Shift Coordinate Points
Static. Seven short electronic pulses. Then — out of thin air —
a woman's voice dictates: “…eins, zwei, fünf …eins, zwo, fünf…
drei, vier, fünf…” Who are these voices, tirelessly reciting
seemingly random series of numbers, phonems and words?
And who are these cryptic messages meant for? The messages
are irreversibly encrypted, their contents unintelligible to anyone
but the designated receiver. In 1997, British maverick label
Irdial-Discs collected a selection of so-called ‘numbers stations’
or ‘spy stations’ recordings under the title The Conet Project.
This plays like a ‘best of’ of more than 30 years’ worth of secret
radio and contains fragments of American, German, Swedish
and Russian transmissions.
Composer Esther Venrooy was given permission to work With
the material and for the occasion of the celebration of 75 years
of Belgian radio created a highly personal interpretation of the
medium’s secret history. Using manipulated sound and collage
techniques she manages to distill an abstract poetry of sounds
and thereby succeeds in extracting some meaning out of these
hermetic transmissions. The title Shift Coordinate Points refers
to an excerpt from William S. Burroughs’ novel Nova Express.
Burroughs utilised the jargon of secret services and government
agencies as a metaphor for systems of social, intellectual, and
Shift Coordinate Points, recorded in 2005, uses as its starting point material
documented on the fabled Conet Project (to which Venrooy contributed).
As you may recall (I’ve never managed to snag a copy of this difficult to
come By item) that venture involved the capture of coded shortwave trans-
missions of the type immortalized in AMM’s extraordinary concert in London
in 1982, when Rowe’s radio picked up the sultry East German voice steadily
articulating five-digit numeric sequences, over and over in a mesmeric
pattern. ‘Brussel’ begins with a repeated melody, quite a fetching one,
played in organ-like tones, under which appears a threatening, low drone
as though some exterior force is seeping through the walls. After several
minutes, this unsettling atmosphere abruptly halts and the listener is
plunged into the world of coded transmissions, staticky swatches of ‘eines’,
‘fünfs’, ‘siebens’, etc. swirled into a froth of electronica. The section that
ends the piece comes close to capturing the eerie, otherworldly aspect
heard in the AMM performance, a dire throb underlying a distorted female
voice reciting numbers, in English, in sets of four. ‘Arthur’, on the flip side,
is a more relaxed collage, the overlaid voices melding with electronics in
a rather stately dance, almost as adjacent lines in a fugue, a peaceful
resolution. The choice Venrooy makes in weighting the various elements
seem quite carefully considered and the resulting balance lifts the music
above tangentially similar work as found, say, in early Scanner.
This music has heft.
Brian Olewnick at Bagatellen
All sounds are carefully chosen and cleverly placed; it’s a sonic canvas
functioning as active complement for reflection in a sort of ‘personal sound
installation’ that works wonders when your anonymous weekend afternoons
are suggesting you to finally move to a new stage in life. The impact of
Shift Coordinate Points is positively striking, reflecting this artist’s humble
Massimo Ricci at Touching Extremes
As wholly sinister as the numbers stations are (the protrcated use of the
CIA’s Sexy Lady transmission at the album’s conclusion is especially spooky),
Venrooy is at her best when she alludes to a technological disquiet through
the electrical discharges and sinusoidal hums endemic to shortwave itself.
Jim Haynes in The Wire
The two minimal pieces that make up Shift Coordinate Points outline a
specific, isolated space that draws the listener into a deeply frozen realm
of static, recitation, channel manipulation, low-end pulse, and wide open
contained space. Once [side A] is completed, the words of the radio
transmissions take on an almost desperate quality, as if they couldn’t come
out quickly enough; where “delta, four” sounds like a love letter never sent.
[Side B] starts out with a gorgeously decaying tone poem that crumbles
into more recitation, manipulated to confuse and then followed with drones
enough to lull tankers to sleep in the dead middle of the sea.
Doug Mosurock at Dusted