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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Death, Sound, Words (Scanner MP3s)

A car honks twice, and then what follows is an inundation of descriptions of a grisly automobile accident that has taken the life of a loved one, as well as of the detached bystanders who snap mobile-phone pictures of the splattered corpse.

A rector talks at length about the intense, the unknowably demanding, emotional requisites of his funeral work, and as his measured tones come to a halt, church bells seem to ring out in the distance, muffled by solemnity and space — and, no doubt, by some manner of digital processing.

The processing is courtesy of Scanner (aka Robin Rimbaud), who produced the work, titled “Sighs, Wonders,” with writer Sukhdev Sandhu on a commission from the Spitalfields Festival London earlier this year. Two versions are available for free online. There’s a nearly 20-minute “instrumental” take (albeit with a few brief spoken passages) he posted yesterday:

And there’s a shorter excerpt (MP3), about half that length, at the website of the sponsoring festival:

[audio:http://spitalfieldsfestivaladmin.new.mindunit.co.uk/images/resource/SighsWon.mp3|titles=”Sighs Wonders”|artists=”Scanner and Sukhdev Sandhu and Paul Turp”]

Scanner and Sandhu previously collaborated on the hypertextual “nocturnal journal” nighthaunts.org.uk, with visuals by the digital studio Mind Unit. For “Sighs, Wonders” they again plumb matters of urbanism and mortality. As Scanner’s characteristic ambience unfolds, voices are heard intoning about the history of the land, matters of flesh and spirit, of “Roman bones” and “paupers’ bones” and everything in between.

Scanner’s early career involved using words he snatched from the ether (hence his name), the candid words of others unwittingly sewn into his sound art, but he also works with dramatic efforts, such as these texts. In one of the many “Sighs, Wonders” spoken bits, the following is uttered:

“For the upscale slummer, it’s a peepshow picturesque. For the missionary, it’s a chance to play imperial redeemer, tamer of beasts, a human chandelier radiating the darkness.”

Sandhu could be speaking of the unwashed masses of an urban setting. Or he could be speaking, more self-consciously, of the tension inherent in Scanner’s practice. The instrumental version of “Sighs, Wonders” is a lovely thing, a mix of moody synthesized noise and occasional field recordings, punctuated by brief utterances. The spoken version, naturally, brings the narrative concerns to the fore. The rector’s words are spoken not by Sandhu but by an actual local Shoreditch rector, whose presence blurs the space between documented and constructed reality. (Such a quintessentially British place name, Shoreditch, the sort of deeply mundane, semi-oxymoronic term that had it not existed, surely China Miéville would have created it for one of his novels.) We experience the piece (in either its instrumental or verbalized editions) simultaneously as a virtuous art, and as an archive of deterioration.

The instrumental track is at soundcloud.com/scanner (from which the above photo is taken). The track with extended vocals is at spitalfieldsfestival.org.uk. Scanner announced the instrumental’s availability at twitter.com/robinrimbaud and facebook.com/scannerdot. More on Scanner at scannerdot.com.

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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