Scanner (the British artist Robin Rimbaud) traverses the experimental terrain between sound, space image and form, creating absorbing, multilayered sound pieces that twist technology in unconventional ways, connecting a bewilderingly diverse array of genres – a partial list would include sound design, film scores, computer music, avant garde, contemporary composition, large-scale multimedia performances, product design, architecture, fashion design, rock music and jazz. He has scored everything from hit comedies to advertising campaigns and more.
Most recently Robin has designed the campaign for Sprint phones in cinemas across America, reaching 3 billion spectators, scored The Big Dance in Trafalgar Square for 1000 dancers and the re-opening of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, in the company of Queen Beatrix. He has also been Artist in Residence at M.I.T., USA.
Ahead of his new album – Vex which is released 26th September, writer Ste Knight spent some time finding out about this under rated artist.
Hi Robin. Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to record a fantastic mix for us, and to have a quick chat. Speaking of your mix, can you give us an insight into some of the thought processes that go into creating a mix of this nature?
Music plays a daily role in my life and has done since I can remember. I grew up in a household with the record player and radiogram constantly on, so unless I’m in the studio working I’m listening to music from morning until the end of the working day. As such what you are hear is a taste of current listening habits, mixing up archival works with new releases. Several times you are hearing different artists layered together, so it’s often quite textural in nature.
Do you feel that those processes differ to the manner in which you put, say, an album together?
Putting a mix together shares a similarity in that it’s about presenting and creating a structure and sonic narrative to takes you from one story to another. The mood develops, the tensions rise, then quiet comes for a moment only.
You have a new album due out for release soon. Can you tell us a little more about this?
I am just releasing VEX, which is a version of a new permanent sound installation in a house in London. It’s a very unusual commission indeed. Vex is a curved, fluted concrete house in Stoke Newington, built for a family to live in. Both the music and architecture both take as their starting point Erik Satie’s ‘Vexations’ – a looping, repetitive piano work that lasts around 18 hours in continuous performance. The building is a three-storey studio house with top floor living spaces and a roof terrace accessed via a glazed roof pavilion. The music/sound is fully integrated within and around the building’s spaces, and the future owners have to agree to having visitors once a year to hear the work played out in full in the space.
The CD offers up two variations on the themes to be heard in the house, but can never replace the experience of hearing this within the concrete walls themselves. You can watch a video interview about the work over at Youtube, where Chance de Silva and myself engage in a conversation regarding the development, all filmed in the Scanner studio factory. My first proper studio album in many years is also finished and I’m just setting up a campaign to get this in motion, potentially through a public site. It’s a truly epic record that recalls many of earlier favourites such as Lauwarm Instrumentals and Delivery.
Your recordings make use of a lot of found sounds, and atmospheric collage. In particular you are well known for having used samples of mobile phone conversations in your work. Has this use of sound always been important to you? How do you feel it differs from using synthesis to create sound and music?
We never listen to sound in isolation. Even at home there will be the distraction of others in a room, the presence of people outside, traffic, the kettle boiling, the echo of your shoes as you walk across the room. I can’t describe my own work as exclusively as musique concrete but it since it frequently uses recorded sounds as raw materials in the compositions it does offer a shadowy nod to this style of composition.
In many of my early studio albums I frequently left a microphone hanging out of the window in the final mix and left the fader open so that random sounds would appear inside the music, sounds that I could not control or anticipate. I like to use sounds that offer a picture of place to them, so for me personally each piece of music speaks of the location both sonically and creatively.
Do you have any particular favourite items of equipment in your studio that you consistently make use of during the creative process?
I’m not sure there’s one singular piece of technology. Since my earliest days of recording I suppose what has always been present has been the means of recording the world around me though. When I was ten years old I was recording my family eating dinner and the TV set playing out films, then as a teenager I used my Sony Recording Walkman to record school friends, trains, cars, voices, the world around me. Following on from that the iPhone with an external mic attached continues this desire to capture what I hear when out and about.
Do you think that a lot of electronic music has become formulaic, in a sense?
I vividly recall the renaissance of electronica in the early and mid 1990s, then a gradual decline into the 2000s, but it’s certainly raised its game over the last five years, and today there are countless electronic artists producing works that are seminal in context, whether it’s Burial or Demdike Stare, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani, Datach’I, Garry Bradbury, Gazelle Twin and so on. All creative art forms, be it literature, painting, sculpture, music and so on arrive at a point when the formula kicks in, but the joy of creativity is that just around the corner are minds deviously weaving new patterns to shake us all up!
You have recently completed a very interesting project alongside Samsung; the world’s first virtual reality ballet. What was your involvement in the project?
I’d previously worked with Dutch National Ballet on several contemporary dance works, most significantly Narnia, an interpretation of the celebrated children’s book by CS Lewis. As such they were familiar with my work and sound palette and the choreographer Peter Leung approached me to compose the score for this worlds first VR ballet project. I actually had to write the music before even the choreography was finished so my work was the foundation on which the piece was developed. A huge responsibility of course but a joy now that at the time of writing over 100,000 people have enjoyed watching the film online.
What does the future hold for you? Have you any other interesting projects in the pipeline?
I’ve frequently joked that I’m on a kind of Bat Phone for weird and unusual projects and indeed it’s true. Next up I’m scoring a series of choral pieces for the National Portrait Gallery in London for an exhibition, performing a new work based all around the sound design we hear in the world at a design conference in Milan, presenting a Keynote speech at the Sorbonne University in Paris, developing all the sound for a 3D immersive body installation in Tasmania, scoring a new ballet in Sweden and then looking forward to six weeks in Captiva Florida next year on the Robert Rauschenberg Residency where I’m going to write a book and develop a new project based on the rhythms of flamenco dance.
01// Abel Mogard: Post-crisis Remembrance
02// Test Dept: Plastic
03// Carl Stone: Banteay Srey
04// The Hafler Trio: Suppressed Noise
05// Clock DVA: Immission
06// Collin Russell: Tabor at Sunset
07// The Flying Lizards: New Voice
08// David Toop: Unspeakable Within it
09// Severed Heads: Beautiful Arabic Surface
10// Suicide: Cherree
11// The Hafler Trio: All Largely Propaganda
12// Speedy J: Tesla
13// Flanger: Spinner
14// Datach’i: Monarchs
15// Terry Riley: Poppy Nogood All Night Flight
16// Robert Fripp: Water Music 1
17// Ben Lukas Boysen: Selene