Updated: Aug 20
With a fascination for the sounds that surrounded him, Robin Rimbaud built a career spanning four decades. With a creative spirit and a humble attitude, his work continues to be featured the world over.
From a very early age Robin Rimbaud, aka Scanner, has been fascinated with sound. In fact, as a child he would take his cassette recorder everywhere he went and record all sorts of things. "We had this cheap plastic portable battery-powered tape recorder, so I would record television shows, football matches with my brother, friends at school, crossed lines on our home phone, and so on", he explains. "I used to record my holidays on it too, as an alternative to taking photos".
In the '80s Robin saved up for months to purchase a Fostex 280 multitrack cassette recorder, which changed everything. "I could layer and build up sounds into new works", he says. Using the Digitech RDS 7.6 Time Machine, Robin was able to create loops, manipulate the speed of recordings, and layer them together. Amazingly these recordings have survived throughout the years and many of them were released on Robin's album, Earthbound Transmissions in 2021. Incorporating found sounds and archival recordings, along with the recordings he had captured with his tape recorder, Robin continued to create works throughout the '80s. It was in the early '90s when he discovered the radio scanner, from which his stage name comes from. "I bought it from a friend who needed money", he remembers. "I had been using my portable tape recorder to pick up conversations on the bus, the London Underground, school friends, etc. but suddenly, I had access to high quality recordings of unsuspecting individuals, and I started to transform these into rather eerie ambient soundscapes". In fact, Robin built a reputation using recorded conversation in his works, something he still uses today. In his early performances, he would use the radio scanner and a shortwave radio live, incorporating their broadcast into his show. "I like the rhythmic quality of conversation", he says. "There is a natural rhythm to it that I find appealing".
Robin has made a career of creating sounds in imaginative ways and collaborating with other artists. In 1980, at the age of 16, he scored a film that a classmate shot on Super-8 that was well received. By 1986 he had released several cassettes and scored another film entitled, A Horse with No Name, directed by Phil Viner, that was shown at the London Film Festival. "From the earliest age I was fascinated by the nexus point between music and visual art, literature and film, movement and performance, and theater and architecture. I knew that this was the world that I wanted and needed to be situated in", Robin explains, speaking of his expansive body of work. This fascination has been instrumental in Robin's success. "Working with ideas means that my creative output can easily connect with that of another artist who work in a completely different medium", he says. "There's a flow of exchange that always works". This is evident in the sheer number of works Robin has been involved in, including contemporary dance productions, film and television scores, theater productions, contemporary art installations, live concerts, collaborative albums, and solo albums, amounting to hundreds of works. Throughout his career he has performed and created works around the world, including London, Paris, Vienna, Moscow, Vietnam, and USA, just to name a few. One such project that Robin has been working on lately is with his friend, artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, who creates incredible public artworks using robotic lights, digital fountains, computerized surveillance, media walls, and telematic networks. "I am creating some solo immersive works, as well as creating the sound for Rafael's works to be installed in the forest of the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. Situated on 120 acres of land, it is an absurdly ambitious project where 200,000 people will experience the work each season for the next 2-3 years", he explains. Another project that Robin has completed recently is his new album released on DiN Records entitled, The Homeland of Electricity, the second of his albums released on DiN. For this album, Robin employed a selection of Elektron instruments the Analog Four, Analog Rhythm, and the Digitak. "I set up a few pieces of gear and simply played for a few days. We worked out a playlist for the most appealing tracks and that was it, nice and simple", he describes. I asked Robin how he maintains such a high level of creativity and he had a very practical answer. "I wake up early every day, no later than 6:00 a.m. Then I work all day from 8:00 until around 6:00 p.m. I go to bed early and I very rarely work on weekends. I've never missed a deadline in almost 30 years and keeping this neat and tidy schedule means I can get a lot done in a day", he explains.
Constantly working on a variety of projects, Robin has developed several approaches to composing and performing that allow his creativity to flow. "I don't have one particular approach to working. I usually sit down and begin in the studio. If it is a work for a dance company or film, I will begin exploring the responses I have to the themes and see where that leads me. For live shows, I usually decide on the first few minutes of the piece and then I improvise the remainder of the set", he explains.
Interestingly, Robin usually records what he is working on directly to the recorder as a stereo mix, rather than a multitrack project. "I like that these recordings cannot be changed afterwards. They really are a picture of that moment in time, a genuine sound Polaroid", he says. This approach is refreshing considering the common practice of recording hundreds of tracks per project in a digital audio workstation (DAW). In touch with his creative spirit, Robin knows when things are not working. "If it all fails, then I stop, work on administrative tasks like answering email etc., and return later on", he says with a laugh.
Remaining flexible and able to work when inspiration strikes has been a very important part of Robin's career, especially in the type of gear he chooses. "Early on I realized the sheer practicality of carrying heavy gear was not appealing. I had a show in Vienna where I took my Akai S1000 sampler and a Yamaha SY22 keyboard, which meant I had to take taxis everywhere. It was totally impractical", he describes. "Mobility is essential to my life today. Using an iPad with its wealth of inspiring apps connected to a small Eurorack synth, the Digitakt, and whatever else I choose to take along, means I rarely have to check any gear". Although Robin has a vast collection of equipment in his studio, he has a few favorites that he continues to come back to. "I have always loved the Kilpatrick Phenol, the Elektron Digitakt, the 1010music Blackbox, the Ciat-Lonbarde Cocoquantus 2, and the Buchla 200e. Each of these instruments offer a world of sounds that are different from each other", he says. "Using Borderlands and Samplr on the iPad are incredibly inspiring too".
So how does Robin feel about his long and successful career? "I've never chased after hit singles, chart success, or anything like that, but I have always endeavored to work with people I like, in situations that I like", he says humbly. "Honestly, if I can continue to explore my creativity and make a living at it then I am happy". With his professional calendar booked well into the future with performances, art installations, dance and film scores, I asked Robin if there was anything in particular, he was looking forward to working on in the future. "I have plans for different projects that I would like to do, but for now I have recently set up a new company to produce, promote, and support the work of other creatives, in music, art, performances, and so on", he says. "I want to help offer new voices to new audiences". With his practical work ethic and emphasis on his working relationships, Robin has developed the framework to unleash his creativity in ways that even he hasn't thought of yet. I look forward to what he does next.
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