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Around the World in 54 Minutes

Big Ben, or another London clock tower quite like it, bangs at the opening of Sound Polaroids (Bip-Hop), an album credited to Scanner + Tonne. The record contains five tracks that take field recordings from specific cities and transform them into music — or, allowing for an absence of traditional melody in favor of a montage-like effect, what is referred to as “sound art.” There may not be another sample on the album as self-evident as the Big Ben gong, but verisimilitude is not the Sound Polaroids album’s apparent goal. If the point were merely to reproduce a city, we’d have documentary footage. Instead, what we get is a grab bag of sound, somewhere between the random exigencies of memory and the fluid spectrum of channel surfing, all filtered through varied signals and noises.

Sometimes, such as toward the end of the “Milano Mix,” this is akin to overlapping ham radio channels, with snatches of conversations doing battle with static. More often, the sampled real world is splayed atop the rhythms of clubland. In “Tokyo Mix,” for example, overheard Japanese chatter cements the location at the track’s opening, but that momentary comfort — that sense of orientation — is upended with a sudden downward shift in tone; we’re taken underground, or so it feels, as the beat takes on the jitters of chronic arrhythmia and the music becomes foreboding. A sixth track, simply titled “Tonne Mix,” offers no specific locale. The NYC track is credited, at least in part, to Stephen Vitiello, whose pre-9/11 recording of a creaky World Trade Center was included on the CD of the Whitney Museum’s 2002 Biennial Exhibition.

Scanner is Robin Rimbaud, who made his reputation with a series of recordings that lent atmospheric musical backdrops to conversations ripped from thin air thanks to a police scanner, hence his moniker. That agenda is alive and well in this collaboration, which projects each city as a hallucinatory sum of its suggestive aural parts. Tonne is Studio Tonne, aka Paul Farrington, who provided technological services to Springheel Jack, Monolake and others before producing his own recordings and performances. Like Brian Eno’s hour-long Thursday Afternoon CD, Scanner + Tonne’s Sound Polaroids album is merely the isolated sound of a multimedia presentation, but it easily stands on its own. The live performance from which the album is drawn involved interactivity on the part of the audience, who could influence the installation by way of “clapping, shouting, stamping their feet,” according to the album’s brief liner notes.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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