Operator. We hear the E11 numbers station from Poland. Increased tech tone again takes us to numbers station mystery in the dark lonesome room of secret radio operator from his transmission room far outside in the country. Again we hear Russian military operator issuing numbers to other military units that we hear so much on Air Force, Air Defense and Ground force channels. With this mysterious track that is longest one here (5:33) we conclude the journey in the shortwaves.
So what are the general thoughts on this album. It definitely features a lot of references to shortwave radio and numbers stations. The slow but energetic tones and mysterious beats creates a atmosphere of mystery and tenseness and depth associated with shortwave radio. The 46 minutes of this album rides fast as you enclosed with this music and feel bit sad it had to end so soon. For people who likes shortwaves, listen to numbers station it’s a must buy. Its sounds like true dedication to shortwave and numbers stations with it technical, digital and mysterious sound. And also this quite good digital ambient music project that many of the genre fans would appreciate.
So in the end I give this a 9/10 and recommend to get this album and explore other album from this artist. A first musical artwork fully dedicated to numbers stations and shortwave has come to this world. Also we hope that this album will encourage more people to the shortwave radio. So thank you Növö for this unexpected present to our community.