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A Truly Ethereal Chorus

Robin (Scanner) Rimbaud on the radio as an instrument


Even as conventional broadcast radio is on the decline with the rise of streaming services, it is experiencing unprecedented utility as a tool for making music. That observation is central to the article I wrote for The Wire about musical instruments featuring radio reception as part of their design. The article covers a wide range, including dedicated synthesizer modules, like the ADDAC102 (from the Lisbon, Portugal, company ADDAC) and the 272e (from the storied San Francisco Bay Area firm Bucha), and other devices, such as the Polyend Tracker (out of Poland) and the KOMA Field Kit (from Berlin), that include radio amid a broader range of tools, with varying degrees of integration.

In the latter camp is the OP-1, from Stockholm-based Teenage Engineering, one of whose founders, Jens Rudberg, I interviewed for the article, along with representatives of all four other firms listed above. While the collective experience of these designers was important to the research, so too was the work of musicians who employ the tools. I spoke with numerous in the process of working on the story, and quoted three in the piece, including Thomas Dimuzio, King Britt, and Robin Rimbaud, who is best known as Scanner, for his early work with another sort of radio: police-band conversations snatched from the ether.

In the context of a wide-ranging back and forth via email on the topic of radio and synthesizers, Rimbaud shared the above video as an example of his work. He said the live set began with him “randomly skipping through the frequencies until I found something in real time that felt like it might work.” What he stumbled upon was the haunting group vocalizing heard at the start of the piece. “It was a choral work on a classical radio station,” explained Rimbaud. “I then looped it and began playing across it live too.”

He continued: “As with my earlier use of the radio scanner in my works I especially enjoy the unexpected and letting these sources take me in a direction I might never expect, using radio frequencies in the ether, these indiscriminate signals that I just pull down in real time and improvise around. It could simply be a voice or a harmony, but every opportunity can never be predicted and keeps an element at risk on the surface level which has always been important to me.”

There’s a lot more material in my conversation with Scanner, and with everyone else listed above, than made it into the article. I want to find time soon to get more of it posted here on Disquiet.com, to supplement the article in The Wire.

The video was recorded on March 23, 2019, at Iklectik London and originally posted at Scanner’s YouTube channel. More at scannerdot.com.

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , , , / Comment: 1 ]

One Comment

  1. Jochen
    [ Posted June 10, 2021, at 5:51 pm ]

    Money. When the Truck Radio Rain thing came out I wondered what I would find on the local airwaves after all these years of paying them no attention at all. Is radio cool again? Have hipsters flooded into uncontrolled areas with their non-commercial pursuits? Not so much — but my credit union did just give me a KEXP mixtape debit card: money.

    For real, a radio suddenly shaping the formant of a live band is definite mind job territory…

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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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