Lately I’ve been thinking about something I heard back in 2012 while driving along the Gulf Coast after a terrible night in Texas. Just after midnight, a metallic voice began to flicker through the radio static: “Report. Report. It is unclear if they want the invasion of Iran to commence during a U.S. presidential election year. Regardless, World War III is already upon us.”

The voice rode an uncanny line between robot and human as it delivered garbled prophecies about bombings, earthquakes, and the Rockefeller Foundation. It was the usual batshit conspiracy schtick that was fringey eight years ago but has since been mainlined into our government. On a purely tonal level, however, it was a hypnotic slurry of lurching pauses and alien cadence. Then it took a sudden turn towards the personal: “Will enough people wake up, throw away their egos, and cry for a couple of days after accepting their whole life is a lie?”

I listened to this broadcast for hours, all the way from Beaumont to Baton Rouge, where I lost the signal. I listened because I couldn’t easily categorize it as a synthetic preacher, a political crackpot, or some futuristic form of self-help. Hell, I couldn’t even categorize it as a computer or a person. The content didn’t interest me, nutty and vivid though it was. The defiance of categories kept me hooked, the strange borderland this voice had staked out between diatribe and confessional, between staccato and slang, and between artificial and human.

There’s a creative lesson here: once we can categorize something, it no longer requires our full attention. But if we can’t put it in a neatly labeled box, we’ll stare at it all night. Perhaps the best work scrambles genre and rides strange lines that might swerve at any moment.

I dredged up a short recording of some of what I heard that night. The sound quality is terrible because I forgot to roll up the windows, but maybe you’ll understand why I’ve held onto this file all these years.

Gulf Coast Radio Clip