How a saxophonist fooled the KGB by encrypting secrets in music | MarketingwithAnoy

“When we arrived, we were immediately pulled aside and they went through everything in our luggage, so they unpacked Tampax. It was crazy,” says Goldberg, who presents the experience and his musical code at the RSA Security Conference in San Francisco in day. “With my music, they opened it and there were some real tunes in there. If you are not a musician, you would not know what is what. They went side by side through everything – and then they handed it back. “

Goldberg says that while the code worked and Soviet officials did not confiscate their music, they questioned all four travelers about what they planned to do while in the USSR. “We were brought into a room with a big powerful guy knocking on the table and yelling at us,” recalls Goldberg, now a professor of music education at California State University, San Marcos.

Node names span the letters A to G, so they do not provide a complete alphabet of possibilities alone. To create the code, Goldberg assigned letters of the alphabet to notes in the chromatic scale, a 12-tone scale that includes halftones (sharp and flat) to expand the possibilities. In some examples, Goldberg wrote in only one musical series, known as the treble clef. In others, she expanded the register to be able to code more letters and added a bass key to expand the range of the musical scale. These details and variations also added truth to her coded music.

For numbers, Goldberg would simply write them between the letters, where you could sometimes see chord symbols. She also added other characteristics to the composition, such as rhythms (half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, whole notes), key notes, tempo markings, and articulation indicators such as slur and tie. Most of these were there to make the music look more legitimate, but some served as coded additions to the letters hidden in the notes. She even occasionally drew small diagrams that could be confused with diagrams to remind herself of where a meeting place was located or how to deliver something.

While someone technically could have played the code like music, it would have sounded less like a tune and more like a cat walking across piano keys.

“I chose a note to start, and then I made the alphabet from there. Once you know it, it ends up being pretty easy to write things. I also taught my friends the trip code,” Goldberg says. “We used it. to take people’s addresses and other information we needed to find them. And we coded things while we were there so we would be able to hand over some information about people and their efforts to emigrate, as well as details that we hoped could help other people ask to leave. ”

The American musicians got a handle on it in Moscow before heading to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. There and at their next stop in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, they successfully met members of the Phantom Orchestra, many of whom spoke little English, and spent time getting to know each other, playing music together, and even staging small, impromptu concerts.

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