Computer Music Blog Interviews NUMBERS.FM (Jon Cates and Jake Elliott)

Interviews, New Music, News, Sound Art
Interview with Jon Cates and Jake Elliott, Founders of Numbers.FM

Evan Merz: Why? Why start this sort of radio station right now? What was the inspiration?

NUMBERS.FM: The name of the station comes from those so-called “numbers stations,” shortwave radio broadcasts of people reading lists of numbers — probably encrypted dispatches to spies — that have been going on for the last 70 years or so. The messages in those broadcasts are encrypted using a technique mathematically provable to be impossible to decipher, so stumbling across one is an encounter with some human-generated but ultimately unknowable audio composition, something that really blows our minds and reminds us a bit of experiences we’ve had discovering experimental music and sound art.

More directly, we are inspired by our experiences on where
we do a weekly radio show from the perspective of our label Southbridge Slow Electronics. We are really into a lot of what happens on but also we wanted to pursue a more open and experimental format, such as those used on radio stations like WZRD, the Wizard, in
Chicago. We started to think of online stations such as rand()% (which was an automated station streaming realtime generative music) and Resonance. We also draw from our experiences with online platforms for Noise or Glitch musics such as furthernoise and microsound. As we discussed all this we imagined an actual “numbers station” that would also feature experimental shows.

EM: How does this project relate to Southbridge Slow Electronics?

NUMBERS.FM: Southbridge Slow Electronics is the record label we run, and also “Slow Electronics” is a genre we set out deliberately to create at the intersections of experimental Media Art and Noise. Many of the folks who will be performing and DJing on NUMBERS.FM are artists connected to Southbridge or who we’ve met through our long-term involvement in noise & experimental music scenes, i.e. here in Chicago. Also there’s a way in which Southbridge’s existence as both an experimental music project and a conceptual/media art project is something we really want to keep pushing with NUMBERS.FM, and create a platform for artists who have that same kind of sensibility.

EM: Can you explain slow electronics a little more?

NUMBERS.FM: Slow Electronics is a genre that we set out explicitly to define and produce within the record label Southbridge. It’s about playing “slow” noise music — records at 0.01% speed, sonic events that take a lifetime to ensue, processes that are too simple to codify but take too long to repeat — and also about “slowness” as an inversion of the claim to “power” in the genre Power Electronics, which we consider to be a theater of misogyny and fascism. So one thing we do is these Slow Electronics “remixes” of Power Electronics records — usually playing them slowly and/or backwards & thru other processing.

EM: My Pandora station for experimental music doesn’t work so well. Can a radio station like succeed when listeners all have such different views on what electroacoustic music is?

NUMBERS.FM: Pandora works great for music that has really mass appeal, where it’s possible to think “I’m looking for something light-hearted with guitars and lyrics about broken promises” (the kind of categories Pandora uses to sort its music catalog and relate tracks to one another) and still come up with something that two people could agree upon just by virtue of having a huge pool of listeners to draw from and pluck some consensus out of. But stuff like noise music, weird dance music sub-genres, sound art, etc. is much more niche and so individual voices, tastes and other quirks are all above the noise floor. So this kind of more bespoke, handcrafted — not to mention *live* — approach is much more natural to the kind of music & sound we’re all invested in.

EM: Going forward, how is going to change and expand?

NUMBERS.FM: Right now we’re figuring out our process, getting all the tech in place and documenting it for new DJs, and generally finding our voice. We have a handful of shows scheduled to start with that we’re totally thrilled about, and look forward to building that roster out as we go. We also hope to do some weird stuff with the station as a platform for our own mysterious encrypted broadcasts and we already have all the code for the station’s online platform (for the playlist/archive tools & and website) available openly:

EM: What else are you guys working on?

NUMBERS.FM: Lisa Slodki’s limited edition VHS videotape artwork on Southbridge is coming up next on our label. Lisa also works under the name Noise Crush with the band The Fortieth Day and under her own name with the band Haptic. She is a Chicago-based artist who has exhibtited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago with Haptic. She makes VHS tapes as individual “loops” with samples on them taken from her own and other sources. During live performances she runs a series of VCR’s through mixers in an analog video world! Her work is flowing and slow-moving video which has been referred to by reviewers as dissonant, hypnotic and haunting emotional states, so we’re really looking forward to that!

Tags: experimental, glitch,, radio, slow electronics

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