Boomkat Product Review:
New and expanded edition of this seminal box set from Irdial - now includes a 5th, previously unreleased disc of abstract transmissions from shortwave "Noise Stations", plus an updated 80 page booklet and a set of postcards.
Originally issued in 1997 as a 4 Disc set, "The Conet Project" is one of the most unusual and, ultimately, culturally substantial audio artefacts to have been released in the last 20 years. Painstakingly compiled by Akin Fernandez and released on his own Irdial label (for those of you not aware of Irdial - read up) - the box set includes over 120 recordings (plus a whole new disc of new, previously unheard transmissions included in this new edition) Fernandez made between 1992 and 1997 of mysterious shortwave broadcasts whose origin and purpose have been the subject of much speculation, conspiracy theories, essays and books for years.
The recordings originate from across the globe and defy any easy categorisation, veering from modulated voices reading out lists of seemingly arbitrary numbers, through to odd musical sequences, coordinates read out by rudimentary electronic speech programmes, screwy sine-waves, noise bursts and Radiophonic sequences - all enhanced by the squashed frequency range and interference so typical of shortwave transmissions. The experience of listening through them is genuinely unlike anything else you'll have heard before - play it to a friend or relative and you'll get an instant reaction - there's something cold, unnerving, creepy, almost harrowing about them - when where they made? for what purpose? who is transmitting them? who else has ever heard them? Why do some of them contain musical passages? And yet they have also had a profound impact on so many - countless musicians and producers have sampled and referenced the recordings (everyone from Boards of Canada to Wilco, the latter of which named their album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" after one of the recordings which they used on the album - and for which they were subsequently sued by Fernandez for copyright infringement) - even mainstream hollywood films have used samples from the collection - most notably Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky. There are moments on the set that sound like Edgar Varese, Pierre Schaeffer and Bernard Parmegiani broadcasting from another planet, others that recall the uncompromising radio transmissions of Milan's RAI Studio di Fonologia, but all of it sounds as if it could never have been touched by human hands - you cant quite imagine anyone sitting down to make them, nor can you place when they might have been made - they're out of time, without any known purpose or function (well, their function is that of sending coded messages - but the content, the transmitters and the recipients themselves are unknown) - and they are still being made and transmitted today.
This unknown provenance intensifies the listening experience several-fold, so much of the set is more relevant to audiophiles today then ever before - you'll recognise so many avant-garde tropes that you'll be forgiven for assuming the whole thing was a hoax recorded at the Radiophonic Workshop in the 1960's, or another mysterious producer finding an outlet via Hospital Productions' limited cassette series. And yet the intrigue, the sinister vibe that hangs over it really makes you stop and think about what you're listening to, and what goes on in the world, under the surface. That whole 'Things aren't quite what they seem' vibe is, of course, tremendously Lynchian, yet at a time when we seem to be more connected and informed then ever, The Conet Project really is a more fascinating and relevant proposition then at any point in the 15 years since its original release, something that's heightened by the fact that, according to information from the 'Beginner's Guide' included, listening to these transmissions is actually illegal in the UK. The Conet Project is one of those precious artefacts that should just stay in print forever - it's really quite something to have it available again after all this time.