Photo (CC-BY) Chris M, of a Very Large Array.

Number stations, making their appearance in the post-war radio landscape, were shortwave radio stations of streams of symbols, mysterious to their listeners and apparently code. Here, the idea of lost and indecipherable broadcasts inspires a wonderfully-varied collection of reflective artists, in a free, Creative-Commons licensed compilation by PublicSpaces Lab. That Barcelona-based netlabel has been reliably curating some of the smartest, most forward-thinking music collections around. This time, the artists are impressive not only in their output but in their range of backgrounds and extra-musical sources of inspiration.

[PS025] Various Artists – Number Stations part II by PublicSpacesLab

The set, curated by Made by Robot (whose own, mechanical track lives up to the artist’s name), begins with an amiable and catchy vocal tune but then covers a wide gamut of constructed frequencies. Kieron James’ Preska Zero Zero helps the compilation hits its stride with grooving repetition of numbers. ambienteer and (monome creator) Tehn sit comfortably back to back with cool-but-cosy layers of samples, stretched and pitched like tents. % and ro have gently-swinging, sparse takes on the theme. Marcus Fischer, Dionysiac, Weather Balloons, and Swaying Smoke really sound like strange, intercepted transmissions. Grooveshysta’s cinematic montage of scenes and beats sets up the otherworldwly conclusion. Concrete Sound System (Primus Luta, appearing Saturday at our own Handmade Music) launches the whole list into outer space with a dense, alien-sounding raucous wall of sound.

So many compilations release artists but tell you nothing about them; here, PSL has produced a thoughtful PDF insert that reveals a lot about the artists and their approaches to production. It’s not so much a matter of recording on tool XX as it is beginning to understand what happened that made the sounds you hear happen. For me, at least, it gave me a different appreciation of what I got from my ears, like adding an additional dimension.

We definitely need a new genre name, as I don’t hear leftfield often, ambient doesn’t really describe everything here, and IDM is … well, just sort of over. Smart electronica? Or just … music? I’m open to suggestions.

Head to the blog post to download the compilation as an MP3 or FLAC. (See tips on how to listen to lossless FLAC from earlier today) The files are hosted by The Internet Archive thanks to their free license.

[PS025] VA – Number Stations part II

And check out part 1 of this series, featuring many of the same artists – and some other surprises.

[PS015] VA – Number Stations by PublicSpacesLab

[PS015] VA – Number Stations

(Note the low number of PSL releases – they are thoughtful about what they put out, rather than dumping too much stuff.)

  • redgreenblue

    I wish I'd known about this when it was being put together. I had a similar concept for a collaborative project based around number stations when I found a whole slew of recordings at (great site, go there now!) I immediately added some of these to the live version of one of my songs and as a link between pieces while Logic is loading. Very cool stuff.

  • redgreenblue

    And as far as a genre name goes, I call what I do 'electro-ambient'. Not as passive as ambient, not as dumb as techno. 

  • Alberto

    Excelent info. I definetly love Krawftwerk music.

    Keep the good work.

  • Peter Kirn

    @redgreenblue: electro-ambient. I love it. Hey, techno can be "smart," but I know what you mean – maybe not necessarily as narrow as what constitutes true techno.

  • regend

    i created a numbers inspired dub step mix session in 2008. check it out here http://mixcrate.con/regend

  • lala

    the picture doesn't match the context?

    when i think of number stations i see a picture of echelon, but the music is lovely 

  • ideletemyself

    this is really cool stuff! Thanks for sharing :)

    On a side note. I hope that one day the term "IDM" can be rightfully replaced with "Braindance" which was coined by the boys at Rephlex. It just makes more sense and IDM is really just a misnomer to me giving the indication that all other dance music is stupid/dumb or not intelligent…

  • Peter Kirn

    @lala: Yeah, it's the image used in the album. I wanted some numbers station picture, but maybe it was hard to find!

  • lala
  • redgreenblue

    The picture is of the 'Very Large Array' of radio telescopes in New Mexico. I have a similar picture that I took when I was there and used as some of the artwork on 'red'. 

  • Random Chance

    I've had a mirror of the Conet Project's recordings for years and have yet to do something more musical with it than creating some eerie soundscapes. Glad to hear that the series continues. It's always funny to recognize the samples used in music but with numbers stations it also has a strange quality because some of the (raw) samples are really odd.

  • databot

    Doesn't Boards of Canada have a few number station inspired tunes? That's what I first thought of when reading this article :)

  • Kent Barton

    You guys might dig this one as well:… For me, the numbers transmissions provided instant inspiration. In this age of instant broadband everywhere, it's an awesome window into the radiowave-filled ether. And the Cold War aspect provides some awesome context, too.

  • Peter Kirn

    Wow, enjoying these other, similarly-inspired selections. Honestly, I think in the age of a globally-connected Internet, the goal is no longer to come with a novel twist – it's the opposite, to find other people interested in the same ideas.

  • Flug

    It's like a cross between Mass Effect One and Fallout 3's Dungeon Music.

  • DanielO

    Great! I have an unreleased track using Numbers Station samples…I guess great minds think alike (or fools run in the same channel). I'll have to instead start working on my concept album of creating music to be played in airports…such a thin line between genius and stupidity :-)

  • Fernando Fonseca

    Hello Peter, thank you for the review of "Number Stations part II". 

    As for the number of releases you are absolutely right: we do not want to reach release 1000 soon, we just release what we really feel it should be shared. 

    Once again, thank you so much!



  • Botany Bay seems to be missing from your collection 😉

  • Daniel Ottini

    Just got through the 1st compilation and it is excellent!

    Onto the 2nd one…

  • lala

    i thought the Very Large Array is only used to "listen to sounds from space", how naive … 

  • Catching The Waves

    PublicSpaces Lab is an excellent netlabel thanks to its judicious release schedule. It also has its very own internet virus cum publicity rat – Hi Fernando! – who works very hard behind the scenes to keep the CC music scene on its toes. :)

  • loopstationzebra

    I've got the first compilation and it's utterly and completely fantastic. Didn't know part 2 had been released. Excellent! Tnx Peter.

  • hyperlexic

    Man, I've been obsessed with numbers stations ever since I heard the recordings online years ago. I have always loved using pieces of them in my own tracks. But after hearing about Wilco getting sued and being forced to delete a sample from their album, I got discouraged about hearing their potential uses in other artists songs.

    Here's one track I was fiddling around with in 2007:

  • Paul Leary

    last year I wrote a piece for alto saxophone and electronics. the audio is mostly from number station recordings…. check it out

  • Mistery

    subliminal message? strange video

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