Hacking The Future: Stories for the Flesh-Eating 90s
Arthur & Marilouise Kroker

1996, New World Perspectives/CultureTexts Series

Scanner's in town from London, and the outlaw cyber-crowd driftworks its way to No Innocence, a dance bar on the corner of Boulevard St Laurent and Prince Arthur in Montreal. It's the usual kind of 21st century medieval bar gone recombinant: blue lights, particularly in the toilets and stairwell, so that patrons can't see their veins when trying to shoot up heroin; stagey gothic shields of stained glass and iron 15 feet wide on the ceiling; dungeon walls; belching woofers of artificial smoke (probably to dry out our oral secretions all the faster and thus sell more beer). And the crowd was great, a real bodily pitch-bender: some were there for the trance music, others for filling up the orifices of hungry cyber-ears, and yet others seemed to just want to travel with Scanner to that nowhere state of death-head Ambient sound cut with the sudden static bursts of live scans of the city's electronic envelope.

Scanner appears on the high altar of the DJ stage six feet above the dance floor, surrounded by smoke and strobes and mesmerized scanner flesh fans. The music was fantastic. Not just for the warps and blends and displacements and time-compressions of the forbidding dark anti-melodic sounds, but also for what wasn't there in the sound architecture: no 4/4 rock beat, but an unpredictable phase-shifted sound to produce dance music perfect for our android future. And profoundly emotional too: deep displacements of heavy sounds five octaves down are randomly cut with live scanner electronic discharges.

For one cabalistic moment of scanner magic, the No Innocence crowd stops dancing, the chatter suddenly falls silent, and even Scanner steps away from his MIDI processor. We're all caught up in an electronic nowhere trance, drifting at the edge of scanner sounds that our bodily registers are not equipped to pick up with normal bio-sensors and the deep bass phasal-shifted cyber-thunder of Scanner's musical reply to the electronic sonic gods of cyber-city. We realise that we're practitioners of a more ancient religious festival, cyber-ears opened up by the tech voodoo of Scanner to primal sounds for the electronic age.

We shake our heads to clear out the electronic spell that's invaded bodily flesh, look at Scanner and are stunned to see that his skin is washed in a silver-tinted glaze. We think these surely are slide images projected on his skin and shaven head, but then look around to discover that Scanner's a musician of tech-flesh. Given the right circumstances and the right auditory mood, he doesn't just do live scanner performances, but he actually becomes a scanning machine. Random images of his past and probably ours too begin to metamorphose on his flesh like 3D holographic images, seduced out of their hiding place in the body by the siren call of electronic discharges until they leak outwards onto Scanner's skin, like beautifully mutating sonic spores. It's a truly spectacular sight: images of a ten year old boy (that's the early Scanner) hanging a microphone from his bedroom window to capture the sounds of passing cars which are then played back with a ten-second delay; panic scenes of pilots having their very last scan by waiting aeroplane recorders as they sequence into a crash-scene; John Cage and Scanner caught up in floating sonic drift as noise flips between the extremes of idle boredom and excess speech.

And it's just the way it should be because Scanner has never been interested in noise and certainly not in music as much as he's obsessed with voices disappearing into the electronic vortex: voices with working class accents, voices neutered to fit upper class body types, voices that come right out of the soil of the British Midlands, American Midwest or Chiba City -- voices cut and spliced and randomly discharged across the cellular telephone net, abuse voices, seductive voices, no-go dead voices on all the desperate answering- and phone sex machines of the world.

It's 3:00 am and the cyber-party at No Innocence is over. We all gather at Fear's apartment in Old Montreal for a millennial version of the good old jam session. Except that this time nobody pulls out an instrument. All the composers reach for their DAT tapes, flip scanner selections into a black Cuisinart of a machine, and settle back for a pure exchange of scanner sounds: a woman who calls herself Kosmic plays sounds recombinant of android music fresh from Stockholm; Latex Lagoon reaches into his case of 240 hours of tapes and splays us with low static bass reverbs cut at the wavering boundaries of ecstasy and dread; and Scanner gives us a bonus track: an intense drone-like scan of big thunder voice sounds pitched downwards into infinity mixed with the soft sighs of phone sex. A 'Sound Spore' of an evening with the Scanner crowd. The kind of scanner body wash where the skin peels off the face to reveal disintegrating flesh and skulls and brain tissue, arms are scanned into dead-air pixel imagery, and bodies arch upwards in bursts of high-energy sound waves as they evaporate into the Net.

Scanner is an assembler of the electronic past in our digital future. Forsaking improved vision, he provides us with improved hearing for detecting the sounds of our own disappearance into the electronic grid of dead space.