I admit I am a cryptography geek. Ever since I was a little kid with that first pen filled with disappearing ink, I’ve been enamored with codes, ciphers, ring settings and their hidden secrets. I really find things like the Enigma project and the Navajo code talkers from WWII very fascinating. I think in many ways the same pattern seeing that it takes to understand music bears many similarities to what it takes to make, break and understand codes and ciphers.
As a young lad with a collection of classic rock albums, I would spend hours scanning the artwork from bands like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, wondering if that skeleton climbing up the rock walls of the jetty meant something more, if “Zoso” really translated into something meaningful and if Revolution #9 really had buried within it the voice of the devil. I never found any satisfaction in those explorations because they never seemed to be more than a surface of window dressing. There were no hidden meanings for me to discover, Paul was very much alive, and it all seemed to me just a deliberate exercise in conjuring mystery for the sake of it.
As some of my friends know, I started thinking about incorporating real codes and puzzles into a music project as far back as 2000, inspired to a great degree by the coded promotional exercise that a group of marketers did for Stephen Spielberg’s AI movie. In this project, there were clues embedded in the movie posters and trailers that unlocked a whole network of websites, fax machines and secret password-protected applications that required a whole online community of cipher geeks to decode. I loved it; I reveled in it and was inspired by it.
With all of that in mind, I felt that the musical mood of my Dust of the American Pixel CD would be a perfect platform for such an experiment. It is there, in the CD and in the video(s), a directive of sorts to uncover, a series of clues and solutions that will ultimately unlock, track by track, an alternative version of the album. I am steadfast in keeping my mouth shut as to any hints beyond the puzzle itself, so don’t ask. All I can say is that the video for The American Pixel Part 2 is the starting point. The rest is up to you.
Discovering Number Stations
While I was researching all of this stuff for the “PixelBomb” code project, I stumbled upon an interesting bit of buried intrigue. I was using a HAM radio application where you can listen to HAM radio broadcasts using the internet (yes, there is such an app – see links at the bottom), when I stumbled upon some pretty weird broadcasts. Like sampled voices dictating number sequences. Man, I love this kinda shit! So I flip around the spectrum a bit more and find this BBC broadcast, recorded, and playing in a loop. It describes in great detail the phenomenon of “Number Stations”. Seems that since the height of the Cold War, there have been these strange broadcasts, sequences of numbers in different languages, that many have concluded are the work of the intelligence services of the world. The CIA, MI5, Mossad, whatever the KGB is now, all broadcasting these coded sequences, it is assumed, for their agents in the field. Really wild, really creepy and magnificent!
I would go into length here about this, but I think the BBC broadcast covers it all in greater detail than I could here. The half-hour programme (gotta spell it that way when you speak of the BBC) is linked below. Set it off in the background and unsettle your worldview a bit.
For those who have been checking out the Dust of the American Pixel record, you will note that there are some recordings of these “Number Stations” sprinkled throughout the work. I thought it was the perfect aesthetic icing for the concept.
“Tracking the Lincolnshire Poacher” – a BBC4 Programme in .MP3 format
The Lincolnshire Poacher on Wikipedia
HamSphere – An internet HAM Radio Application
PixelBomb.org – Home of the Dust of the American Pixel project