October 1996

Scanning for realism, and those real juicy bits! Gordon Finlayson listens in on Scanner.

You are under surveillance and Robin Rimbaud is keen to remind you of the fact. As the London based artist behind experimental sound act Scanner, Robin utilises a hand held scanner device to tune into mobile and radio phone conversations to incorporate into his sound collages. Robin's work explores what he terms 'the illusion of privacy' as it exposes the ease with which electronic communications can be observed. Scanner is the government monitoring your phone conversations, the peeping tom watching your every move, the secret service agent bugging your home - from common-place conversations through to sinister discussions about violence, relationships or prostitution Scanner's work delivers a dark vision of the secret lives that we all live.

Scanner forces the listener to confront their own voyeurism as they participate in the collective experience of surveillance. The act of listening to Scanner is an act of mediated voyeurism that implicates the listener in the invasion of others privacy. The scans are both alien and scary in what they reveal about those around you and at the same time chilling in their familiarity.

Scanner recently appeared throughout Australia as part of the Australian Network for Arts and Technology's Virogenesis Tour. Robin took time out from his surveillance of Sydney to respond to a few words from geekgirl.


Scanner: I think each of us in our own way are voyeurs, each of us are as guilty as the next person whether you admit it or not. Each of us want to watch or to listen, but we don't want to be the person being watched or listened to. We all want to take that distance.


Scanner: "I once said that the work was an illustration of the illusion of privacy... I would question that such a thing as privacy still exists, when your email is electronically prone to being read, where closed circuit televisions follow your every movement. There are all these issues that spring from the music, I'm always curious to know that if someone doesn't like the work necessarily, doesn't like the way it sounds, maybe it makes them take one step back and think 'hold on a minute maybe this is an interesting issue, maybe I do have certain rights as an individual'".


Scanner: "I'd normally not answer questions on this subject... Yes, it's not entirely legal what I do, but I had a situation in England where I rang up the police, and said, do you think these devices are illegal, and they said: 'basically this stuff is illegal, you're not supposed to be doing this sort of thing, but there's really nothing to stop people doing this'. That's what makes me curious, these devices exist, devices that tune into all kinds of things. As long as you have enough money you can usually buy these devices - why are these things available?"


Scanner: "I'm really interested in digital culture, in the miniaturisation of technology - what digital technology has enabled us to do is to reduce the recording studio. Digital technology has taken us away from the workplace, from the studio environment, we can now all work from home. That's what interests me with digital technology, a lot of the equipment that I use is very mobile, is very adaptable to the situation, so I've reduced it to such a stage that I have just one silver suitcase that I can carry all my musical gear in."


Scanner: "I've got a friend who has a scanner and he says that I'm one of the few people that he can talk to, because we both understand something about the human psyche that you can't understand without it. It's a really bizarre thing to say but you really do learn something about human nature which is really disturbing - the deception, lies, deceit that goes on is so ugly. We all have a million and one voices that we use on the phone. I'm interested in those different voices. You hear some awful things, and it's often the most simple that are the most awful. At the same time you can kind of empathise with some of these situations, we've all been in some of those circumstances. This is real life in a way. Whether you like it or not it's reality and it's quite disturbing."