Behold: One of the most strange and mysterious albums I own.
According to the back cover of this bizarre CD-R release, this is a collection of intercepted cell phone calls from an American city, as captured by a visiting professor from Nagykanizsa, Hungary named Petros Drecojecai. They were supposedly captured in the early- to mid-1990s, while Drecojecai was attending conferences in Northern California, living in “furnished downtown flats.” While fiddling with an “antique radio” he had brought from home, he inadvertently tapped into the calls. According to notes he left behind, he believed he was listening to an American talk radio program, and thus he recorded samples and sent them back to Hungary on tapes to try to “demonstrate to his colleagues what this sort of programs [sic] represented culturally in the United States.” He had apparently been unaware that they were private phone calls.
Listening to the release, the calls do indeed sound legit, so whether the Petros Drecojecai story is true or not, there still must be some story to tell. Each features different voices, and the recordings don’t sound remotely staged. There is audio interference, as might be expected using a scanner to intercept calls, and several recordings capture conversations in progress. The best argument for these recordings’ authenticity is that, if someone were faking this whole thing, the calls would probably be a lot more titillating and a lot less non-sequitur.
While some calls on Mistaken Receptions are a little bit racy, many are mundane: someone checking their bank account balance, a wrong number, a young woman trying to engage her sleepy boyfriend in conversation. Yet sex and heartache are never far away. In one call, we hear a woman trying to convince her male friend to become male stripper with a promise of $500 per night, but he remains reticent: “Do I have to suck dick, put anything in my ass?” A number of the calls feature arguments, including a woman berating someone for offering her money for sex, and another woman chewing someone out for leaving too many voicemails on her machine. The most entertaining recording is also the longest — it’s another call featuring the woman who was earlier trying to convince a man to become a stripper. In this recording, she is chatting with another male friend; over nine minutes, she bemoans the deadbeat father of her daughter, discusses her own plan to lose weight via Jenny Craig and become a stripper (which she again cites as a $500 per night opportunity), and laments her crack-smoking mother, who is currently in prison.
The final track, a “bonus,” was reportedly recorded by Drecojecai in an apartment building in California. The recording claims to document Drecjecai’s “enactment of the exertion to depletion theory.” That involved hanging precariously by his feet from the balcony of the fifth floor apartment.
“He would empty his mind, hang from his legs or feet and begin to speak the first words which came to his mind, transforming himself into a supple conduit at the disposal of the elments [sic], thereby receiving paranormal signals emitted from local or transient electrical fields and acting as a repeater to orally reproduce the sometimes haunting results.”Liner notes to Mistaken Receptions
The notes go on to explain that, four days after this performance, a “very strong and putrid odor” pervaded the apartment complex; it was later discovered that an elderly Russian immigrant had passed away in the room right below Drecojecai, and had been dead the whole time he performed his session.
Given the story, the recording of Drecojecai’s “exertion to depletion” performance is a little under whelming. It’s a three-minute lo-fi recording — you can hear the rumble of cars passing outside — that features a thin disembodied voice repeatedly imploring someone, or something, to “come in.” (At one point, he seems to be addressing the spirit of Amelia Earhart.)
The only mention of this CD-R online comes from the distribution catalog for Electro Motive Records, which is where I got my copy. For years, it was also listed in the legendary Aquarius Records catalog, where I first discovered it. Those may be the only venues that distributed this CD-R.
As I was buying my copy, I spoke with Peter Conheim, who runs Electro Motive Records, to find out what he knew about the Drecojecai story. Conheim, a former member of Negativland, told me that he was a neighbour of Drecojecai’s. Over email, he outlined the story as told in the liner notes. He points out that Drecojecai is a pseudonym, and that he cannot recall the person’s actual name. After Drecojecai performed his exertion-to-depletion demonstration, Conheim tells me he seemed to become more bizarre, telling Conheim about his “interceptions,” which Conheim assumed to be delusional. When Drecojecai played Conheim and his friend some of the recordings, he was shocked to learn they were real. Conheim wanted to press them onto CD-R, and Drecojecai agreed but disappeared before the pressing happened, never receiving a copy of the disc.
Inspecting the disc, I noticed a few details which were worthy of examination. There is an email address with a German Yahoo! domain: firstname.lastname@example.org. However, an email sent to this address returned undelivered (“Not a valid recipient.”) The same is true of an email sent to email@example.com.
I then noticed that the CD-R had a catalog number: PD02. This suggested there may have been a previous release on the Petros Drecojecai Archives label. Curious, I reached out to Conheim again. This time, the story changed a little bit. He no longer endorsed being Drecojecai’s neighbour, and instead told me he received CD-R, unsolicited, to his distro’s PO Box — from the Petros Drecojecai Archives label itself.
He did tell me that he remembered asking the label what PD01 was, and was told it was a limited-edition LaserDisc release intended for museums and institutions rather than the general public. According to Conheim, it was the “kind of LaserDisc that was briefly manufactured in tiny quantities where each individual frame on the disc held a single picture or a document, and you could ‘page’ through them. Obviously some kind of presumably obtuse PD research project! Considering LaserDiscs held something like 30,000 frames, it must have been quite the project.”
He also mentioned that a letter that came with the CD-Rs was signed by someone named “H. Richard” — in the liner notes, the cover image is credited to this name. Yet, Conheim recalls paying for the CD-Rs directly to the Petros Drecojecai Archives, not to an H. Richard.
A question lingered for me: what is the provenance of these recordings? Was it even technologically possible to intercept cell phone calls?
The answer is yes. According to this Wired article from 1997, standard radio scanners were capable of picking up cell phone frequencies at the time. In 1986, The Electronic Communications Privacy Act made it illegal to listen in on cellular telephone frequencies, and in 1993, it became illegal to manufacture or sell radio scanners that could access the frequencies used by cell phones, or to modify scanners to do so. Yet it was still something that people did, particularly bored ham radio enthusiasts. In that article, the writer interviews a shortwave radio hobbyist named Ed:
“Monitoring cellular to me is something I do when the bands are quiet — the best times to listen are late at night. The middle-aged men haven’t scored any pussy, so now it’s time to call a hooker before they go to sleep — or a phone sex line for a quickie. I enjoy toking some good weed, when I can score, and tune around.”
So what is the story here? Did Petros happen to own an outdated radio scanner with the cellular frequencies unblocked? Or was the “Petros” story a tall tale, and this instead the work of a ham radio whiz?
Do you know anything about the Petros Drecojecai story? If so, leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!