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Digital Artifact
November 1997

Brad Anderson

If one looks at what electronic music represents today, it is safe to say that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Those parts are the hundreds of unique angles and perspectives that artists have developed during their quest to further the development of music to new unforseen realms.   Over the last eight years, electronic music as a whole has evolved so geometrically that what was once a simple technique of looping sounds and samples has transformed into a quasi-scientific ethic of technological manipulation.

What sets electronic music apart from other styles of music is the use of technology in unorthodox ways and means to create vivid soundscapes that conventional instrumentation isn't capable of. This unconventional use of machinery brings us to the domain where Robin Rimbaud, alias Scanner, has spent most of his life. Most whom appreciate the workings of Scanner associate his far-left of center style as techno terrorism or electronic voyeurism. By this we mean that Rimbaud has created an empire within the electronic spectrum whose foundation is focused on the 'scanning' and 'sampling' of everyday occurences.

There is a certain noble mystic that is carried by term techno terrorist. Whether it be as simple as a sampled segment of a commercial jingle lifted off short-wave radio or the buzzing of an insect, to the complex application of tapping into a friendly conversation over the phone or eavesdropping the contents of a DC-10s' flight recorder, Robin Rimbaud has seen and heard more than most of the world is even aware of. "I've always been interested in finding new ways to perceive music," states Robin. "It just so happened that my tastes in the beginning leaned toward the avant garde side of musical creation, and since then I've been working with various elements of technology to produce that off center style that Scanner is known for." Rimbaud explained that his fascination with voices played a giant role in his early works, having based entire tracks on altered voice imprints with minimal electronic beat interaction. Scanner's passion for the abstract has spanned a career of twenty years. In addition to creating his own hybrid style of music and co-running his label Ash International, Robin has also worked extensively on various advertisement campaigns for the BBC and MTV Europe, as well as independent technical projects such as film soundtracks requiring his expertise and experience with sound manipulation.

Judging from Scanner's impressive discography, boasting such releases as Spore, Delivery, Mass Observation, Ash 1.1, Ash 1.2, his various freestyle live recordings with Sub Rosa, and his latest release on Earache, Scanner vs Signs ov Chaos, it is without a doubt that Robin Rimbaud maintains the finest understanding of soundbyte manipulation. "The musical textures and collages that I have worked with and created over the years," states Rimbaud, "fall deep into the melancholic, something that I find extremely appealing. I prefer mixing abstract sounds and samples with, for example, a string quartet, which creates a dark feeling, as opposed to creating a track whose foundation stems from its danceability."

With the exception of Scanner's Delivery release on Rawkus Entertainment, which allowed Robin to explore the more danceable side of electronic music, his older releases are based on the intense development of abstract sound and sample brought together under the shade of a dark umbrella.   Scanner's latest offering, an exchange project between he and friend Michael Wells, a.k.a Signs ov Chaos, resulted in a unique blend of progressive beat driven techno-industrial sent forth by Wells offset with the sample-delic re-interpretative nature defined by Rimbaud. Each contributed three tracks that presented to the listener two intricate similar, yet different ways to view sound production. Much of Robin's past workings with various artists via label Sub Rosa, such as close friends David Shea and Robert Hampson, produced more of the same in live collaborative format, recorded in New York, London, and Paris.

With regard's to remixing, Scanner has lent his special touch over the years to many artists such as Pressure of Speech, Die Haut, Compulsion, Golden Palaminos, Colin Newman, Scorn, Hovercraft, and yes, Brian Ferry, ex of Roxy Music. "I quite enjoy reinventing what other artists have created," exclaims Rimbaud, " however I've turned down many requests to remix other artist's material simply on the grounds that I felt I couldn't add anything more to better the track."

Unlike many electronic artists who mix their music live via DAT and preset rhythms, Scanner prides himself on giving the audience a slice of his definitive style, which amazingly enough, is completely improvised. "I find that I get the greatest results by playing live in an improvisational format. It brings me closer to what I'm doing and allows the audience a guaranteed new experience every time." Armed with a therimin, a mini-keyboard, a micro-sampler, a mini-disc player, short-wave radio, scanner, a small mixing desk, and an assortment of weird noise compact discs, Scanner covers the crowd with a unique blend of sound and sample that mystifies as much as it mesmerizes.  

Rimbauds's most recent stint was playing along side of NYC's Illbient King DJ Spooky on a recent min-tour of the US. On several occasions during the tour, Spooky DJ'ed using his special finesse on the decks scratching away as Scanner transposed textured samples onto his beat formations, creating a blessed mix that won over many person's previously unfamilar with both Spooky and Scanner's work. If anyone happened to read the massive on-line postings concering this particular tour, the overwhelming majority preferred Scanner's set to DJ Spooky.

As for future plans, Robin plans to keep working on new material, as well as developing the final release for his Ash International label before it closes its doors forever, appropriately entitled 'Dialtone EP'. Keep an eye out for two new Sub Rosa releases, one being a collection of his soundtrack workings, and the other being a collection of his early workings as Scanner.