Unlike many artists working in experimental music, Scanner, aka Robin Rimbaud, has never had a recognizable sonic palette. Although his nom de plume stems from the incorporation of intercepted radio and phone conversations in early compositions, a practice he has never fully left behind, Scanner ranges widely across the landscape of electronic sound. Techno, dub, house, ambient, drone, film music and soundscape are all musical languages present in his recorded oeuvre.
La Fenetre Magique, released on Edinburgh’s Werra Foxma label, is comprised of two pieces originally recorded live as a session for Steven Anderson’s “The Magic Window,” a weekly radio show focused on independent electronica. Both works showcase Scanner’s skills as an improviser and have a lot to say about the nature of electronic improvisation and listening.
The first piece is aptly described as a journey. Unfolding over 30 minutes, “Blinking in Time” trawls widely across musical styles but maintains a discernible logic, shifting back and forth between ambient soundscapes and beat-driven sections. The first five minutes feature little in the way of tempo or melody, just a gentle drone, interrupted regularly by several short-lived tones, which gradually build in intensity. A tempo delivered by a crisp beat becomes more pronounced around minute five as the sustained drones fall away.
The beats that emerge and disappear across the work’s duration seem to operate by their own logic, coming and going of their own accord rather than being forced offstage by another sonic element. They remerge about halfway through as an organic sounding bass beat accompanying the rapidly modulating synth lines and faint melody. The halfway point prompts a reinterpretation of what came before as hovering on the verge of indulging in a beat one could dance to and a tune one could hum. The piece shifts between rapid, beat-heavy sections and rapid dissolutions into austere, quiet textures. It concludes with a reverberating bass drone and a shimmering synth, escalating into an intense wall of sound that fills the sonic space before gradually fading into silence.
There are many ways to approach longer compositions such as this. One can build an extended meditation or mood, or one can do what Scanner does here: create musical orderings which are less about initiating a continuous atmosphere and more about reveling in the contrast between the sense of time and space created by dynamics, tempo, and timbre. Although not at all inattentive to the emotional qualities of even minor compositional elements, “Blinking in Time’s” improvisation seems most interested in exploring the role that rhythm, phrasing, and their relative absence play in moving listeners between different affective states.
The album’s shorter second piece, “After Magnetism,” hews closer to the former approach, focusing on the development of one musical idea rather than many. The piece includes less variation between loud and soft dynamics, offering continuous loops of layered harmony comprised of rich synthesizers and steady drones. The intensity of the dynamics, and their persistent sameness, eliminates the sense of play present in the longer composition, imbuing the piece instead with a heightened sense of drama, perhaps even dread. (Jennifer Smart)