Science-fiction novelist William Gibson once noted that the Walkman changed the way we experience cities. Among the many things packed into that koan is the sense that music shapes human interaction. Few musicians have embraced the idea as thoroughly as has Scanner, much of whose work involves providing soundtracks to conversation after the fact. He’ll take audio, often ripped from the ether thanks to the equipment from which he takes his name, and provide a sympathetic score that illuminates not only the words but the emotions those words are intended to convey and to mask. Sometimes Scanner’s work is less clandestine. He reported this month on his website, scannerdot.com, that he’s spent time recently in North Wales, where he was commissioned to travel around and record people, often talking about the Welsh language and culture, and to produce his compositions on a portable studio.
Almost a dozen free downloads resulting from this experiment, which was commissioned by the Cardiff Festival of Creative Technology, have been posted subsequently (link). In “Around and Around” (MP3) we witness a family discussion, and it has two soundtracks: a Satie-esque piano part introduced by Scanner, who emphasizes the emotional undercurrent, and the on-site jukebox spitting out the pop song “The Rhythm of the Night,” which despite being more factually accurate to the event feels far more artificial and out of place. Other times, Scanner erases the divide between speech and music. On “Love of Love” (MP3), a man’s cackle is echoed until it fades into the background like a dubby sound effect. (Note: the track titles listed on the website and the titles encoded into the files don’t always match up. According to the file itself, “Love of Love” is titled “Caernarvon 1.”)
By the way, when Scanner (aka Robin Rimbaud) reports on his website that he did the Wales work on “the portable studio on the Hysbys,” understand that “Hysbys” is not a new generation of audio software. Well, not quite. Hysbys is a bus-cum-studio that travels from town to town, visiting Welsh communities. It was developed by the Department of Lifelong Learning, University of Wales Bangor; BBC Wales and the Welsh Language Board. More info at hysbys.org.