There is a mysterious Russian shortwave radio signal that broadcasts from a swampland on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. The signal frequency is 4625 kHz, but shortwave radio enthusiasts call it The Buzzer for the two-toned saw sound that makes up most of its broadcast. It started near the end of the Cold War. In an excellent BBC article, Zaria Gorvett describes the station, which nobody has ever claimed to run, like this:
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the last three-and-a-half decades, it’s been broadcasting a dull, monotonous tone. Every few seconds it’s joined by a second sound, like some ghostly ship sounding its foghorn. Then the drone continues.
Once or twice a week, a man or woman will read out some words in Russian, such as “dinghy” or “farming specialist”. And that’s it. Anyone, anywhere in the world can listen in, simply by tuning a radio to the frequency 4625 kHz.
As you can imagine, theories abound for the signal’s purpose: communication with submarines, a trigger for nuclear defense if it goes dead, contemporary communication with Russian military. Gorvett covers each of these theories in the BBC piece and rests on its likely function as Russian military communication. (Heck, why not listen live right now?)
The station has a cult following among shortwave radio enthusiasts, including blogs that monitor the signal and post annual reports of the “messages” that interrupt the buzzes. Where there is enthusiasm, there is also fan art, as you can see above and below.
The connections among sound, military, and war are ample. In Sonic Persuasion: Reading Sound in the Recorded Age, Greg Goodale covers the “sounds of war” in a chapter with the same title. The air-raid siren, the iconic nuclear bomb explosion, and even the ticking clock counting down all get attention. Along the way, Goodale makes a stunning point about the iconic and cartoonish sound of the falling bomb (think the musical whistle sound of Wile E. Coyote free falling off a cliff). He notes that it is the sound of a bomb falling from the stance of a particular position: the person dropping the bomb.
The sound of the falling bomb…in the 1950s is the sound perceived by a people who are bombers and not the bombed. It is the sound of survival, not of death.
The sound of a bomb dropping from the position of the bombed is different. It’s an ascending and constant high-pitched scream – nothing musical or whimsical about it, he notes. Later Goodale sharpens the critique a bit more:
These are the sounds of a culture that has, since 1812, bombed others and not been bombed itself.
There are all kinds of good things over in the Internet Archive. I’ve been told by digital humanists it’s one of the most “stable” places to archive on the internet. It’s where I’ve started archiving sounds that are embedded in any site I build. One cool thing in the archive is audio from a 1972 Madison Square Garden event with Angela Davis. A full description below:
On June 29, 1972, Angela Davis, along with a number of entertainers, appeared at New York City’s Madison Square Garden in a benefit for the Angela Davis Defense Fund. This program includes her speech on the need for Black activism and the advantages of socialism, as well as interviews with people attending the show, organizers of the program, and members of the National Renaissance Party, who protested the event. Produced by David Rapkin and Miriam Rosen for WBAI. The other speakers and performers on the program are Ossie Davis, Henry Winston, Jerry Butler and Ray Barretto.
That’s a nice surprise at the end right there: Puerto Rican drummer Ray Barretto from the Fania All-Stars!
Reading: Still making my way through Cooperatives Confront Capitalism: Challenging the Neoliberal Economy by Peter Ranis.
Writing: IRB edits, too many rounds. Is there a more unrewarding kind of writing?
Listening: Lots of Detroit lyricist Ty Farris.
Making: Embryo was a record label founded in 1970 by Herbie Mann. The label only released about 20 records, and The Floating Opera was one of them. I spent a little time chopping it up to make this beat, “The Slopera.”