T he many hats he wears - musician, DJ, remixer, artist, lecturer, label founder, writer, media-deconstructionist - makes you giddy. But Scanner aka Robin Rimbaud takes it all in his stride. At thirteen, his love affair with sound began when his English teacher gave him a reel-to-reel recorder. Early experiments with primitive tape loops of cars going by his window eventually led to a deeply intelligent embracing of technology. Rimbaud's recorded work fly defiantly in the face of machine-centrism, and commercial considerations. He steals conversations from airwaves, pitch-shifting his crackly missives to hide identities. He uses cut-up beats and white noise, ripping them up, and then depositing them in different contexts. This punk instinct earned him friends in Test Department, Lydia Lunch and COIL. He composed the soundtrack to Derek Jarman's 1987 film The Last of England . The BBC made him a consultant years ago, and recently the British Council commissioned him to produce an alternative anthem for Europe. The end product is called Europa 25 , a project whose socio-political significance is matched by the luminosity of the music. Rimbaud speaks to Beta's Lee Chung Horn about his travels, and waxes lyrical about his work.
Europa 25 is your "alternative" National Anthem for Europe. Do you reckon the EU would ever have an official National Anthem one day?
I would optimistically like to think that perhaps one day the expansion of the EU could be recognized by a shift in the more traditional anthem, but, as you can imagine, it will take years for this to happen.
What was the idea behind this project? Why was it the British Council, and not EU, who got behind it?
Well, music is about harmony, and music as an art form is able to transcend ground that literature and other arts cannot do in terms of language and narrative. As such I decided with the simple brief - to make an artwork inspired by the EU to create an anthem that unites the 25 countries by reason of taking elements of every country's original anthem and collaging them into a single unified whole anthem, offering up a celebratory form of release. The British Council acted as an intermediary between the EU and myself as the bureaucracy was impossible for me to battle through!
I understand the opening performance of Europa 25 took place on last November at La Raffinerie in Brussels. It was part of the Net Days festival of electronic art. Were you present? Was there an accompanying video or other art installation?
I was indeed present. I collaborated with an artist, Edith Garcia, a Mexican American artist now working in London on a film to accompany the performance. She reworked the themes and threads in the music as well as deconstructed the flags of the EU in one passage.
I've really enjoyed this project, making a work that's freely available digitally and as a CD product for free. It's felt like a positive step towards integration and support, particularly to countries that have lacked the ability to clearly communicate in trade and other forms with Europe. As as artist, most of my projects are overseas and I'm always attempting to create positive connections between people and places, almost as a form of catalyst that sets a spark alight for others to follow.
How did you get invited to do this project?
As often happens - all it took was a simple email from the British Council offering the chance to create a work to explore the expansion of the EU.
You're a cutting edge musician, writer and media critic, and you've been doing all this for a long time now. How do you think the three roles have changed for you?
They are ever intertwined. At one moment I'd be presenting a show for BBC radio about digital art and music; the next, recording with my band Githead ( www.githead.com ); another, working with a dance company, a film soundtrack, editing kultureflash.net , a listings site for arts in London! In some sense they haven't altered at all, just simply become ever more connected in numerous ways.
We loved "Lauwarm Instrumentals" from 1999 and your record with David Shea from 2000. Both were reviewed in our magazine. It does seem that you have a very keen sense for seeking out new musical ideas and concepts. What would you say guides you in your musical creations?
I'm always searching out projects that work towards a new audience and personally challenge me, so I'm more likely to turn down things that would be predictable and accept the more challenging options. Many of my records reflect this in the way they constantly shape-shift in terms of mood. Last year I released Double Fold , an intensely rhythmic dancefloor-oriented work at the same time as releasing a series of string quartets which couldn't have been more different in mood and approach.
You've worked with so many different artists - DJ Spooky, Laurie Anderson, Bryan Ferry and Michael Nyman, often with people who work in different genres from yours. Have there ever been awkward or incompatible moments?
It's true. I've frequently collaborated with choreographers, theatre directors, musicians, visual artists, writers, etc in the development of new works and the relationship between us is invaluable. I'm a consistent collaborator in all fields, often with artists quite outside of the field of music. Remarkably there's been little friction in my projects. I've always chosen to make projects with people I like in situations I like. I like to keep things as simple as possible. If it works extremely well, then we repeat the experience another time, in performance or collaboration, which is often the case with my work. Now after almost 15 years of being Mr Scanner I'm able to return to some of my favorite collaborators over the years.
The BBC radio programs of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Sylvia Plath's Three Women - are these released on CD?
The Shakespeare one is available as a CD release. Otherwise if you visit my site you can download a number of other radio works I've produced over the years for free.
Does it bother you that your exposure comes mainly from features in magazines like The Wire, and not from mass-market publications like URB or VIBE?
It would be nice to feel supported by others of course, but what can I say? I'm fortunate to make projects all around the world with people I like in places I love. If some magazines don't respond to this global market that's a loss naturally and I can only hope that they would expand their horizons in the future.
Do you feel that your music and art could, in the future perhaps, reach a wider audience? Off the top of my head, do you envisage yourself becoming a Moby of sorts? He's now got a new album called "Hotel".
In fact, I created some of the sounds for the new Moby website on Mute! How funny. Meanwhile I'm sure the work could reach a larger audience and sometimes does, but they don't realize it's me, for example, when my music features in a movie! But that doesn't matter. I think I'd rather prefer to be able to walk down the street without being mobbed, or having Eminem writing songs about me.
I really enjoy reading your email diaries and hearing about your travels. Recently you went to Moscow in winter and found a huge bootleg market there. How interested are the Muscovites in rock? Progressive rock CDs at bargain prices--sounds to me like you're also very much a rock person. What CDs there gave you joy?
I'm happy that you enjoy my mailings - they are meant to be as personal as possible without being arrogant. Russia was extraordinary. So many stories to share about this place. Yes I did take advantage of the fact that it produces an incredible bootleg market, and I was able to economically catch up with an archive of old progressive rock records and other things such as complete MP3 discs of The Doors, the entire back catalogue of Genesis, Yes, Led Zeppelin, Soft Machine, Miles Davis and more. Crazy!
You got Dangermouse to remix your Nemesis soundtrack. We love "The Grey Album". How did this collaboration come about?
Dangermouse and I have been friends for some years and we released an EP together about 18 months ago, where this mix comes from. We met last week in Los Angeles - he's just produced the latest Gorillaz album which sounds fantastic and we were speaking about making something else happen in the future. We met in Atlanta where he was living and I was working about five years ago. He's a great guy and I'm very proud of his success.
You have at least two upcoming projects: Tinnito and Githead. What are these all about?
In fact I have more than these. Watch out for the Githead album called Profile . This is my debut album with my band - with Colin Newman of Wire on vocals and guitar, as well as Malka Spigel and Max from Minimal Compact on bass and drums. I played guitar and did the vocals. It follows our debut EP Headgit from 2004. It's a funky guitar oriented song project. We'll be touring the world soon with it too. There's going to be a soundtrack album called Radiance of a Thousands Suns Burst Forth at Once . Then there's Tinnito which is my collaboration with Rolf and Fonky in Sicily, Italy. My upcoming new studio album is called Starless, Mid-Fall, Fallen . It's out on Cantaloupe, very mixed up, disoriented, melancholic strings around drum and bass rhythms, abstract voices and beautiful harmonies. I also did a series of string quartets which have been performed along with Fennesz. It's called Play Along. It is on Sub Rosa.
What was the best music moment/experience of 2004 for you?
Discovering personally that playing the guitar had some validity and Githead being born from something I would never have anticipated. What magic can follow working with friends.
Finally, is Rimbaud your real name?
It is indeed. But non-French speaking people tend to call me 'Rambo'! So I use the name Scanner quite often instead.