by Gil Gershman


... scanner is talking.

Musician, DJ, remixer, artist, lecturer, label founder, writer, media- proclaimed "radical techno data-pirate," Scanner; it shouldn't be considered such a crime if Robin Rimbaud sits back and just listens every now and then.

Lending an ear to the cellular transmissions pulled in by his portable radio scanner has made Rimbaud one of electronic music's most controversial - and fascinating - figures. His recordings as Scanner frustrate the techno paradigm of machine-centrism, rendering human conversation as a compositional element. Dialogue filched from the airwaves, carefully pitch-shifted to protect identities, is set aswim in a sea of electronic information - cut-up beats, veils of thick synthesized textures, and tidal white-noise. Arguments between spouses, lusty phone-sex sessions, grocery lists, and other ephemera of daily life sound almost disturbing when ripped out of context and relocated in Scanner's uneasy ambience.

Rimbaud's romance with sound began early. "My English teacher gave me a reel-to-reel recorder when I was thirteen," he remembers. "So I used to play with tape loops, doing things like hanging microphones out of windows,recording outside, and putting it on the tape loop. A car would go by ..thirty seconds would go by, and however long the tape loop was would go 'nyaaaaaaaaaaaaaarm.... nyaaaaaaaaaarm.' I used to leave that playing all day in my room, because I thought that it was a beautiful sound. Not many cars drove by, so you'd just hear the patter of footsteps being repeated. I found it very relaxing."

With similarly inclined friends (including Test Department, COIL, and Lydia Lunch), Rimbaud self-released his first record, a compilation called 'Peyrere', in 1982. A chance meeting with acclaimed underground filmmaker Derek Jarman led to a soundtrack commission ('The Last Of England', 1987), and a return to recording after a five- year hiatus making and selling hand-pressed art books. Once again bitten by the recording bug, Rimbaud and a friend established Ash International, releasing illegal recordings made within Air Force bases, prisons and runaway trains, and at Sugarcubes concerts! Ash's recordings were a far cry from the Branca-strated guitar pieces which Rimbaud had been composing earlier. Ash, still one of the premiere experimental labels, had a philosophy. "The Ash stuff is interesting, because that's the label I set up with my friend Mike [Harding,who runs Touch]," Rimbaud continues. "We'd known each other for years and basically set up Ash to release work based on sampling that played with copyright laws and with issues of public space and private space."

Ash1.1, titled 'Scanner', surfaced with a lack of credits. Only a pair of art cards and a few cryptic messages explained the subversive recording of manipulated eavesdroppings:

Dial. Line Busy. Try again. 'Connection'. A crossed line. Weirdshit? Keep listening in...Sometimes a Call is More than You Bargained For. "The chances that they were casually 'intercepted' are zillions to one."

' Scanner 2' followed, and so did the further adventures of Scanner. 1995's 'Spore' credited Rimbaud and included his now-infamous tag line, "...it's good to talk......" Scanner has been inescapable ever since, with countless remixes and compilation appearances, a series of live recordings, radio recordings, international speaking tours, and a diary-styled Internet mailing list. His music has even attracted the attention of the Godfather of electronic music. "I have a CD at home, signed "To Scanner, cordially yours -Karlheinz Stockhausen," Rimbaud muses, barely able to hide his awe. "I also have a DAT which says, "Robin, this is for radio broadcast. I think you're doing some amazing music; you're using a sphere of sound that others don't use."

The relevance of his scanner exploits to UK current events has made him a favorite consultant on BBC Radio. "I'm called upon as a social commentator, so I talk about conspiracy theory; like - these [Royal Family] conversations never happened. They're faked by a government agency and broadcast at times of national financial insecurity. So when we have real problems with our money, instead of it being headline news they dish out the dirt on the Royal Family," he smiles. "I don't know if it's true, but it's a good theory. "His higher profile in England has barely been felt Stateside - until now.

'Delivery', Rimbaud's sixth album, is his first to be distributed in the USA. But Rimbaud cautions that its melodic inclinations and accessibility are not a sign of a 'new' Scanner. "I'm 33 years old now, and i'm just trying to renegotiate. I've almost resolved recently not to release any more records -to finish up commitments and concentrate on commissioned work, small projects which I can just enjoy without having to be wrapped up in touring. So 'Delivery' is more accessible. I think it's a pop album, not exactly commercial but not exactly difficult. I had a few tracks, like 'Treble Spin', which I've used when playing clubs Incredibly low bass - you almost can dance to it! But I'm also very proud of some of the tracks, like 'My Lost Love' and 'Hunting Your Lost Face'. I wanted to do a track which just floated away, and I think it does so beautifully."