Tuning into shortwave radio across the Middle East
Our Shortwave Transmissions project contains shortwave radio broadcasts from all over the world, including a very interesting selection of compositions based on broadcasts across the Middle East – so here’s a short tour of the region as heard on shortwave.
First up, we’re off to Saudi Arabia, which obtained new transmitters in the 1970s and was widely heard with test transmissions before going on the air with full programming. This transmission was heard on a number of frequencies. Saudi Arabia is still on the air on shortwave, one of the last of the Middle East countries still using this method of transmission.
This broadcast was reimagined by Arvik Torrenssen, who writes:
“Our primary audio genre is composition of ambient soundscapes using a combination of digital computer software, analogue field recordings and electronic experimentation to produce acoustic sounds, textures and undulating tones – rather than the more traditional use of musical notes, scales and rhythms – which allows for a richer freedom of expression, resulting in generative soundscapes that can develop with complexity as a track evolves.
“This track – Taajuuksia ja ääniä meaning “frequencies and tones” – is based on and uses samples from the reel-to-reel tape recording taken by a young Dan Robinson during the 1970s in the USA, using a rare Hammarlund HQ-180A/X shortwave receiver (the X version uses fixed crystal units in place of the clock). Dan had tuned into the other side of the world to receive the long distance “DX” radio station the Voice of Saudi Arabia which was testing a new powerful shortwave radio transmitter system. Inspired by many such shortwave transmissions, Dan would over the course of the next few decades forge a distinguished career as a foreign and domestic correspondent and Senior White House reporter for the Voice of America, himself reaching out across the world through shortwave and other communications media during 30 plus years of service to the US International Broadcasting Bureau.
“Shortwave radio has many similarities with the creation of ambient drone generative soundscapes, such as the use of discrete frequencies, harmonics and heterodynes when using multiple phased sounds and signals; for example, the interference and static from the original track, usually the noises which are unwanted when listening to a radio, are very useful to use within ambient soundscapes, and many were sampled and used, for example the atmospheric “static crashes” and the hum at the start of the recording which was used to create the base layer bass tone. The addition of the halfaouine recreates a typical shortwave broadcast station “interval signal” which we processed using a phase distortion tools to mimic shortwave ionospheric fading and signal degradation.”
Next up, we head over the border into Iraq to listen to a broadcast from September 1990, a time when the political situation was escalating towards the first Gulf War.
Rusty Sheriff created a piece from this recording, which he describes as follows:
“When I heard the broadcast, I really wanted to pick apart the music hidden away in the background. These parts were cut, looped and effected to provide a pallet of parts for the rest of the track. There were also a couple of station IDs that I wanted to pull out too, and these became the name and reference point for the track.
“All of the original piece had a long distance radio phasing effect throughout and I wanted to use this rather that try to hide or fix it. This approach is embellished on organ and vocal parts as its character was too good to leave out. I then set about the feel of the piece and wanted to aim for something akin to The Chemical Brothers first album “Exit Planet Dust”. I pulled drum breaks and some meaty, fuzz bass to thicken up the track. I wanted to keep it brief, not too indulgent, so aimed for about 3 minutes. This allowed enough space for the parts of the original piece and also enough variation before the end I think. ”
Back to 1976, and we’re tuning in to the Voice of Iran, three years before the revolution in Iran that overthrew the Shah and established the current Islamic Republic. The recording is of the full half-hour broadcast and includes the news, some Iranian music, and a segment on falconry as a sport. There is some occasional interference from single-sideband station.
Basic Design developed a piece called “Falcons of Iran” from this recording:
“This is a piece made entirely from the original shortwave radio recording. I was entranced by the documentary section of the broadcast on hunting with falcons, and I wanted to use as much of that as possible. Other sections were processed, looped and delayed to make a suitably atmospheric backing for the voices (only when it was finished did I realise that I stopped the rhythm each time the interviewer asked a question…).”
Our tour of the region concludes in Israel with this important recording of the North American Service of Kol Yisrael, the Voice of Israel, on the second night of the combat phase (Operation Desert Storm) of the First Gulf War, 17/18 January 1991. The recording is of the 01:00 UTC broadcast on 18 January on 11605 kHz. The signals originated from 300 or 500 kW transmitters at Yavne, Israel.
“At the beginning of the 01:00 UTC broadcast, an announcement is made of a missile attack (from Iraq) and Israeli residents are instructed to move to their prepared closed rooms and to don their gas masks. An extended news bulletin follows. The civil defence instruction is repeated several times during the broadcast. The broadcast, from Jerusalem, included live reports from Tel Aviv. Subsequently, residents are told they can remove their gas masks but should stay in their sealed rooms.
“The 02:00 UTC broadcast continues the special report including live commentary from both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, including the civil defence information telephone numbers around the country. There is a brief gap in the recording at about the 19m:40s mark due to a tape change.
“The broadcast concludes with a brief piece of music and the concluding announcement and interval signal. Reception of the broadcasts was quite good. The 11605 kHz signal was strong with slight radio teletype interference. The 9435 and 7465 kHz frequencies also provided good signals although there was slight hum on one of the frequencies.”
Gianfranco Bitti’s piece reflects on this recording:
“It is January 17, 1991, this is the appeal launched on Israeli radio. In the span of a month, 39 scud missiles launched from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq fell on Israel. 17 fell in inhabited areas, two civilians died from the explosions and 11 were seriously injured, but 7 died from gas masks, 71 died from heart attack and respiratory problems, four from reaction to the injection of atropine.
“In the piece “Who is playing with my terror” I wanted to describe a world where nuclear, chemical and biological weapons exist, and can be used to terrify civilians. The recording of the Israeli radio announcement inspired me to imagine what would it be like to listen to someone telling you that the air that you breathe could kill you. And thinking about it, I just realise that we too were told just that because of the pandemic.”