PRAGUE, LONDON and NEW YORK CITY:  The British sound artist Scanner’s real name is Robin Van Rimbaud. Intensely active in sound art since 1991, Scanner has produced concerts, compositions, installations and recordings. He has collaborated with artists from every imaginable genre.

Recently, for example, Scanner re-scored the classic black & white movie Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde for a premiere at the Ether Festival London in 2010. His film collaboration Sakoko with fashion designer Hussein Chalayan premiered at Paris Fashion week for Vogue Magazine. In 2011 he became sound designer for celebrated iPad publication Post, created the sound for the Rugby World Cup Promotion, inaugurated new Paris digital theatre Gaßté Lyrique in collaboration with United Visual Artists, and presented Blink an ambitious outdoor performance with Wayne McGregor and PanOptikum in Margate UK.

Scanner | Photo by Robin Van Rimbaud

Since our first meeting in Prague, where he offered an incredible lecture sampling his career and practice, Scanner raised quite a fuss when he returned to the United Kingdom in August to attend Durham’s  International BRASS festival where he premiered his Floral Derrangement installation. “The press reception for this was outstanding,” Scanner notes in his blog, “with a feature in The Guardian newspaper, a special feature on BBC Radio 4’s Today news show, broadcast to seven million listeners and even a feature on a specialist brass music site which was very encouraging.”

Brass aficionados took umbrage with the idea of an electronic musician who undertook such a commission. “Installed on the Kingsgate Bridge Durham on eight hanging speakers, largely invisible to passers-by, the work could be heard floating down along the river and across the landscape. I made a little film taking a walk across the bridge and experiencing this week so you can feel as if you were there,” Scanner explains.

Messing up with connoisseur’s expectations is par for the course, however. In July, he wandered around New York City for five days and performed live in Hudson, New York, for WGXC 90.7-FM radio. The entire improvised show can be heard and downloaded here.

And there’s more (a list of his projects appear at the end of this interview). He recently collaborated with United Visual Artists / UVA as part of The Creators Project Ibirapuera Park in SĂŁo Paulo Brazil, to premiere an entirely new work, Room with a View, that uses voice and music inside this expansive light structure that that the audience can enter and remain inside. “Exploring reconfigurations of the Orchestrion installation originally developed for Coachella 2011, UVA decided to invert their design and create a vast space where visitors enter and become a part of the performance,” Scanner noted. “The work consists of a single room of infinite reflection, creating an endless geometric landscape. Lines of light derivative of the structural form shift and animate within, with visitors’ shadows and reflections constantly changing with the movement of light and sound. The work will now travel to UCCA in Beijing for display from 15-18 September.

He also released a new album “You Can’t Get There From Here,” a collaboration with American clarinet player David Rothenberg, recorded in sessions over the last couple of years, as well as at the Punkt Festival in Norway. Released on Monotyperecords, the album joins the dots between voice, live instrumentation and electronics and is available directly from the label,” Scanner says.

Then he’s off to Brazil for a sequence of events where he is presenting his film installation Falling Forward produced at Le Fresnoy in 2010 for Panorama 12 in the museum in Rio. Then he will speak about his work at Conference Oi Futuro Ipanema, and performing live at Multiplicidade Festival in Rio.

August 27 will see the Margate premiere of Blink, Scanner’s collaboration with award-winning choreographer Wayne McGregor (whose internationally renowned company is called Wayne McGregor | Random Dance) and with the German theatre ensemble Pan Optikum. “All music will be composed in residence in the final five days of the production, which is both intimidating and thrilling,” Scanner says. “For one very special night, Margate’s seafront will undergo a miraculous transformation as buildings come alive, the beach is lit up with stunning flaming structures and one hundred local people take to the beach to perform. It’s most certainly going to be a spectacular event so let’s hope the skies remain dry for that day.”

RANDY GENER: Where did you get the name Scanner? Why do you feel that the word “scanner” accurately reflects your work?


Scanner twirls perceptions of sound art at New Stage in Prague | Photo by Randy Gener

SCANNER: In the late 1980s by chance I discovered this modest handheld radio device that allowed one to literally scan through the cellular airwaves in real time and pick up private conversations and exchanges between people. As a teenager I’d recorded crossed lines on our ancient analogue home phone, so this felt like the next step. Incorporating them into these cinematic dark landscapes of sound seemed to just make perfect sense. Also, at this time the Chill Out rooms in clubs were growing in capacity, and my work was being played out there as well as offering a very human aspect to digital techno-music by incorporating the voice into the electronic atmosphere. So I took on the name of the device I was using to pick up these found voices. In many ways it reflects the way that one scans an environment through hearing, sight, smell, touch—using all the senses. I literally “scan” a place, a situation, and, using a combination of intuition and some skill, I am able to interpret and respond.

Is the sound designer more important than in films, concerts and other media disciplines?
You can see how much our visual culture has expanded into a 3-D cinematic experience — a surround sound, high fidelity–style world. It’s essential that sound maintains a similar level of development and flow with the images, be it on stage or in the cinema. The role of a sound designer has always been important as far back as Shakespearean times when people out of view would create the sound of a thunderstorm off stage. But I think that today a development in the possibilities of using speakers and amplification has meant a greater need and emphasis for more detail, more focus on the sound.

Do you feel theater is managing to keep up with the rapid development of sound design? Why or why not?
From my limited experience, no. I find little connection between what I hear on stage and what I hear in independent sound performances and CD releases. Is it because those working in theatre are employed as almost technicians at times to fulfil the wishes of a director? I don’t think so but wish I could understand what is happening here too

What (or when) do you consider was that moment/event when sound became a deeply important part of your life?
When I was 11 years old, I was fortunate enough to have a piano teacher who played us all the work of the American composer and artist John Cage in school. That event in itself was enough to open up the top of a sweet little boy’s head and pour in all kinds of possibilities. Watching early BBC television series with scores and sound design from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop also clearly influenced my upbringing.

What sound or sounds do you hate? Why?
I barely hate any sounds and find I can learn to embrace even the sounds that many people hate, be it the hum of constant traffic in the city or planes overhead. I have taught myself to find something rich, beautiful in all of these, as if they all paint something in sound of the landscape to learn from.

Scanner | Photo by Robin Van Rimbaud

What sounds do you like the most? Why?
I adore all kinds of sounds - I love the sound of a kite in the air. I love the sound of sails on boats in a shipyard, I love the sound of rain when sitting indoors and watching a thunderstorm.

To what extent can sound be exhibited independently in a museum, gallery or exposition?
The same way that works relating to sound can be exhibited independently. With care and attention given to the personal space needed around each other, although of course you can never switch off your ears since you are always aware.

At the Prague Quadrennial for Performance Design and Space, you presented what was described as “a history of work that has slipped between the borders of performance, installation, music and art.” Can you please share with me some intriguing or unusual examples from this history?
Too many stories to tell, but much of my works tend to slip between the borders of what an artist might simply do. So I have been fortunate enough to design the sounds of a working morgue in France in a way to give light to those arriving to bid farewell to a loved one, to produce and design sounds for a Wake Up Light for Philips and a telephone with celebrated English designer Jasper Morrison, to collaborate with designers like Hussein Chalayan and Nike to offer original sound worlds to new works. The stories can go on and on…

Can you give examples of how the Internet has changed the way you work or the sounds you produce?
It’s a combination of the speed of communication, access to other worlds and the ability to use the Internet as a time travel tool to connect with others, often figures you would most likely never bump into it in real life. Given that I have been working since before the Internet was around, I’m very conscious of the leaps it has offered us in so many ways, dissolving ideas of geography and time in ways we might never have anticipated. The fact that I can collaborate in almost real time with someone else anywhere on the globe is a phenomenal idea. — By RG

A Schedule of Scanner Exhibitions

Scanner live at Miskin Theatre UK 2006 | Photo by Robin Van Rimbaud

1. Room with a View

Installation with United Visual Artists
16-19 September Beijing, China

Exploring reconfigurations of the Orchestrion installation originally developed for Coachella 2011, UVA decided to invert their design and create a vast space where visitors enter and become a part of the performance. The work consists of a single room of infinite reflection, creating an endless geometric landscape. Lines of light derivative of the structural form shift and animate within, with visitors’ shadows and reflections constantly changing with the movement of light and sound.

2. Conductor
The Creators Project
Installation with United Visual Artists
08-11 September Seoul, South Korea
12-16 October New York City, USA

Conductor draws visitors into its environment like a magnetic force field, as if it were collecting energy from passersby to generate power for the event itself. Light forms resembling current running through electrical components or power plants will be accompanied by an original score by British composer Scanner.

3. Breath Taking
Revealing a new wave in British glass blowing
Durham Art Gallery: 08 July – 29 Aug 2023
Aberdeen Art Gallery: 01 Sept – 29 Oct 2022
Wrexham Art Gallery: 02 Dec – 28 Jan 2011/12

The new Crafts Council touring exhibition Breath Taking presents cutting-edge work in blown glass, by 22 UK makers. Through their creative use of glass-blowing techniques these makers ask us to consider the medium ’s possibilities for new ways of expression.

4. Sing in Sand and Roar in Furnace Fire from Neil Wissink on Vimeo.

Scanner collaborated with filmmaker Neil Wissink to produce this film which is installed in each gallery, based on recordings of the Stuart Hearn glassblowing studio in London. Choreography by Matthias Sperling. Dancers are Matthias Sperling and Robin Dingemans.

5. Night Haunts
By Sukhdev Sandhu
Design Mind Unit
Sound Design Scanner 

Artangel Interaction invited writer and historian Sukhdev Sandhu to write a nocturnal journal unfolding over the course of 2006. His postings will appear sequentially at this microsite specially designed by Mind Unit. Sandhu’s forays see him prospecting in the London night with the people who drive its pulse, from the avian police to security guards, zookeepers and exorcists. Acclaimed artist and musician Scanner has collaborated with Sukhdev and Ian Budden of Mind Unit to compose the sound for the site. If you would like to be kept informed as each episode is posted, join artangel’s mailing list by clicking here . 

6. Bittersweet Songs for the Sleepless City
Artangel Interaction

NightJam is the latest project in Artangel Interaction’s Nights of London series of artist-led collaborations with people who have a special view on a hidden side of the nocturnal city. Scanner invited young people at New Horizon Youth Centre in King’s Cross to collaborate on a creative project that expresses how the city at night looks and sounds to their ears and eyes. Through music and voice workshops they explored the sense of freedom and fear, celebration and solitude of the concealing darkness. Meanwhile, they captured their nights on disposable cameras, taking images that are at times eerie, startling, contemplative and funny. NightJam presents two elusive visual and musical journeys through the city’s ‘quiet’ hours.

NightJam presents two music tracks, a film, photographs, that can be experienced and freely downloaded. Additionally it features remixes of NightJam by Stephen Vitiello, Hakan Lidbo,Troy Banarzi, Si-cut.db and Pete Lockett.

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