Terrifying Tones For Halloween (Part 1)

US From behind the (iron) curtain      27/10/23

Terrifying Tones For Halloween (Part 1)

It's that time of year again, so grab your cocoa, place a tealight in your pumpkin and cozy on down with these scary sounds.

1. UVB-76

If you think about it, radio is pretty magical. Modulated electromagnetic waves, many gigahertz above our range of perception, journey through the air and down an antenna, where circuitry demodulates the signal into audible sound. We're used to radio as a carrier for news, sport and the latest chart hit, but radio's origins lie in it's diplomatic and military uses.

A shortwave radio station, located deep in the forests of Povarovo, Russia (later being moved to St Petersburg) called UVB-76, "The Buzzer", broadcasts a short, monotonous buzz tone on the frequency of 4625 kHz. It has repeated at a rate of approximately 25 tones per minute, 24 hours per day for decades.

This unnerving sound is generated manually by a buzzing tonewheel placed next to a microphone, giving a legion of online listeners an eerie glimpse into the signal's dark wellspring. Banging noises and hushed conversations are commonly overheard by these online sleuths, and since 1997, the buzzing is sometimes interrupted by a live voice message, usually containing a call-sign, codeword or sequence of digits.

What's truly creepy though, is the speculation around it's purpose. One rumour states that UVB76 is an aural "dead man's switch"; if Russia is destroyed (breaking the signal) then a retaliatory attack will be automatically launched...

...Don't let that keep you up tonight though! The buzzer has reportedly broken down numerous times and we're all still here! You can listen to UVB76 live here:


2. Gong Station Chimes (G03)

This mysterious radio station hails from East Germany in the Cold War Era. It's purpose was to broadcast coded messages from East Berlin to various agents in neighboring countries. If UVB's rumoured purpose is unnerving, well G03 actually sounds terrifying. It has all the trappings and spooky sonic touches a composer might use to create a creepy atmospheric broadcast, but it's ACTUALLY REAL. Let's break it down:

The broadcast featured below, like most from the station, starts with a tape recording of various gongs and chimes. Over the years, the tape aged into a warbly, distorted spookfest. At 1:20 the gongs drop out, a background bed of undulating morse-code blips away for a few seconds, and then, the true unnerving splendour of G03 is revealed.

A sharp female voice reads out a sequence of coded numbers in an unfeeling, mechanical monotone. You can tell that the voice is of human origin, but at the same time, the unwavering pitch and quantized delivery creates an aural "uncanny valley" effect.

And there's a good reason she sounds this way. The voice is generated by a "Sprach Machine". From 1984, these voice-morse machines played a huge part in secret message exchange. Looking like a slightly sinister cash register, it played back pre-recorded samples of our mystery-femme annunciating various numbers from an EPROM. Yep, this is the Linn Drum's German spy-cousin! Adding to the retro-cool factor, the machine can be fed a sequence via punched-tape:

If you compare the output of the machine and G03's broadcasts, you can hear that G03 is higher pitched, more urgent; perhaps a different EPROM? Whatever the origin, in 1990, a swift change in political climate resulted in G03 chiming for the last time. The last message? A group of drunken soldiers singing the children's song, "All My Ducklings". You couldn't make it up.

Posted by MagicalSynthAdventure an expert in synthesis technology from last Century and Amiga enthusiast.

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