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Branchage Festival 2010: Scanner On His Magic Lantern Soundtrack
Luke Turner , September 20th, 2010 09:17

We kick off our coverage of this year's Branchage Festival with a chat with Robin Rimbaud, AKA Scanner, who'll be soundtracking a magic lantern show

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A Jersey resident and eccentric who died in 2003, the late Damer Waddington was an expert on the Magic Lantern shows of the mid to late 19th Century. The Victorian equivalent of YouTube, if you will, these would travel the land, setting up in town and village to present flickering, moving images of distant, exotic lands, or creepy phantasmagoria that suited the Victorian fascination with the spirit world. At this year's Branchage Festival, some of the magic lantern shows that Waddington collected will be shown at Jersey's Merchants House. But it's not some mechanical whir that will accompany these forgotten films, but a live performance by Robin Rimbaud, AKA Scanner. We dropped Scanner a line to find out more about this this collision of the ancestor of all modern cinema and one of our of busiest electronic musicians.

Hullo Robin, can you tell us a little about how the project came about?

As often occurs it was a completely chance encounter with one of the producers of the festival picking up a flyer for a future production I was involved in and setting his creative mind in motion and inviting me to the Branchage Festival. I was already beginning exploration of a potential project using antique technology, potentially using magic lanterns and an idea of ghosts so this opportunity seemed ideal!

Are magic lanterns something that have interested you for a while?

My interests are largely forward rather than backward looking but I had been extremely interested in magic as a child and still have an extensive collection of books on conjuring and Houdini. Images of the magic lanterns could often be found on the posters at the time and the images always intrigued me.

How will you go about creating the soundtrack? Will it be entirely improvised and live, or will you prepare some pieces in advance?

I have yet to see the actual slide presentation show so at present am having to imagine the different scenarios of images that will be presented, so am preparing and tentatively composing soundtracks around ideas of the pastoral, the industrial, landscape, location. As such there will largely be an improvisatory quality to the performances and I want to ensure that each one is unique and offers something new to each audience on the day itself. I've even made arrangement of popular songs of the day.

Have you seen the magic lantern show you'll be using as inspiration?

Not a single image at time of writing, less than 10 days before the even performance. I like risk though!

What elements of the magic lantern show are you seeking to "address" in your soundtrack?

I want to mix the real and the imagined, falling somewhere between the past and the present. I'll be using both natural and artificial sounds in the soundtrack. There was apparently a wonderful sense of mystery and intrigue at the original lantern slide shows and I want to try and capture at least some of that atmosphere. A sense of nostalgia and elegy is important to this work. Ambitiously I want the event to be hauntingly beautiful, as if heard on a long lost vessel drifting aimlessly in the vastness of a brooding body of water.

To my mind there's almost a connection between the flickering of the magic lantern and the pulses of electronic sound in your music. Is this a connection you might seek to explore?

That's a very astute remark indeed! I certainly want to present a sense of unity in the work so these two worlds, the analogue and the digital, collide. I am very conscious that with digital technology we have the ability to invent and imagine a multitude of possibilities limited only by the imagination of the creator, but question whether something can be lost in this exploration, and indeed are we missing out on a sincere emotive response through the erasure of the real world? As such I want an emotive response to this work, so the flickering itself is something that constantly draws us back to the image and the pulse, ironically the pulse offering a beat in both image and sound.

How will your approach to the Magic Lantern accompaniment differ from your other soundtrack work?

Having soundtracked everything from a working morgue outside of Paris at the Raymond Poincaré hospital, a Wake-Up Light for Philips, a new phone for designer Jasper Morrison/Punkt and even a musical for children in Paris, Kirikou, I'm increasingly aware that it's almost impossible to anticipate the audience for this kind of event. Soundtracking any work brings with it many responsibilities that extend far beyond the composition itself so here I'm trying to jump back 150 years or so and bring about a Victorian world in the darkness, a travelogue of invention, taking the audience on a little metaphysical adventure outside of their usual routine.

The Magic Lantern show was an early form of communication; the television, cinema and YouTube of its age. Would you say that examining communication and the transmission of thought/ideas is something very central to your work as Scanner?

Absolutely. Music more than many other art forms is a very socially engaging creative act and as such can communicate so many aspects. Today more than ever our lives are focused on communication, digitally engaged with each other, but we lack a sense of the 'real' at times and I enjoy working on projects and around ideas that draw us into considering these issues and questions. Certainly the earliest Scanner recordings in 1992 that used intercepted mobile phone conversations of unsuspecting talkers looked at recent shifts in communication. Many of my projects are ideas based and that particular period using these 'found/stolen' voices brought into focus issues of privacy and the dichotomy between the public and the private spectrum. In many ways my works are always about mapping the city, weaving stories for the listener and viewers.

Does this mean that the Victorian equivalent of Scanner is the steam organ?

Are you suggesting I'm full of wind? Or that I wish to share my mighty hot organ with the public? Perhaps more the electric telegraph which immediately erased the idea of geography and the world began to shrink in this way.

We hear talk of Victorian regalia and a Mrs Waddington at the soundtrack event. Are you donning britches, boots and waistcoat for the event?

That sounds like an ideal outfit for a trendy Shoreditch evening out, but no, sorry to disappoint, but I shall be suitably smartly dressed but modestly and for modern times.

And looking at the programme for the Festival, what else are you most looking forward to?

There's a host of activities that appeal to my sensibility on at the festival - it will be worth checking out Zombie Zombie's live soundtrack to Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, catch up with Godard's essential classic Breathless and a host of new films such as Skeletons and London River. I only wish I were staying longer to experience it all!

The Branchage International Film Festival takes place in Jersey this weekend. For a full programme and information, please visit the Branchage website.

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