Estonia has had a long history of invasion and occupation. From 1940 until 1990 the USSR annexed Estonia during which time the KGB took up residence in Tallinn. An interesting part of this history resides in the Hotel Viru. The hotel was opened in 1972 to showcase Soviet power to the world. However, more sinisterly, it was constructed to house a communications department on the 23rd floor. It was here that the art of field recording took a more sinister turn. Visiting guests including ambassadors and other foreign delegates had their private conversations monitored by microphones installed in the hotel furniture and telephones. Sophisticated antennae on the hotel’s roof was said to be strong enough to monitor taxi dispatching signals in Helsinki over 85 kilometres away. In addition 60 rooms were bugged, secret cameras were drilled into walls, elevator attendants were instructed to inform the KGB of guests’ departures and arrivals.
Waking early yesterday morning in my Tallin hotel I heard a strange movement of air passing across the bedroom window. By taping contact microphones to the window it was possible to clearly hear the vibration of the wind on the window. I was also able to hear slightly muffled conversations in the adjacent room. It reminded me of the actions of the KGB in Hotel Viru, that in the wrong hands field recording is more than the archiving of sound for sound enthusiasts. The 23rd floor of the Hotel Viru is now open to the public. Visitors can see old Soviet typewriters and telecommunication equipment left by the KGB when they disappeared overnight. On the door to the Telecommunications Room, written in the Cyrillic alphabet, is the message “There is Nothing Here”.