Welcome to the new [MUSIC & …] posts series, exploring the relation between music and the many subjects around which turns LSTS research. This opening post is dedicated to MUSIC & SURVEILLANCE, more particularly to Robin Rimbaud, aka Scanner, one of the masters of artistic eavesdropping. Born in London, Rimbaud started to produce electronic music in the 1990s using as sound sources voices and noises obtained by intercepting private phone calls and police transmisions. He would often play live sets exclusively based on conversations tapped in real time in front of the audience, a practice not deprived of (legal) controversy.
An excellent entry point to his work is ‘Colofon & Compendium (1991-1994)‘, published in 2012 by the Belgian label Sub Rosa. This double LP, which collects mostly unreleased material from his digital archives, combines strangers’ dialogues, abstract sound constructions and bizarre noises resulting in unique textural electronics.
When Scanner originally produced these compositions, his approach came as extremely modern, heralding a new era of surveillance facilitated by the increasingly pervasive presence of wireless communications. With hindsight, the surveillance practices it evokes seem touchingly artisanal and innocent, at least compared to current communications’ monitoring techniques, transforming these recordings into a particularly moving (out)dated futuristic science-fiction. What is perhaps more poignant, however, is how, behind the eerie noises, the ghostly sounds, and the daunting static, people sound distriburingly communicative and even intermentently happy, perfectly unaware that someone is listening, and of who is out there. Text by Gloria González Fuster