ow, I’m fully cognizant of the fact that if I were to become famous for a certain modern art practice that if MTV came knocking on my door wanting to do a profile on me that I would welcome with them open arms and even perhaps cook them brownies and serve them lemonade. But when Robin Rimbaud was featured on the station in the late 1990s for his fascinating recording technique of taking police scanner frequencies and adding them as sample material to his avant garde electronic music compositions, I immediately smelled rat. OK, not immediately. But after I got past, “Hey, that might be cool” I totally went to “Wait, what about the music?” Seriously.
But Sounds for Spaces oddly does a remarkable job in the absence of his stolen cell phone conversations- pushing the music to the forefront of the experience, rather than having it follow a certain conceptual dictum. That’s not to say that these pieces exist solely outside of any context, however. Sounds for Spaces is an album that collects material from Scanner’s earliest recordings to the late 1990s, all grouped together under the rubric of soundtracks to art installations and radio art installations. Thus, while the music rather than the shtick is the focus here, these songs were actually made to work as backgrounds to other arts.
And true to Eno’s tenets of ambient music, in most cases Scanner achieves the careful balance of music that can be easily tuned out as aural wallpaper or, when focused on, yield highly interesting listening experiences. As such, though, much of the time it can easily be seen that this is, indeed, a hodgepodge of sounds and eras on display.
Scanner’s early works are firmly recognizable as flowing works of ambience that work best with additional stimulation. Simplistic loops reveal an emerging artist vaguely uncomfortable with the tools with which he works, testing things out for the first time. “Disclosure” reminds of a far more uninteresting DJ Wally while “A Piece of Monologue” is only tempered by Samuel Beckett’s disembodied performance.
As the disc moves further ahead chronologically, Scanner’s work gets more advanced and, admittedly, better. “Slow Motion” makes references to Stockhausen and Russolo in some of the more random noises that enter the picture, but the piece maintains an eerie staid quality that keeps it from overpowering the listener or encouraging them to delve deeper into its obviously hidden treasures.
And that’s perhaps the problem with the re-release of this work. As a document of unreleased works of Scanner, this disc takes on a special significance and importance. As a musical document, the disc works as half success and half failure. But most importantly, as a full fledged narrative the album is a failure. For archivists only.