Hiding a Morse Code Message in a Pop Song

In Colombia:

The team began experimenting with Morse code using various percussion instruments and a keyboard. They learned that operators skilled in Morse code can often read the signals at a rate of 40 words per minute ­ but played that fast, the beat would sound like a European Dance track. "We discovered the magic number was 20," says Portela. "You can fit approximately 20 Morse code words into a piece of music the length of a chorus, and it sounds okay."

[...]

Portela says they played with the Morse code using Reason software, which gives each audio channel or instrument its own dedicated track. With a separate visual lane for certain elements, it was possible to match the code to the beat of the song -- and, crucially, blend it in.

Hiding the Morse code took weeks, with constant back-and-forth with Col. Espejo and the military to make sure their men could understand the message. "It was difficult because Morse code is not a musical beat. Sometimes it was too obvious," says Portela. "Other times the code was not understood. And we had to hide it three times in the song to make sure the message was received."

Posted on February 2, 2015 at 7:01 AM • 30 Comments

Comments

Clive RobinsonFebruary 2, 2015 8:28 AM

In 1990 Mike Oldfield released the album Amarok on the virgin record lable.

Due to preasures as Mike was contractualy obliged to Virgin Records to deliver three more albums in short order. Amarok was noticeably strange even by Mike Oldfield's standards and hiden in it at 48mins was a quite rude morse code message for Virgin's owner Richard Branson,

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amarok_(Mike_Oldfield_album)

paranoia destroys yaFebruary 2, 2015 8:41 AM

Add one more thing people will be looking for hidden in songs.
So far I've heard of them looking for hidden meanings, scream of a murder during the recording, back-masking, obscenity, only dogs can hear it or rhythms to stimulate an irregular heartbeat.

If it becomes a hit will it be in the half-time show?

CallMeLateForSupperFebruary 2, 2015 9:39 AM

@Clive

Now you've done it; I'm gonna have to dig out Amarok and toddle off to find someone who still has a turntable!

Come to think of it, an album by Isao Tomita contains a PCM(?) message that I never got around to playing with. If this snow keeps up I might just find the time....

the undeadFebruary 2, 2015 10:17 AM

I have to say, as a hidden message "fuck off and die" does get tiresome. How would you tell who is doing the hiding, whether it is just gaslighting, and whether you or your imposter is the intended recipient?

MailheadFebruary 2, 2015 10:27 AM

Here is a small program that "abuses" common file formats to
create "envelopes" for text/email. Project CuttleFish (seriously not meant
as a reference to squid) on http://www.unchartedcharters.com

It is meant to show you can use pretty much any format to transmit messages.

It does some better than others: .avi files with dancing snowflakes or "pacman"
shapes, hieroglyphs with a character recognition module from scratch, .wav files
that sound like rain, .js, asps, fake DNA sequences, even (experimental)
cascading style sheets (.css), or "empty" xmls with text hidden as ID attribute
values.

And a "semi-crypto" "Double Strand": the text is saved into two files, one containing the characters, the other named "filename_numbers.txt" containing the positions of the characters in the original text. The order of the characters is subsequently randomized, and you need both files (in the same directory) to extract the message text.

albertFebruary 2, 2015 10:57 AM

It's a clever idea, and it could be taken to much more complex levels. Real music is so wonderfully analog. Computers still can't match humans when it comes to a complex analysis of a piece of sophisticated music. With the advent of atonalism, it doesn't even have to sound good, or make sense:)
.
In my minds eye, I see scores of NSA drones, listened intently on their headphones, pencils in hand...
.
I wonder if NSA will have to start hiring musicians soon.
.
.. --. --- - - .- --. --- (...)

P.S.:
www.onlineconversion.com

Clive RobinsonFebruary 2, 2015 11:10 AM

@ the undead,

Whilst the message might be "tiresome", how do you know if the edges of the "dits and dars" have not been modulated in some way to contain yet another message?

"And so the beat goes on".

Jenny JunoFebruary 2, 2015 11:20 AM

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the most common and widespread form of steganography in the modern world:

Cinavia

It is implemented in every officially licensed bluray player manufactured in the last two years and practically every bluray disc from Sony Entertainment contains cinavia-encoded data.

JargonFebruary 2, 2015 12:00 PM

Australian composer Barrington Pheloung incorporated Morse code clues in his beautiful music for the PBS Mystery series "Inspector Morse" in the 1990's.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 2, 2015 12:50 PM

@ SomeGuy,

It's actually "V for Victory" but you would have had to be around for a long time to know that (scratches beard to look for grey hair :-)

AlexFebruary 2, 2015 2:11 PM

I still remember the talk show host G. Gordon Liddy, back in the 1990s had Morse-code in his opening. If you transcribed it, you got a constant "B.S. B.S."

JuwieFebruary 2, 2015 4:23 PM

The jingle of the German news show HEUTE was based on it's title from 1985 to 1998. Then it was slightly changed, now the Morse code is broken.

ElgarFebruary 2, 2015 8:40 PM

Morse code was "dit-dah"ed (getting the "f" word past the censors) by Pearls Before Swine in 1967 in their song "(Oh dear) Miss Morse" on the "One Nation Underground" album.

Steve FriedlFebruary 3, 2015 8:18 AM

This is truly a moving story (and a lovely song), but I'm still trying to get my arms around the notion that it could have been heard by 3 million people, but NOBODY other than the captives recognized Morse code? No amateur radio operators? Not one of FARC were former military? Not even the chief engineers of the radio stations that played the song? Nobody? Really?

I hate being so cynical about such a nice story, but something just doesn't sit right.

Dirk PraetFebruary 3, 2015 9:11 AM

@ Steve Friedl

I hate being so cynical about such a nice story, but something just doesn't sit right.

I was actually thinking along the same lines.

HermanFebruary 4, 2015 9:32 AM

Roger Waters used morse code multiple times in his songs, for example Radio Kaos. It is quite common, even the Beetles did it.

HermanFebruary 4, 2015 9:41 AM

Beethoven even used Morse code in the 5th, before Morse invented his code...

A pure stroke of genius:

dit dit dit dah = V victory

.--- ..- .... .- -. .- ... .. .-. . -.February 6, 2015 4:25 PM

Then there was Endeavour series (portraying Morse in his youth) where the MORSE (-- --- .-. ... .) rhythm of the end credits was played somewhat loosely, making it sound more like MOSSE.

NystagmusEFebruary 20, 2017 4:33 PM

Nevermind that musican behind the curtain.
Nothing to hear here folks; move along.
Actually, there really isn't.
Sometimes music is just music.

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