Saturday, September 3, 2016
The Romance of Shortwave Radio Number Stations
The Romance of Shortwave Radio Number Stations (Persepolis) by R.B. Russell creates an atmosphere of mystery and melancholy using austere piano tones, found sounds and lonely, fragmented voices reciting numbers and place names in several tongues.
The album responds to a genuine enigma. For several decades, radio hams and others have located, on the short-wave dial, broadcasts of strings of numbers and other sounds, which appear seemingly at random from no known station. These have been assumed to be in some form of code, and supposed to be related to espionage or diplomacy, but they remain largely unexplained.
The recording, with its brittle and haunting pieces, captures a Cold War ambience and moves impressionistically in the borderland worlds of Eric Ambler or Graham Greene. We sense the lighter flame blue in the rain, below the street sign not on any map: we are in the world of the stranger without luggage, hat brim low, nothing to lose, silent, and staring about him. The music conveys our yearning after meaning in a domain of shadows.