Since his debut, Scanner has been an unclassifiable artist inside of the crammed panorama of electronic creativity. Actually Robin Rimbaud is well-known in the world of electro-music, appreciated by his own spiritual father, Karlheinz Stockhausen, but he always moves in the fertile ground of contamination of new technologies and of those potentialities offered by the means of electronic expression and integrated media.
Scanner built his whole world around his own name, which has always been the same since he began in 1995. According to Robin Rimbaud the scanner is declaredly an instrument, a means to communicate, an electronic device able to capture voices and dialogues of unknown people surrounding us. People who live where we live, who breath, who feel emotions, communicate, love and hate like we do. All these features led Robin to collaborate with various entities and circles, with a fertility and a planning rigour that just a few have. From video artists to architects, from choreographers to designers, many professionals felt the desire to build sound thanks to Robin’s contribution. The basis is made up of integration among different disciplines, analogical and digital: from urban complexes to electro-music, from design to video-art, from sound design to installations and live media.
From the composer Jean Paul Dessy to the fashion designer Hussein Chalavan , Scanner developed works by Salvatore Sciarrino and collaborated with the Italian Alter Ego , he set to music images by Michelangelo Antonioni and Jean Luc Godard and created the UE tune, he collaborated with the video artist Edith Garcia and with other visual artists for audiovisual installations set all over the world (one of the most famous is the work with the experimental filmmaker Steve McQueen for the project Gravesend, presented at the 52 nd Venice Biennale).
Photo by: Diana Bier
Moreover Scanner worked together with such choreographers like Wayne McGregor or Daniel Larreu and he explored the works by Andy Warhol , he created various urban sonorizations and he managed sound toys with his friend Richard Tonne . His sound works gave birth to many records, alone or with other artists, from the works with Stephen Vitello (together with him he is the author of the first sound-art work commissioned by the Tate Modern in London), Kim Cascone, Alva Noto and DjSpooky to the fascinating sound Polaroids, again with Richard Tonne, where the border between the sound representation of images and the visual interpretation of sounds turns ambiguous. His latest collaborations include the Italian multimedia artist Tez (with the wonderful multiscreen performance Blindscape), the soundtracks written for the choreographers Christin Bastin and Shobana Jeyasingh . His works have been exhibited and represented at Pompidou Centre in Paris , at Kunsthalle in Wien, at Royal Opera House and Tate Modern in London and at Bolshoi theatre in Moscow .
In a world Scanner doesn’t spare himself: he ran the exhibition Mobile at Espace Landowski in Boulogne in 2006 and he managed the project Night Jam with the children of the Horizon Youth Centre in the King’s Cross area, in London , in order to understand, through teaching workshops on music and voice, how children can express how the night city appears to their eyes and their ears. Robin is also a member of Free103 point9 , a non-profit organization made of media artists that want to promote the innovative transmission Arts. Although all these activities, he also finds the time to collaborate to the London newsletter Kulture Flash .
Trying to remember all Robin Rimbaud’s collaborations and projects it’s quite hard, not to mention all the exhibitions he took part into: that would cost you an endless interview! All I can do is suggesting to follow his activities on the net, through his website/blog and his newsletter. That is another sign of his need of communicating with people who love and follow him, from their houses all over the world. My luck is in being his friend as his irony and his ironic and never obvious vision of the world of contemporary art and modern electro-music are an always important comparison element.
Marco Mancuso: Robin, let’s try to understand where your stage-name comes from. I’d like to know why you started using it at the beginning of your career and how the scanner represents for you an instrument for communication, when it seems that the Internet has supplanted and absorbed every other digital communication form.
Scanner: Well, I can understand. In the simplest way it’s curious when you make music that you have to have another persona quite often, whether you’re Franz Ferdinand, whether you’re Oasis, whether you’re Autechre or the Aphex Twin. There’s something very curious about using another identity, it’s something that isn’t just in music, in literature it has happened for hundreds of years George Elliot as a classic example in England , a male or female writer nobody really ever knew. I used different names over the years for different projects but I have a French name which is problematic for people, my surname is Rimbaud, in France it’s je m’appelle Robert Rimbaud it sounds great, if I say this in England, my name is Robin Rimbaud people always spell it incorrectly, don’t know how to pronounce it, so scanner was a really tight, easy way just to suddenly make it this different persona so I began this particular part of my career by using found phone-calls, by using picked up on a scanner, a device called a scanner. What I like and what appealed me about this machine was the ability to draw sound from all around you, so more than a tape recorder now which records what we talk about now and the sounds, all these sounds whatever they are around us, what the scanner does is extend within a radius of let’s say 1 km can pick up sounds all around us it’s like a radio receiver. I found this idea psychologically and creatively very exciting that suddenly you are able to enter spaces in a way that are not humanly possible to enter so a very private conversation between a woman and a man, you and I or anybody can never actually be in that place at that moment, so psychologically I like the shape of this name as well I like what it represents and I still use it for that reason, because it still captures largely what I do with my work, which is to draw narratives and sounds and stories from cities I work in and people and use these as the influence towards the work I make. I don’t want to be an import, I no disrespect other artists but when Mouse on Mars play, it’s the MOM show that they do in Germany, it’s the MOM show they do in Lisbon the same one they do in London. So I generally try and make a performance related, so this is perfect to make the show in Italy, because it was me with Italy in mind, it was me in Rome it makes much more sense to make it in Milan than it does in London, I haven’t made it in London for that reason it just doesn’t have that connection.
Marco Mancuso: So a scanner is for you a sort of instrument to create a communication link in the material you recorded and then you reworked to make it listen to an audience which is different from time to time
Scanner: Yeah, it’s invaluable to be able to communicate ideas, that’s what’s really important to me, ideas, stories, emotions and narratives.
Marco Mancuso: I ask you this because unfortunately it is not so common, in the field of electro-music, finding famous artists that really have something to tell not just about their music, but about their feelings and ideas.
Scanner: Yeah what’s important to me is to take ideas and share them, they’re what one might easily call intellectual ideas, but make them really accessible, I like to make projects that are very public, so a lot of the things I do, it’s raining I hope not, it’s really important to me to engage an audience and have a conversation with them. I’ve worked for 12 years as scanner and the way I work is very simple: I work with people I like, in situations I like, I would not work in places I’m not happy with or with people I’m not happy with, or commercial projects, I’m just not interested in that. I agree you find it in electronic music, in rock music, they don’t have really much to say you know “what’s your new record about?” there’s not really much to talk about. I love talking about ideas that cross between architecture and fashion and music and cinema
Marco Mancuso: about your music, I remember once I read an article where you said that your music is intended to communicate above all loneliness. Thin concept is in on opposition with your image and your frank and sincere way you deal with people.
Scanner: I think there’s more kind of things I want to communicate, the themes within my work are very limited in a way, they’re about communication between people, about the good and the bad of technology, what it offers to us and what it denies us, how it offers us a connection between each other across the world and how it disconnects us just as much. I wanna make work that actually moves people emotionally and actually strikes the heart, can really actually be very emotive, this performance here is very very melancholic and a lot of music I’ve grown up with and the work I’ve responded to have been films that explore these ideas, music that explores these kind of shapes in a sense. So to me that’s what’s really important, is to engage people and move them in that way, to give them some emotional response. You know if you came along and just had intellectual response to a show that’s fine but do you remember that? Is it really something you want to share that with someone else? I want to make something that people go God that really pulled me in, immersed me in this world for a moment. I really want to make something beautiful, that’s what I want to make actually. I like making really beautiful shapes so hopefully it would be elegant and beautiful .
Marco Mancuso: So why do you think you are considered a sort of intellectual in the world of modern electro-music?
Scanner: Because I talk about ideas, because if I have one ability cause I don’t want to talk about talent as a musician or as an artist, I have one ability is to talk about ideas, to share ideas I’m able to collaborate quite commonly with other artists because we share ideas so even at the moment I’m working with a fashion designer in Paris, a dance company in Russia, theatre company in San Francisco. These different groups of people, I’ve never seen myself as the musician that comes to illustrate something I see myself as part of a team of people, like the team that put up this event together is not one person that sat down and said it has to be like this, so that is often how my work develops.
Marco Mancuso: Do you consider yourself a electronic-musician or a contemporary composer? I think that nowadays it is worth to make a clear distinction, not to lose of sight the path followed by some artists like you at the time of overproduction and the distribution of electronic and digital music
Scanner: I think neither actually. i think I am I work with a string quartet in italy called Alter Ego quite a lot, a composer called Salvatore Sciorino. To be truthful I refuse to stay within any parameters, I use electronics, I use real instruments, I play guitar, I play piano, I can read music, I slip between the cracks. Ever since I began music critics found it problematic sometimes because they are not quite sure where to put you so they call me a performance artist or whatever. But it makes no difference to me, what I try and do is my best, I try and make work that means something to me and hopefully carries this to an audience, whether that’s electronic music, whether it’s classical, contemporary, whatever one wants to call it, I don’t mind. The difficulty with categories is they are very useful when you go to a record store but they are also really annoying. I was in san Francisco in the weekend and I was looking for a particular record, is it under pop music, is it under rock music, is it under vocal, how do you know because it depends who in that shop has worked it out. It Happens with journalism all the time, we would do it ourselves, which is to say this actress, this actor, this singer, this writer, they do this don’t they. As soon as they try and go somewhere else it becomes a problem. So I try and sit somewhere.
Marco Mancuso: As you have a great experience of music, festivals and artists from all over the world, which directions is electro-music following nowadays? Without using commonplaces, it is objectively true that electronic and digital music are living in a era where it is more and more rare to identify works that qualitatively differ from the actual over-productivity mass.
Scanner: I think the great thing is not knowing what will happen to me, that’s what’s really exciting. Something I find really very vibring is that pop music is ever able to reinvent itself, it’s something we don’t often talk about, I’m involved in what might be known as a more serious form of art than pop music but I love pop music like you do as well I’m sure, and what’s interesting in these people using very traditional instruments such as guitars and drums, they are still able to discover original voices even after all this time when you think it has exhausted itself, I agree, a lot of electronic music has really put itself into a corner now, I’m not sure what it needs to do is stop for a moment and rethink its process. I think one of the problems is the easy availability of software that allows you to make music, it does not always make it good music, I’m happy to hear people’s music if they give me cds, but what I would like to suggest is that maybe you have to think whether I want to listen this or whether I want to buy it, do I want to distribute this. There is often a problem that software has with em which is you take a sound or a loop and you have it going you take another sound and a third one you have got these 3 sounds the piece is finished, it sounds like, but what have you done? You chose 3 sounds like a curator from a palette
Marco Mancuso: What can you tell about your infinite record production?
Scanner: There are always too many new records, I release so many records in a year, it’s stupid. Every year I release 6 or 8 albums but they are more a sort of documentation of something I made so the next real album that comes out is a wedding soundtrack I wrote, I was invited to make the soundtrack for a wedding in the Netherlands , so I did this very romantic soundtrack to a friend of mine. It has got such a ridiculous long title, it’s something that goes on and on and on I can’t even remember it.
Marco Mancuso: Together with your infinite record production, there are many projects that involve interpenetration of sounds and images, and also some projects on the net
Scanner: There’s a piece called double fold I’m working on which is a piece about the ? archives it’s going be a film on the internet a 10 minute film which you can watch online but you will be able to contribute material as a user into this archive, it0s all about the eraser of a history through digital technology, it’s not yet online, it will be in the middle of next year, it’s also a performance piece that happens with a video and me doing a soundtrack. The idea is really simple, which is libraries have changed so much in recent years. Everywhere is doing it, italy England America, is putting things online in their libraries, not buying so many books, throwing newspapers away, in a sense what we’re losing is our history, it’s ok to put things into a digital media but you’ve lost the real feeling of a newspapaer, paper can last for hundreds and hundreds of years, as you know digital technology doesn’t. So it’s a piece of a critique of a kind of digital age. What I’m trying to do with the sound is work I want a piece to work in locations like for example if I did it in Italy I would try and use all the archives of Italian radio and television and to this huge collage and slowly make it disintegrate. This piece is still in process I’ve been working on it for months.
Marco Mancuso: Karl Heinz Stochausen died not so long ago. I know he was an important point of reference to you. Could you tell us how you got in contact with him?
Scanner: I did a radio piece for the BBC radio I made an interview with him where he had to speak about contemporary music so he spoke about the Aphex Twin, Plastic Man and someone else I can’t remember, about 6 or 7 years ago, and me. He sent me a cd which said To Scanner, cordially yours Stockhausen I like your work, which I s really sweet, and then spoke about me in a very pleasant way, he’s working in a field of sound that isn’t often explored bla bla bla but you should listen more to my work, which is kind of typical Stockhausen thing, I can see what you’re trying to do but you really need to listen to me more, he’s a kind of father, he’s an eccentric figure. No collaboration unfortunately but a very interesting moment when we did this kind of interview together.