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.)