My Favorite Record Store That I’ve Never Been To

This is why I love Aquarius. They’re SO enthusiastic about the weirdest records.

CONET PROJECT, THE (Irdial Disc) 4cd+book 62.00
If there’s one recording we have sold here that I think is most identified with Aquarius Records, or that at least I mention most often when trying to explain to people what it is that we’re all about here, it’d be the Conet Project. Some others come close: Sounds of North American Frogs, Os Mutantes, Burzum “Filosofem”, Comus “First Utterance”, Boris, Circle, Philip Jeck, Village of Savoonga…and there’s of course many other discs and LPs near and dear to our hearts (for instance, hearing the first Neutral Milk Hotel album always makes me nostalgic for the old 24th street store). But for some reason it’s the Conet Project that really seems to sum it all up. It’s all the things we really love: completely ridiculous (four cds!), completely fucked (secret government spy transmissions), droning, weird. It’s just so interesting and evocative on so many levels, both musical and totally non-musical, as a listening experience and also as a geopolitical cold war and beyond artifact. Definitely a big AQ fave: Allan’s got the whole thing on his iPod, Andee has multiple copies, many of which found their way into his old band’s live perfomances, Jim has DJed under the name The Lincolnshire Poacher, and we all are a little bit obsessed.

If you’ve been in the store, you’ve probably noticed that we have a chart on the wall behind the counter keeping a tally of Conets sold. It went up to 387 (yes, three hundred and eighty seven!) before it became unavailable/out of print a few years ago — there’s even snapshots of some of the happy purchasers (#382, Mike Patton) beside it. Now we’re ready to start checking off more boxes on our chart, as we at last are able to offer you The Conet Project again!! After several years in out of print limbo, the Irdial label has finally done a repress, in part we guess thanks to the $30,000+ settlement they recieved from Wilco’s record label, who Irdial sued for the unauthorized use of a Conet Project sample on their breakthrough Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album, whose title itself comes from that Conet sample. (Read more about that here.) We’re not sure if we understand or agree with the legalities behind Irdial’s lawsuit, but we’re happy at least that the outcome resulted in more Conets to go around (if that’s where Irdial got the money to repress, as we suspect). There was also the use of a Conet track in that Tom Cruise movie Vanilla Sky…

Ok, so maybe you already know you want one (or maybe you already have one). But the rest of you, read on, here’s what we had to say about this AQ fave before:

Basically, the Conet Project is a four-cd compilation of recordings of mysterious shortwave radio broadcasts, known as “numbers stations”. These numbers stations are generally believed to be encrypted spy transmissions, but no concrete evidence has ever surfaced proving that suppostion. However, no credible *alternate* explanation has ever been demonstrated, either. For years (ever since the start of the Cold War), amateur radio enthusiasts have come across these sinister signals, and they continue to this day, broadcast in many languages all over the world (the theory is that some are CIA, some are KBG, some are Mossad, etc).

In general, the transmissions consist of a deadpan voice (sometimes an old man, sometimes a young woman, etc.) reading a seemingly random, meaningless series of numbers over and over. Sometimes the broadcsts are preceded by a musical cue (the “Swedish Rhapsody” music box one being a favorite of ours), and sometimes the numbers are not conveyed by voice but by even more cryptic electronics (as with “The Buzzer”, and other noisy, abstract stuff found mainly on disc four).

Needless to say, hearing those amazing and baffling sounds collected on these four cds is an unnerving experience. Not only does knowledge of the supposed purpose of these transmissions imbue them with a disturbing quality, but the repetition of the numbers combined with the background of shortwave radio static makes for a aurally hypnotic experience. If merely regarded as a piece of experimental ambient sound scupture, the Conet Project would be a brilliant and affecting piece of work, yet with the added context of international intelligence and conspiracy theory, it becomes even more intriguing and creepy. The four cds come with a large book (housed in its own jewel box) that provides a great deal of description of, and speculation about, the many recordings. Very well done. The Conet Project is possibly the most incredible, and weirdest, item of sound art/documentation that we’ve EVER had here at Aquarius. Mesmerizing, fascinating, unique, massive, scary, but sometimes even soothing. 100 percent recommended to the adventurous listener (’cause it’s not for everyone!). And once you have it you’ll understand why it had to be a full four cds–being overwhelming is part of the obsessive allure of this Project.

I think I stumbled onto some weird cult here. There are even t-shirts.