Posts Tagged ‘AlbumReview’

Room40 – 5th October 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Mass Observation by Scanner – the vehicle of the prodigiously prolific Robin Rimbaud – surfaced in 1994 as an EP. It was (in)famously sampled without credit by Björk on ‘Possibly Maybe’, resulting in a lawsuit that led to copies of Post being withdrawn and a sample-free rerelease. Sidestepping the issue of originality and ownership – specifically the notion that lifting from a sound-collage – the controversy provided Scanner with an unexpected level of coverage and arguably brought underground avant-garde experimentalism to a new audience.

Not that any of this really made any impact on Scanner’s trajectory, in terms of musical direction or career, and Rimbaud’s text which accompanies this expanded release is objective in its assessment of its form and formulation: ‘Dehumanised communications, beatless, radio signals drawn in live to tape, and accompanied by dial tone pulses and abstract textures, Mass Observation is a highly suggestive picture of a particular place in a city at a very specific time. A form of Sound Polaroid as I tended to call such recordings.’

Words seem inadequate for describing the temporal dislocation and unsettling atmospherics woven throughout the recording – an entirely different mix from the original, as Rimbaud explains: ‘Two mixes were captured directly onto DAT tape. One of which would be officially released as Ash 1.7 Mass Observation, an EP that featured a 25 min version of one of these sessions, but until today the second longer expansive mix has never been heard. Each quite different from the other.’ Presented here as a single track with a duration of 54:29, it’s a dark, disturbing sonic journey that has no obvious sense of direction.

I’ve no interest in laboriously and meticulously comparing the different versions: Mass Observation is very much a work that invites immersion in its atmosphere, and is about the overall effect rather than the minutia of detail – which in some respects is ironic, given that the overall effect is the result of the compilation of near-infinite details, overlaid and juxtaposed, recontextualised and realigned.

This versions, however, isn’t entirely beatless: a thudding trudge fades in after a couple of minutes and hammers out a dolorous funeral march while electrical currents eddy around in the ether, at times almost hesitant, pausing as the vaporous swirls twist and drift. But when it fades, it fades and is gone, washed a way in a drift of shifting found sound. Sharding scrapes of metallic treble sheer the senses with sharp, blade-like edges and simmering drones interweave hypnotically.

Ominous rumbles and snippets of dialogue, distant, reduced to a barely audible mutter-line and occasionally rent with blasts of distortion and static from the fabric of Mass Observation. Cut through the mutter line to reveal… more muttering. Silent eyes behind screens… 24/7 CCTV and phone taps. At times, all the voices, all at once, echo across one another. They slow and blur. The snippets of conversation are mundane, humdrum, banal – but this in itself adds to the effect. This is the everyday, captured, and if anything, it resonates more now than it would have almost a quarter of a century ago. Now, surveillance has reached totality, and there is no escape.

The effect of listening to the disembodied echoes and whirring electronics of Mass Observation is disorientating, and the whole album is a paranoia-inducing, disturbing wreck of sound – not because it’s uncanny, unfamiliar, strange, but because it’s so real.

AA

 

Scanner – Mass Observation