Mass Observation (Expanded) by Scanner

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Scanner | Mass Observation (Expanded)
Room40 (CD/DL)

Scanner (Robin Rimbaud), one of the world’s most prolific and unique artists is one of those stalwart electronic composers who has been recording since the early 90’s, always reinventing himself. This is a look back at a work originally released in 1994 on Ash International with a much shorter run time (he also released a 12″ remix the following year, Mass Observation 95 via New Electronica). This completely new variation expands on the recording dramatically, reawakening the whole idea of taking a hard look at surveillance.

We’ve come a long way in these past few decades on those terms, and in general, the public has grown to just accept being watched 24/7, but Big Brother still lurks in the crevices, and has more access to our every whim than ever before – giving this recording the flavor of a futuristic fortune teller way before his time. Rimbaud mentions “It’s not an extension of the original which was 25.10 long, but an entirely new mix that’s never been heard before, I found on the same DAT tape.” I remember getting this disc way back when, and looking forward to jumping back and forward in time while having a refresher, I’ve likely not heard this in at least ten years.

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I recently asked about what motivated him growing on this concept? “In a sense I’ve not returned to it, more that I’m offering out a work from some 24 years ago that continues to have relevance in our society today, that still speaks to us and perhaps more so in a sense. In many ways it anticipated a society obsessed by others, watching and listening to others as entertainment.” We couldn’t agree more.

The setting seems as if we’re in a space-age subway at first, street musicians with twisted accordions and various pitchy frequencies slightly flickering as voice transmissions blend with echoed synths. A definitive percussive element enters, like heavy footsteps while cosmic sound effects flare and waver. This is a multilayered affair that sounds as fresh now as it did then, almost as if I cannot remember how good it was. And Room40 has really done the listening audience a service for producing a squeaky clean mix where you can hear every last accent, bump and minute sound. Part of the thanks for this re-envisioning goes to Jim O’Rourke and Robert Hampson who also assisted in sculpting the direction of the faders on the desk.

At times this jiggles like a disarming Geiger counter, at others it’s shifting sinewaves are dialed-in radio frequencies that mute most of the actual content of broadcasts along with other spacey effects. The mood shifts from abstract ambient to all out white noise. Rimbaud referred to this effect as “a form of Sound Polaroid as I tended to call such recordings.” There are industrial sounds amid the anonymous voice cut-ups, like an enormous shredder, with police sirens in the distant background. It’s hypnotic to the point of being a hypnotic meditation – and that’s not even at the midpoint of this recording. Layers upon layers create this muddled, cerebral mix of grey area dreamscapes.

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SOMEBODY’S WATCHING ME: In the age of “access” we must consider smartphones, drones (the flying type of course), apps, the Patriot Act, geo-pointing, passwords and subsequent breaches, airport security, firewalls, etc. etc…there is Mass Observation for those who question the flow of the status quo. Open circuits, fragile textures, broken frequencies. It’s got not only audio resonance but that which pays respect to the social conundrums of living and communicating in a contemporary society, you give up so many freedoms to do so. There are quiet moments of repose here too, never full stop, more or less calculated dips in the sonic structure to allow for a breather in this ‘from all directions’ setting. The concept of being watched is one that comes off differently for every individual, some may even feel ‘safer’ in a world where all human interactivity is monitored, others still cringe, and this conceptual opus attests to that fine line. Beyond (elusive) narrative this is one of those truly activated listening experiences where the unexpected is explored in depth. A true original.

Watch for the full release this Friday.


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