The National Cynical Network (NCN) is a long-running, alternate programming media project. It originally consisted of a trio of SF Bay-Area based radio collage artists: Phineas Narco, Ronald Redball and Alexander T. Newport. NCN seeks to play with music, using sound, and video media samples in the process of media collage or 'mediage'.
'Mediage' is defined as the process of artistically appropriating material from the media environment, synthesizing it through the filter of the artists' own subjective experience of it, and then recasting it back into the media environment.
The voicemail (or 'voicejail') community that bandmembers Ronald Redball, Al Newport (and to an extent, Narco) were a part of was sparked by a personal ad in the San Jose Metro, put there by a character named Ed Note. The ad invited Silicon Valley 'freaks' to call a free voicemail box number sardonically titled 'The World Suicide Club'. The recordings of incoming calls (to Note's voicemail box) were then cut up and used in collage form as outgoing message material, which greeted new and recurring callers to the advertised number.
This early 'mediage'-type effort created it's very own small, divergent, electronic media environment or 'scene' from which it also largely drew. 'The World Suicide Club' was therefore a kind of feedback loop of creativity creating a clarion call which attracted all manner of artistic and disaffected weirdos who had been largely alienated from the 'normal' Silicon Valley yuppified work and social scene which predominated in the area during the 1980's and 90's.
Icon for Midnight Voicejail "Mr. 1:15" (Newport--the effective protagonist of the later 'Midnight Voicejail' series) set up his own Metro-based voicemail box soon after Ed Note's box became popular, and called it "Club Manic-Depression". This was soon followed by Ronald Redball's voicemail box which he called "The Global Maverick Society".
Many more boxes followed, each being 'advertised' on other boxes, and the scene soon grew and migrated to other more robust voicemail box systems which were better equipped to handle the increased traffic load. Voicemail systems of the day were meant basically only to capture messages while people were away from the phone. But the 'Voicejailers' (as the box scene participants came to be called) were using them in ways they weren't designed, pushing the technology to its limits
At its peak, there were at least fifty different mailboxes, all of them interacting with each other, trading and re-broadcasting messages, and presenting creative outgoings for the world to hear. There were also 'partyline's (much like modern-day chatrooms) in which people had public and private conversations. The main partylines even used the tagline 'A place for friends' which was an almost identical tagline used by Myspace well over a decade later.
The number of actual participants in this voicemail community, beyond the box owners, is unknown, but is probably in the hundreds.
Many of those who looked down on 'the boxes' as 'lame' and a waste of time, have computers, and blogs, today. Many more had their own collection of tapes from recordings received and sent, as well as the public creative outgoing messages. Obviously, people who left messages realized they were being recorded, and it was widely known that such taped material was being collected, freely circulated, and would someday be used for... 'something'.
'Midnight Voicejail' was created by Phineas Narco and The National Cynical Network in 1999 and ran until 2003 as a weekly feature on KFJC's radio show "Club Manic-Consciousness", run by then KFJC DJ (and latter-day voicejailer) Angel D. Monique.
Midnight Voicejail was a series of 50 (mostly) half-hour episodes, which comprised an artistic and psychedelic audio documentary journeying through, focusing on, the happenings of the voicemail box scene using actual recordings from it, and intermittently going on collage-based 'flights of fancy' in between message sequences.
The 10-Part 'Best of Midnight Voicejail' series is a distillation of the best of these sonic experiments.