Shirley & Spinoza Radio appears to be the work of one man - Fausto Caceres - as opposed to a child star and a 17th-century philosopher. The station, which you can stream via the internet, iTunes, Windows or Flash Player, has been on air in one form or another since the late 90s and has roots in the American college town of Berkeley. Now, somewhat exotically, it broadcasts from behind the Iron Firewall in the People’s Republic of China – in Urümqi in the western Xinjiang region.
Whenever I’ve tuned in – which has been most of the past week, apart from the football and a bit of Bacon – the same show has been on. Entitled Broken Bouncing Mixed Up Radio Waves, it’s a fantastic collage of pre-rock’n’roll swing, easy listening, 50s radio adverts, pulp sci-fi soundtracks, telephone static, old folk and country, cut’n’paste pop from interestingly named acts like Stock, Hausen and Walkman, plus, if one is fortunate, Moog cover versions of Bacharach and David tunes. Predicting what genre you’ll hear next is impossible.
Yes, there is much fromagerie and arty wibble, but also much beautiful vintage music that would never get airtime on regular radio such as Theremin pioneer Clara Rockmore, whose wonderful The Swan followed the Carter Family’s I Will Never Marry; two tracks that you would never expect to work together, but, thanks to Caceres’s excellent ear, flowed into each other seamlessly – an example of what he calls “live mixing” where he places songs and sounds on top of each other spontaneously and hopes for the best.
This oddball transmission from the edge of the planet deserves more listeners. A statistical widget on the site revealed that for much of my listening pleasure, I was one of just nine people tuning in - knowledge that made me feel both privileged and sad. Not that Caceres is without his fans - he was even the subject of a film about his other obsession - a secondhand photo album that contains letters from a schizophrenic man who believed he was being chased by the Mafia.
Sensibly, Caceres appears to have left his radio operation to run on automatic pilot these days – while he makes field recordings of traditional Chinese music – but an archive suggests there were once busier times at Shirley & Spinoza, especially at the weekends where regular shows included SpoooOOOooky (dedicated to horror film trailers), Old Timey Radio (vintage radio dramas) and Remote Operator, which mixed together “environmental recordings from life here in China, genuine China tunes, opera clips and cat solos”. All three can be downloaded from the site, the latter is highly recommended for anyone who likes the sound of Chinese airport ambience mixed together with a Japanese experimental banjo band called Satanicpornocultshop and a singing cat. You don’t get that on Magic. Well, not often.