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Kryptophones was commissioned by the NZBC in 1973 to be submitted as the New Zealand entry in the Italia Prize competition of that year. The Italia Prize is an annual competition in which Broadcasting Authorities throughout the world are invited to submit musical or musical dramatic works which have been especially composed for or are ideally suited to radio broadcast. 1973 was however an auspicious year – the 50th anniversary of radio – and to mark the occasion a special section was created.
In planning the work it seemed logical to use radio sounds as source material. However I decided to avoid the sort of modulated short wave signals which have been widely used by such composers as Stockhausen and Cage, sounds which constitute a type of "ready-made electronic music". Instead I began to think about the theatrical possibilities of shortwave radio, and remembered listening to a car radio on a clear, calm night in Greece, when I was able to tune into a world of sound, voices and music, that flooded in from Central Europe, Eastern Europe, the Near East, Middle East and Africa. What an astonishing realisation that the air about me was continually oscillating with this fantastic confusion of sounds that my unaided ear was incapable of hearing! What would it be like if I could hear these sounds with my naked ear, or see these electromagnetic signals with my eyes!
Kryptophones attempts to create an analogy between short wave radio signals and the type of aural hallucination experienced by some mystics (and madmen) who hear voices "from out there". Apart from the sounds of crowds of people I used only the signals and announcements by which short wave broadcasters identify themselves – musical fragments (chimes, drums, orchestral fragments) and words of greeting, declarations of transmission frequencies, time calls, and so on.