Robin Rimbaud, better known as Scanner, is a difficult man to pin down. For some, he’s a key practitioner in what current artspeak calls time-based art, others know him as a sound designer for the theatre. Avid readers of the tabloids and fans of avant-garde music alike will remember the controversy surrounding his series of albums containing cut-up collages culled from endless eavesdropping on mobile ‘phone conversations.
‘I never really know what I should call myself,’ Rimbaud admits, ‘so I just use the phrase a newspaper last called me. I’ve been dubbed all these terrible titles over the years, things like ‘minimalist anti-hero.’ In Belgium a magazine just came out with the headline ‘Scanner - the man who sucks off the whole of London.’ I’m sure they were referring to the fact that I Hoover up all these unusual sounds, but they conjured up a rather strange image.’ Whatever you call the cross-media polymath, his projects all contain a common thread: this is the output of an artist who seems to be overwhelmed with enthusiasm when it comes to sound in all it’s forms and equally concerned with a need to uncover new means of presenting his obsession.
‘I’m not somebody who set out and said, ‘I must become an artist,’ Rimbaud explains, ‘I’m somebody who began using sound in the work I’ve done from the earliest age, but somehow, and I can’t explain why, it’s drifted and expanded into all these different areas. When I was about fourteen, I used to have a reel-to-reel tape recorder and used it to make big loops of tape around my room of sounds from outside, or recorded the sound of defrosting our fridge at home, which didn’t go down too well with my mother, but, you know, a boy has to experiment!’
‘There’s always been these odd moments, just because I had a tape recorder, I used to record sounds, the way people now have video cameras and use them to record inane situations . Sometimes technology enables you to do something, and you just start playing without really knowing why. I think that’s important, most of the projects I’ve done have had serious intent, but there’s meant to be a playful element in there somewhere.’ As the antithesis of the usual po-faced sonic experimenter, Rimbaud’s latest project is nothing if not playful. He has released a long-player, Wave of Light by Wave of Light, using a new nom de guerre, Scannerfunk.
As the new pseudonym suggests, this is a record that is a far cry from the investigations of sonic textures that characterised earlier music works. Referencing disco, house and techno, the disc is, well, funky. Not to mention danceable and, just about, mainstream. It is also, once you dip below the surface, in the tradition of Rimbaud’s aural investigations. ‘I wanted to make one record as a singular statement,’ he says, ‘a rhythmic record, for home-listening in a sense and with a central groove. I realise that any beat is a very seductive tool and, you can draw people into listening the most eclectic and unusual sounds just by adhering to a simple beat. I’ve used things like software that changes photographs into noises, so one of the rhythm tracks is made up entirely of photos of Lenny Kravitz! The record is filled with these rather playful uses of sound, but you don’t necessarily have to find them, because the surface level is bright shiny electronic music. It’s meant to be fun.’
It is impossible to predict what Robin Rimbaud will do next, but there’s one thing for certain, it won’t be the same as what he’s done before: ‘I do seem,’ he says, ‘to be getting more eccentric.’
Scannerfunk’s Wave of Light by Wave of Light is out now on Sulphur Records.