Let’s be frank. Aside a few noticeable exceptions, the FM west-European scene is a general failure. Spectrum is crowded with lots of private stations, running the same playlists, and being different to each other only for sponsors and advertisers they carry. Be practical: tune your radio on the coolest station in Milan, in Berlin and in London, and what will make you realize the City you’re in will be the dj language, nothing else.
It’s true, our music industry is nowadays marketing driven, with records going out “on demand” following talent shows, and FM stations, especially mainstream ones, are undoubtedly one of the ground terminals of that “needs creation” network. However, there is more, and it has to do with the loss of personality by our society. Something related to the fact that if you have something (not necessarily intelligent, just something) to say, you pose a serious threat to those “average life conditions” so cared by multinationals, Spread masters and market Lords.
Once, you could read the genetic code of a Country by its radio domain, especially the shortwaves one. That “public diplomacy” decoding exercise remains partly valuable, but it’s probably not casual that, in Europe, that medium has been dropped by many Governments (Italy ceased transmissions in 2007, but many others are reducing, or have left, HF). The word “originality” was deleted from the dictionary on this side of the world, being replaced by “format” and “homogenization”.
Luckily, not everywhere the song remains the same. Some elusive spots of the world have vivid radio underground, with music you wouldn’t even guess. On a different hand, tuning to stations from Countries where dictatorial Regimes are in control, reveals itself an experience like receiving signals from Mars. Something you wouldn’t believe possible, something that would tell you more than any psychologist book about human madness.
Even being a DX diehard, receiving such signals from Europe proves everyday less easy for different reasons (among these, the fact not only shortwaves are concerned), but these words and sounds are incredible fingerprints of our civilization, and they deserve to be preserved. One of the possible solutions appeared clear to me last night, when I landed on the “Sublime Frequencies” music label website.
As per its own introduction, “Sublime Frequencies” is a “collective of explorers dedicated to acquiring and exposing obscure sights and sounds from modern and traditional urban and rural frontiers via film and video, field recordings, radio and short wave transmissions, international folk and pop music, sound anomalies, and other forms of human and natural expression not documented sufficiently through all channels of academic research, the modern recording industry, media, or corporate foundations.”
The label, based in Seattle (USA), focuses “an aesthetic of extra-geography and soulful experience inspired by music and culture, world travel, research, and the pioneering recording labels of the past including OCORA, SMITHSONIAN FOLKWAYS, ETHNIC FOLKWAYS, LYRICHORD, NONESUCH EXPLORER, MUSICAPHONE, BARONREITER, UNESCO, PLAYASOUND, MUSICAL ATLAS, CHANT DU MONDE, B.A.M., TANGENT, and TOPIC”.
So far for the mission, from now on about the catalog, in which ten projects are made of radio recordings from Countries you don’t know enough. I’m referring to: Radio Java (CD SF002); Radio Morocco (CD SF007); Radio Palestine: Sounds of the Eastern Mediterranean (CD SF008); RADIO INDIA: The Eternal Dream of Sound (2-CD SF014); Radio Phnom Penh (CD SF020); Radio Sumatra: The Indonesian FM Experience (CD SF021); Radio Pyongyang: Commie Funk and Agit Pop from the Hermit Kingdom (CD SF023); Radio Thailand: Transmissions from the Tropical Kingdom (2-CD SF028); Radio Algeria (CD SF029); Radio Myanmar (Burma) (CD SF044).
In a word, stuff you wouldn’t even think of. Neither if you’re a DXer who caught Pyongyang on 3 MHz, or Myanmar on 5770 kHz. These are all recordings made on the site, including also MW outlets, and FM ones, carrying the music you wouldn’t expect to hear in paranoid regimes’ lands. Read the description for every single cd, and you’ll realize how weather forecasts can be mixed to the “Three National Main Causes” recitation, and how you can span from the “dear leader” military song to an Avril Lavigne cover in Burmese.
Other releases, in the past, went that way. You will probably remember the Irdial four cd set – “The Conet Project” – on number stations (one of the most claustrophobic experiences I ever had), or the Satdirectory downloadable compilations, that made the curtain fall on the Government origin of the mighty chinese “Firedragon Jammer”. However, the work by “Sublime Frequencies” goes much more deep, and – with a total of ten releases – shows a different solidity, even on the research side (and have a look to the remaining releases by the label, including total gems, like the Laurent Jeanneau recordings on Ethnic Minorities music).
It’s strange to think that, to better understand this planet, you have to hear “Jonson Jung-ang Pangsong”, but believe me you will get more meaning with that, than thanks to “105 Network” in Italy, or “NRJ” in France. If you’re a DXer, you should already be close to such a conclusion, and “Sublime Frequencies” cd will provide the missing tile in your ideas mosaic. If you’re not, try this approach, and you’ll start seeing things under a different light. Don’t forget radio came before tv!
73 de Chris