Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Robin Rimbaud – aka Scanner, a name he acquired from his use of mobile phone and police scanners and the use of the resulting captured material in live performance and recordings at the start of his career in the early-90s – is a tricky man to categorise. Musician, recording artist, composer, record producer, filmmaker, geek, sound designer, sound architect, academic, curator, installation artist…
Scanner has scaled back his touring activities in recent years and this show How to Make Art From Life is an attempt to summarise and curate a small part of his activities in a live environment. In effect, his enthusiasm and the diversity of his creative output are such that his full body of work is remarkably resistant to containment and spills tantalisingly out at every given opportunity.
The show itself is simple. A large screen; a table to one side laden with two laptops, a mouse, a small musical keyboard, some other devices and the plethora of cabling that makes it all work together, where Scanner sits. For around forty minutes a selection of short films that he has made himself or in collaboration plays. He potters with the equipment. It is hard to tell what he is actually doing as the main activity viewable is a man focused on operating a laptop, shifting attention from mouse to some other gadgets he stares at the screens, a sort of smile on his face, occasionally nodding as a nascent beat emerges. As a musician ‘in performance’ there is almost nothing to see. (It later emerges that he has been creating almost all of the music we have even listening to live, using just some sound design elements from some of the films. This makes you realise what a technically inspired and gifted musician this man is.) But the focus is on the films, which are different, intriguing, mostly fairly static with exquisitely slowed movement: some are in vibrant colour, others in grainy monochrome: liquids, landscapes, falling objects, figures. Each film is brought to life with a complex and nuanced electronic soundtrack of dramatic strings, subtle beats, loops, static, subharmonics. The combination of film and music is entrancing, elegiac, dreamlike, hypnotic.
Once the film section has finished, Rimbaud presents – with great charm and informality – a short presentation with images: a fascinating and all-too-short journey through some of the highlights of his career and recent work: how he started making sound recordings as a boy, the albums, music he has made for dance, festival collaborations, gallery installations, even sound designs for a French morgue and an architect-designed one-off house in London that comes with its own soundtrack. This moves smoothly into a Q&A. These can sometimes be deadly, but there are clearly fans (and new fans) of his long career in the audience and each question is brief but interesting and diverse and Scanner is actually such a genuinely interesting and delightfully erudite and self-effacing man that each answer spirals off in a revealing and illuminating manner. Unusually for a Q&A it is almost a shame when it reaches its natural conclusion. The man is wonderful company and his life in art and music and film and ‘life’ is so far-reaching and open to experiment and experience that each small revelation is of interest. He ends the session by gifting the audience one of his albums featured in the film section of the evening and chatting informally to anyone with a desire to ask him further questions.
How to Make Art From Life is an unconventional small-scale show – in a studio theatre for a man with a hugely successful career that has spanned the globe with major international artists and venues. It’s an intimate and unexpected opportunity to commune with a hero or discover someone you may be shockingly unaware of (but who’s work has almost certainly permeated your life through music, art, sound or product design). And the man himself is charming and relaxed and good company, with the gift to make life from art.
Reviewed on 2 April 2017 | Image: Contributed