Robin Rimbaud - Scanner

by Music Tech Fest | MTF Podcast

Robin Rimbaud is Scanner. He’s an electronic musician and sound artist who’s released albums, performed all over the world, invented noises for electronic devices, and created sound art installations in the most unexpected of places.

Scanner has worked with Laurie Anderson, Michael Nyman, Bryan Ferry, Hussein Chalayan, Steve McQueen and many others, he scored the world’s first VR ballet as well as over 60 contemporary dance productions, including works for the London Royal Ballet and Merce Cunningham in New York.

He presented his work and his life in sound at MTF Berlin in 2016 on the occasion of a commissioned installation at Rijeka Airport, run by MTF in partnership with the Croatian Cultural Alliance and the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County, and with the support of Sonos.

Photo: Ian Wallman

AI Transcription


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Robin Rimbaud, Andrew Dubber


Andrew Dubber 

Hi, I’m Dubber. I’m the director of Music Tech Fest, and this is the MTF podcast. Robin Rimbaud is an electronic musician and sound artist who composes and performs under the stage name scanner. He’s released albums performed all over the world created sound art installations, invented noises for electronic devices, placed his music into the most unexpected of places, places where you might not think music should even be. He’s worked with Laurie Anderson, Michael Nyman, Bryan Ferry, Hussein Chalayan, Steve McQueen. He’s worked on the world’s first VR ballet, and he’s scored over 60 contemporary dance productions including works for the London Royal Ballet and Merce Cunningham in New York. So back in 2016, MTF managed a competitive call for musical and sound art installations for Rijeka Airport in Croatia. They wanted something for travellers to experience that reflected something about the region, and that incorporated the unique history and musical scale. We put out the call and within a week, we had over 100 responses, including over 40 completed submissions. The project was so successful and the calibre of the entry so high that the judges awarded three first prizes. And so three works were commissioned instead of just one. And one of the winning entries was Scanner’s water drops which was installed in the airport, unveiled an official ceremony with all the dignitaries and press and reactor and then presented on stage at MTF Berlin, where we asked Scanner to tell us a little about his work and his life and sound that led to this beautiful and incredibly peaceful installation. So live on stage at Music Tech Fest Berlin in 2016. This is Robin Rimbaud, aka Scanner .


Robin Rimbaud 

Thank you very much you can you can clearly hear me fine. Guten tag. Mein Name ist Herr Scanner. But I will speak in English. I had a choice between a Madonna style microphone, and a Frank Sinatra. So I’ve gone with Frank Sinatra today. So I hope that’s acceptable. I wanted to introduce my work, even though many years ago, I was introduced in an event and was really embarrassed. And the man who introduced me said, clearly, you are all familiar with this guy’s work. And there was a blank look on everybody’s faces. And it was extremely depressing for me. And so today, we have very bright lights, I can’t see anyone. And I can only imagine you’ve been longtime followers and admirers of my work for many years. And it’s great to see so many familiar faces again, even though I can’t see a thing. So I wanted to talk through some other projects that lead into the reactor project so you can see where they’re fed from. And I thought it would be interesting to show you the technology that I’ve been using over the years. Some of you be may be familiar with these kinds of tools. But I wanted to just show you briefly the kinds of things that changed my Sonic World. This tape recorder was something that I used from about the age of eight or nine till I was a teenager. I used to record TV shows before video recorders were around. Last year, my wife and I moved home and I found all my old cassettes. That’s what one does. When you move you find all these old objects. I imported all the tapes. And so I have many tapes of me aged 10 11 12 years old, recorded on this machine. Generally me listening or watching Spider Man on television. And then I speak through and announce all the credits on the programmes. At the same time you listen to the sound of spider man on television, you hear my mother come in and offer us biscuits and me argue about biscuits with my brother. This may not be of interest to you. But what’s fascinating for me in some ways is the way that what I was interested in clearly at the age of 9 10 and 11 years old, was sound that was around me. What I was interested in doing with no intention of being an artist perhaps it was simply because the technology was there enabled me to record and make these things happen. So the cassettes in themselves and nothing, what they are a documents of a certain time period in my life. And more so than photographs because in in past times. People didn’t really take photographs very much. My family only took photographs, perhaps on holiday and Christmas. So that’s two, twice a year two times that one would document their lives. So they’re very rarely photographs of moments, really incidental moments that today we capture all the time. So something as simple as this piece of technology actually changed the way I think and create work. This was the next step. And don’t worry I will not be going through every piece of technology I’ve ever had in my life to To tell you stories about him. What’s interesting about this is, sound is linear, you record one sound, and another sound follows it. With this kind of technology, you can record sound on top of sound. So suddenly you have stories that are more than just one layer of sound, you suddenly have two layers, or three layers or four layers. So a machine like this suddenly opened up the possibilities of recording the world around me. As a teenager, my English teacher at school gave this to me, he no longer needed it. And what I used to do was take a piece of the tape and make what many people did at the time tape loops. So instead of the tape moving from one side to the other, you would put a milk bottle or something like that in the room and make a huge piece of tape. sellotape together around the room. And what I used to do was hang a microphone, a little like this, outside the window, press the Record buttons on the machine, and just record the street as people walked past and over a few hours, the sounds would build up and you’d have footsteps and car horns and all kinds of mundane things. Clearly, I should have got out more perhaps as a teenager and got a girlfriend or something. But I, I played with this kind of technology. That’s what boys do. At times. And girls, thankfully, this was the next step, a portable recorder, the Atari computer came in. This is a cassette version of the four track and suddenly enabled me to make many layers of sound. And this was the computer that really changed things. This was one of the first macintoshes that was also a television. So then you could start recording images of television through the computer and start processing them. So it was a very magical piece of technology, suddenly, you could interface between sound and image in a very immediate way. And yes, I probably did sell this 50 pounds about 10 years ago, still reaping the dividends today. And this is where I took my artists name from this is a radio scanner. And using this device suddenly enabled me to enter a world of sound that I could never otherwise find. Anyway, enough of the history there. I just wanted to show you this is Music Tech Fest and show you some very old technologies that albeit they are old, they still offer a voice to one today, I began making sound insulation some time ago, in a way that sound and image are presented in spaces where your responsibility, you kind of leave at the door and this work has to carry on for some time. Some works like this at the ICA in London were there for just three months. I have other pieces at locations like the Science Museum in London that are permanent. And that’s been there since around 2001. There’s a piece situated in the welcome wing of the Science Museum in London. And that’s a piece that never stops playing. Installations like 10,000 rubber balloons in a museum, something very interesting here soldered apart, which is out of all the kind of permanent works I’ve made. This is a very beautiful piece in some ways. It’s a what you’re looking at here is a morgue. This is a working morgue in a hospital in Paris. In Gosh. In fact, just on the outskirts of Paris, what you see on the screen are where the bodies are laid out. And so it’s a space where they deal with a large number of deaths through car accidents and road accidents. The room that you’re waiting to hear information about your loved one, the space as a whole. It was designed by a Ettore Spalletti an Italian artists to design this very beautiful liquid blue space. And when he finished it, he said there was one thing that’s missing and that is sound. And he commissioned me and invited me to make the sound for it. And if you can imagine trying to make sound for a space like this is almost impossible. The last thing you want to do is hear sound in a space like this. So what I did was work almost a year on this trying to develop music for it. And you’re hearing some of it playing in the background now. I find it very troubling because there’s no way that anybody in a situation that’s lost loved one wants to hear music and what kind of music would it be? And I was working in my studio and it was pouring with rain outside. And suddenly I realised how comforting it was to be indoors. Whilst the world outside you is just apocalyptic with thunder and lightning. And I collage together all these different recordings of voices of natural sounds of rain, of water, all kinds of very, very ordinary sounds and recorded a very small piano piece and processed it through the computer. So it sounds like it’s playing about one and a half kilometres away and you have the window open and this thing is just sort of breathing its way through the window through the air. The pieces played fairly constantly since it was first installed (splashing noise) apparently has been a success in the sense that I’ve had three hospitals contact me subsequently asking me, if I could make a piece for their morgue. I didn’t really want to be the person who’s known for making work for dead people really, it’s not always the best thing on your CV. But it’s a very special piece. And I wanted to share it because it shows the, the understanding and interaction of sound in a space that’s extremely intimate, and a space where you do not want to be, it goes beyond an idea of galleries, and making a conscious decision to enter a gallery and experience a work. This is a place nobody wants to be. And I’ve been unfortunately, with my family and these kinds of places too much in recent years, sitting at the bedside of a loved one that’s dying is never a pleasant situation. It’s interesting when my mother died a few years ago, quite recently, in fact, the only moment you’re allowed sound is when she’s about to die. And they bring in a radio for you in the hospital, and they tuned it into radio crap or something. And you have to listen to the worst Rod Stewart and elton john songs you could ever imagine. And they give this to you to deal with the sound fight against the sound of the hospital. And so working on a piece like this is very important. Personally, to me, I know the experience that one’s in. So I wanted to show you because it’s a very different way that sound operates in a public space. To take you through just a few other things to give you a context. A piece quite similar to that was also installed in a hospital in Sunderland in the UK, that’s a swimming pool. But also, I work with sound in a very in a way that nobody is familiar with. Or nobody knows I make the sound. This is a piece I made for Philips some years ago. So this is a light, which is an alarm clock that wakes you up with natural light and sound. And my role was to design the environments that you could wake up to. And it was interesting to work on something like this. Because again, friends are quite helpful you say to them, what sound Would you like to wake up to in the morning. And some people say I love the sound of rain. Other friends say the sound of rain makes me never want to get out of bed. Somebody else will say I love the sound of the sea coming in his in the sand and the rocks and going out again, another person will say the sound of the water makes me really want to pee and I cannot relax at all lying in bed. So there’s all kinds of things. So I had to design these environments that make these these ways to wake up people. And for me, it was a very interesting project into public spaces, you have another responsibility as well. A piece I made with United visual artists, a UK based group. This was in San Francisco. This was interesting because I wanted to show this because it uses a generative system that the sound is thousands and thousands of tiny molecules of sound that are cut and shredded to pieces by the computer and reconfigured so it never actually ever repeats. It’s interesting. It’s been shown in different locations. This is San Francisco. And most of the people in San Francisco lay on the ground. And when we showed in New York, most of the people were upright, it was quite interesting to see the different locations to see how people responded. It was also an object to be worshipped in some way. It was a way of looking at digital technology and seeing if you can make an object with image and sound that you kind of felt had a kind of spiritual aspect to it. Shifting just briefly for a moment to a couple of contemporary projects, working with an orchestra recently reworking the songs of the British band Joy Division, but not in any traditional way. This is working through memory. I was invited to rework the tunes and it decided Instead of just reworking their songs, I tried to remember what the Joy Division song sounded like, and then wrote them for the orchestra. So here’s a brief clip. So this is these, these projects are interesting to share, because they’re about how sound is also about responsibility. work like that is taking work that already has a significant history to it and rework it in a way there’s also respectful. So leading into the reactor project. And one moment, this is also about respecting the space and treating it with the kind of dignity that it needs to have. At the moment in London, I’m designing the sound for this building, which is actually based on the music of Eric Sati. It’s in the north of London near Stoke Newington area. This is the work on happened at the moment. And it’s a building that will have a permanent sound insulation in it. So whoever buys the house has to agree that once a year, they have visitors to listen to this 24 hour sound piece. At the moment, back in the UK, there’s a piece called ghosts, which is used in all an idea of how sound works in an old building and how the memories can work. But onto water drops. as Andrew said in his introduction there, this is a project that’s going to be permanently installed work alongside some other great artists. React airport is a modest sized airport, but has a phenomenal sum of people that pass through it. And I wanted to present a work that is both responsive to the space in a sense, doesn’t interfere because airports are places that lots of people are intimidated by. But also you have to remember that security is a very key issue today. So any information that’s passed through has to be clear to passengers. So the work I’m making, this is the ceiling in one of the spaces. The work I’m actually presenting is I’m thinking at the moment to be heard in the toilets. I wanted to I was trying to think where the work would best be heard. And so I said, you know, it’s an insensitive, it’s a intelligent and insensitive environment with functional and aesthetic characteristics. It’s a rich, evolving work. And what I wanted with the work is something that feels like it’s ever changing, but it’s based on the idea of water drops, the idea that the area in react is very much surrounded by the water. Water plays a key role in the kind of makeup of the landscape. But I wanted the work to feel like it’s not static. It’s not a repetitive piece of music. It’s based on the history and the scale. And here’s a very brief video to guys we were very grateful to meet to actually play this some of the notes. Let me let you hear it. To many of our ears, many musical ears. The scale is quite unique. It seems to follow a pattern. And there’s always what you might even call a bum note. There’s always this note anything what how can that possibly be there? But it’s interesting because largely in the music, it’s it’s people playing towards each other. The solo works obviously, but often the work seem to be performed with two or more people. And the harmonies play against one another and there’s something very unique about it. So the final work, I will present I’m going to play it here just as a this is a very brief demo of it just to give you an idea of how it potentially should work. It will be very quiet as well. What you’re hearing are a series of systems, generative systems playing against one another. So in the same way that the players are playing against one another. There are different patches written in Max, which many of you may be familiar with that I’ve taken the notes of both the players and some more percussive instruments and playing them against one another. But playing with the history and scale. It’s a work that has no beginning an end, there’s really no duration to it. But I’m thinking to place it in in the toilets, because I always think it’s the no matter where you are at the airport, it’s the one location you’re almost guaranteed to be in at some point. And maybe it’s the one place you sit there, and it could you actually sit there and listen to something was holding your nose. I’ve been to airport toilets many times. Perhaps the sound of the dripping water may help people in times of stress in the toilet as a medical part of this as well. Anyhow, enough of that, I think I mean, what I wanted to show you was how a work has been born from other works. And what I’ve been interested in over the years is less about performance, myself, and far more about making works that take issues of responsibility and public spaces. And works that are durational. They’re not only for one night or two nights or three weeks, they are for some years, they are permanent. And in these kind of works. It’s interesting when you ask about the permanency of art with sound. I was told some years ago, it’s 10 years, and at least three permanent works of mine are still running. And the longest has been for about 15 years. So I’ve passed the 10 year mark, which is reassuring. The interesting thing as well, of course is what technology does one use to play this back that will last that long. That’s another conversation altogether. So that’s all I wanted to present today is very modest. And I think in some ways, it needs to be modest. It’s not it’s it’s a discrete work. It doesn’t need to be about shouting. airports in themselves are very stressful spaces that many people get anxious about. So in some ways the work is about enhancing space. And about a sense of drift, because one loses sense of time in these spaces. So that’s water jobs for you. I say vielen dank and many other languages and you You’re welcome to ask me questions later on. I will still be around and thank you very much.


Andrew Dubber 

That’s Scanner at MTF Berlin in 2016. And that’s the MTF podcast. We’re just back from running MTF Örebro this week at Örebro university with AI labs developing projects around accessibility, dance language, generative music, gesture, and robotics. Lots to report from that. So you might want to subscribe to the newsletter if you haven’t already. And that way you’ll be first to hear about the new projects and events we have coming up in the pipeline. Just go to Music Tech fest.net slash newsletter. And of course if you enjoyed this Don’t forget to share like rate review and subscribe and I’ll catch you soon. Cheers.

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