SCANNER [robin rimbaud]

[Robin Rimbaud aka Scanner]

Scanner aka Robin Rimbaud is considered to be tomorrow's saint of contemporary electro music. His method involves creating complex hiss-and-blip soundscapes juxtaposed with pieces of conversations intercepted from mobile phones and/or CB bandwith and assorted ultra discrete military signals of uncertain origin. [radiostation]>The main device he uses is, predictably, Loewe AR800E scanner purchased from local Hunt Saboteurs group, a sort of sonic weapon plus high-tech information tool in one inconspicuous box.
Robin seems to be ubiquitous, travelling everywhere from Japan to New Zealand, performing his music, delivering lectures or taking part in conferences (notably, in March 1996 The following conversation took place in Centre's Art Quitchen the day after the show. Many thanks to Robin and Hillary, for their cooperation and patience. Thanks to Maciek Sienkiewicz (organizer of the gig) and Kasia Klimaszewska (the camera). May the supra-waves be with all of you!!!

NEUROBOT: One of your numerous projects is called "Ground Control" and it is scheduled for March 1997. I've heard it is going to be a collaborative effort of British and Lithuanian artists. Would you tell us more about it ?

SCANNER: "Ground Control" project is run by British art collective Beaconsfield and it month-long project during which the British artists go to Lithuania and work with the local community. The idea is that, each one of us, whether artist or ordinary man, has a sort of personal method of doing certain things... And so, what I'm attempting to do, could be described as "mapping the city". I take the sounds of local people and local area, and do a sort of performance around them, recording them, transforming the voices, making the soundtrack out of it and so on. Undoubtedly, it's a chance to explore the different see what the British artists bring in and what Lithuanian artists can buy, and what we can produce together. As far as I know, the're going to come over to England for some period of's like a travelling exhibition, I suppose. Just at the moment, I'm doing another project with Finnish artists. Panasonic, an electronic band from Helsinki, is coming over to London. They will be staying in London, doing soundpiece in a gallery space like this one. Many other artists, including myself and Kaffe Mathews, will be collaborating with them on this project.

N: Is it a project you mentioned yesterday?

S: Probably. I forgot the name of the show. It's got a really strange name...something like "Rust"...

N: Where is the event going to take place ?

S: It's Beaconsfield again. It's quite an interesting project, I think. As regards work, I'm doing quite a lot of it...For example, I want to go to Australia, and do a series of presentations there, series of talks about my work. It is tentatively called "Virogenesis", and it's not about techno, not about making pop records or dance records. The topic is the relationship between my work and space - in the sense of public space and private space...Do such things as privacy and public space really exist ? I'm also interested in the way the problem is connected with the Internet and new information technologies...Of course, all kinds of questions regarding sound - how do you process the sound and how it reflects upon the environment - are going to be answered as well. So, I'm doing this kind of stuff...

N: What about "Spectacular Optical" - an interactive art show concerning "the latitude parameters of urban sound and sociality of sound". Could you try to explain the underlying principle of this kind of approach ? Do you think that it's possible to recognize main population characteristics while listening to the sounds they produce ?

[oscillator] S: I think what you learn when you work with sounds is that each area and each country has its own kind of aural identity. It's not only in the language, in the dialect itself. You will notice certain differences between these areas...when you travel to England you travel around all these radically different dialects, but it's also certain acoustics of the place...Here, when you pick up the telephone, you get different dial tone than in England. Sometimes, I like recording these particular idioms of sound, and I do pieces in different countries. I did one in Liverpool, recording the inside sound environment of shops, sounds of the cash tills, the bell when the door opens and closes, things like these. In this way, you learn to recognize your own acoustic space. It's quite funny, because when one records something in London, there's a sort of police siren when you cross the road. They call it pilot crossings (?), you wait until the lights go green and you cross over. Australia has entirely different sounds, it's almost like a language...a sound language belonging to each different country.

N: What kind of sounds, as linguistic signs, are interesting for you ? For example, do you pay attention to ambient sounds of the city - cranes screeching, moving against each other, stuff on the verge of audibility etc. ?

S: I've always been interested in all kinds of mistakes, the elements that were not supposed to be used. When I've done remixes for the people, I tried to employ various unorthodox approaches. If somebody's playing saxophone, I like them before they start playing, that wheet sound, I like to use that. To me, that appears equally valid as other sounds, it's musical in its own way. When I use voices, I like to use very low-register conversations. I really like the way we talk now, you can hear other people talking over their tables. I don't understand what they're saying so I won't be distracted. If you speak the language, you suddenly start picking up on it on unconscious level. If someone at the other table starts talking about something you're interested in, you start tuning in to that frequency.

N: This sounds pretty similar to Rupert Sheldrake's morphogenetic field theory, which says that we all inherit a kind of a collective memory common to the whole humankind. In one of the recent issues of "Creative Camera" magazine, he tries to apply his theory to an unexplained visual phenomenon of staring, "the experience of being looked at from behind". As far as the purity of the signal is concerned, maybe it is applicable to auditory system, too?

S: Yeah, look at the ear, the way it works, it affects the values of the whole human body. When there's a hair in your ear, the whole body gets really unbalanced. It happened to me, and it was really crazy, I was going heavy like drunk or something - even if I don't drink. The ear, the way it vibrates, [tape recorder]responds to a certain rhytmic pattern. There's a strong connection between parts of the ear and your brain. This rhytm has really strong effects, physical effects which is why your feet start tapping. I like the idea that you can't resist moving to any form of rhytm, or dance music, not necessarily because you like the music, but the rhytm has its effects. Lots of people start to move, or shake their heads, even if they don't particularly like the music.

N: It's on the very basic, primitive level.

S: Yeah, on a kind of biological level.

N: So, again, it's a sort of collective motoric memory of our species. Now, can you tell us anything more about Roger Coghill, a scientist you mentioned in one of the interviews ?

S: I did an album called "Spore". A friend of mine did an interview with Coghill for the radio. I was going to use the tape and I wanted to obtain his permission to do that. He was quite funny, because I wrote to him "Could I use the recording of your voice for my album?", and he said no. I responded "If we give you 400 pounds, could we use this recording?", and he said yes, of course, which is quite nice...Like Mephistopheles, you can buy his soul. Now I've got 90 minute DAT tape of his theories. He's rather eccentric character - for example, he talks about radio waves and their effects. [telephone]Mobile phones use radio waves - quite a common story. And if you use mobile phone, all for luck. The frequencies mobile phones use is exactly identical to the frequencies with which human skull vibrates. So, the dangerous signal is being sent in to your head. There were stories of cancer-related sicknesses, brain tumors...due to mobile phones, which sounds really fantastic. Still, it's very early technology, so there's a possibility of unknown factors. Coghill takes the whole thing a step further... He says that television caused AIDS, and he makes this very weird connection, finding the trace of the AIDS virus in the 40's and 60's. This matches perfectly the time when television and radio really reached its peak...and the radio waves cause this to happen. It's hard to explain, but the waves and the viruses are somehow transmitting itself through the sexual activity. Well, Coghill has written a couple of books which I haven't got. He's quite an eccentric Englishman...He runs a laboratory called Coghill Laboratory which nobody knows about. I got this kind of a newsletter he publishes. There's this track called "RF Radiation" which concerns radio frequency radiation with Coghill samples mixed in.

N: By the way, why is the album called "Spore" ? Does it have any biological connotations ?

S: The idea was a sort of filtering, this record being somehow representative of all the different sorts of areas all over England...The voices and sounds were recorded all over the country. The principle is collecting together this disparate material, all the different layers of meaning. To me, the definition of art, in a very big way, is always layers. Have you ever read Dickens' novel ? In his works, the layers I mentioned mean depth. You could read it like my mother can read it, looking for "that's a really nice story point of view", or it can get serialized in newspapers. But it's also really interesting characterization of people, some of the figures represent different people in society and you begin to realize author's social approach...Again, it's a different layer and it could lead to the level of economics. I like "Gulliver's Travels". Do you know it? To me, good art is in some respect hidden among all these layers. As regards successful art, you can analyze it on a really grand scale. Some of the works just don't have this capacity to be analyzed, they are very surface-based. The "Spore" thing was supposed to be all these tiny sounds representative of elected tiny seeds. That's a very simple idea.

N: What did start your interest in electronics, this semi-obsession with quality equipment ?

S: I've always been recording sounds you know. I immediately bought a walkman when they first came out and I still have this one at home. It's sitting on my telephone right now and it records things that may prove to be interesting - on the phone or elsewhere. I always used to carry it around with me, when I was 14 or 15. When I went to Italy, I didn't take any photos - I recorded sounds of the street.

[tape] N: It sounds like you were researching, making some sort of field recordings. Do they remain intact ?

S: I never listen back to them. That's quite weird. I listen to bits. Another time, I went to Berlin, and I took my walkman with me, recording everywhere - inside the lifts, on the aeroplane etc.

N: What machine do you use right now ?

S: Still the same one, the same walkman...Sony recording walkman...analog, nothing special, but I still use it. For example, the first Scanner album contained lots of recordings from that period...

N: They had to be cleaned or remixed, I suppose...

S: No, they were perfect ! You didn't have to clean up very much. I create archives...this big cardboard box full of cassettes with recorded voices of people in the offices or in the street, or me on the underground.

N: How do you cope with the microphone. Do you try to hide it ?

S: I just hold it. They used to have wooden benches years ago, really nice wooden chairs. I did a truck drumming on chairs - it sounds beautiful - and when the train comes in, the track finishes. Never released that, though. Anyway, I'm going to New York this week and you can buy really tiny unbelievable digital recorders there...The tape is the size of your fingernail, journalists use it for interviews, you can plug a microphone in it. It's got really good digital quality, and it's tiny...evolving into this micro dimension, it's ridiculous, so tiny...and the tape - 2 hours - literally THIS big. It's phenomenal and I want it now.

[radio] N: Do you perceive it as a general tendency of technology, this process of becoming gradually smaller and smaller, until the final invisibility ?

S: I think microtechnology seems to be the way to go. As regards sound, 15 years ago, you had to sit and listen to records - it just wasn't possible to take it elsewhere, there were no such things as walkmans. When the walkmans came in, they enabled us to listen to music in a different way. In a sense, when you make music, you become aware that people listen to it in different situations...on a plane, on the train, in the cafe...There's always somebody listening to his walkman. I am very interested in the ways we listen to music.
But, returning to your question, I definitely think that technology is evolving into microtechnology - things are getting smaller all the time. What disturbs me is the fact that the whole market is being created for technology you don't really need. I'm just seduced by it - I don't really need tiny microrecorder. I can live without it, but it's so seductive. There's this magazine coming out in England which in my own fetishistic way I'm so excited about. It's all about new technology - new mobile phones and stuff. Think about this - a mobile phone and a computer and an organizer and Internet access in one package !! And I just think "Wow, I'm going to buy it" !!

N: The problem is you want it all, not the single items, but the whole catalogue. It's just like "Fetish" pages in Wired magazine, where they display all these modems, submarines and other gadgets.

[oscillator] S: Yeah, I think it's at the same time very pleasing about technology. I don't like TV that takes a lot of space. I like the idea that, in few years, we're going to have fold-out TV...the one you'd be able to put into the can take it out and unfold it again.

N: Do you think there's a certain retro trend in technology ? Are designers simply going back to explore what was left unattended ?

S: Look at radio. [small radio]I've seen new radio designs, which resemble the old sets, similar to the ones over there. It's the same everywhere - in fashion, music. On an emotional level, it's something more reassuring in the aesthetics of old-looking objects, with all kinds of memories attached to them. Do you know what I mean ? In England, it's kinda connected with the image of the family sitting around the fire in wartime, listening to radio - television wasn't around yet. I really like radio, I'm very interested in it.

N: You work on soundtracks as well. I've heard you were commissioned by Derek Jarman to do a soundtrack for "Last of England". How do you relate to the cinematic medium ?

S: When you look closely enough, you'd see how popular the soundtracks were last year. I use lots of dialogue and I really depend upon you having seen the film. Look at "Pulp Fiction" and this kind of soundtracks. What interests me is not the soundtracks themselves. We're talking about dialogue, about language. That seems to be the major focus of my work.

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