Scanner / Zombie Zombie / Roy Book Binder – various venues, Jersey

It’s been two weeks since I posted but I’ve not been totally idle. I returned yesterday from a week in Jersey – a welcome break from distinctly autumnal Glasgow.

My visit coincided with the third annual Branchage Film Festival, a three day bash that encompasses not only cinema but also other visual and sound media events. On Saturday, Robin Rimbaud aka Scanner played three short afternoon shows accompanying Magic Lantern slides of the island, mainly dating from the late Victorian and Edwardian era. These slides are 10x10cm photographic plates printed on glass and often hand-tinted. Rather having their showing accompanied by a commentary, Scanner provided a mainly ambient soundtrack. The result was a bit like seeing your great grandparents’ holiday snaps whilst listening to some cool electronica on the stereo – ie not really in synch, but interesting all the same. With an audience that was definitely not a collection of Wire readers and electronica geeks, Rimbaud shied away from his more esoteric and experimental ouevre (no intercepted phone calls here) but still managed to do something that was far more interesting than bland background tinkling without doing anything to frighten the horses.

The festival closer was a screening of Sergei Eisenstein’s classic Soviet agitprop piece Battleship Potemkin shown on the back of a tug in the harbour and accompanied by a live soundtrack by Paris’s Zombie Zombie duo (best known for their interpretations of John Carpenter’s fim music). The idea of showing a film about a ship on the back of a boat was genius in its simplicity and it worked really well, with maybe a couple of hundred souls gathered around the harbour’s edge to watch. Like The Man With a Movie Camera and Metropolis, Potemkin is one of a handful of classic silents that seems to have a real pull for musicians. The Pet Shop Boys did a fairly spectacular rendition a few years back. That was more like Socialist Realism meets disco. Zombie Zombie opted for a much more organic and subtle accompaniment that encompassed acoustic, electronic and musique concrète elements. They were especially good with the climactic final reel when the tension ratchets up as the battleship under its crew of mutinous revolutionaries encounters the Imperial Navy.

Roy Book Binder is a veteran blues guitarist and singer who continues to fly the flag for the pre-electric country bluesmen. Although he’s hardly a household name, his CV is mightily impressive. He was among the second wave of singer/guitarists who arrived in Greenwich Village after the initial brouhaha had died down and the likes of Dylan had moved on, but where Dave Van Ronk and others continued the tradition of old time American folk and blues. He played extensively with legends such as the Rev. Gary Davis and Pink Anderson, and continues to this day as a proselytizer for the music of folk such as Blind Blake, Mississippi John Hurt and many others of that era, some of whom are largely forgotten now. His show in an old church hall in St Helier was an informal affair of songs and stories both fascinating and funny, with a mix of original tunes in the old style and dusty classics both familiar and forgotten. His singing is functional and his playing a little rough round the edges, but this was a hugely entertaining portal into a forgotten world. He made the telling comment that him and guys like John Hammond Jr and Jorma Kaukonen are older now than most of the grizzled old country-blues veterans were when they were rediscovered in the sixties. It was a privilege and a pleasure to see this link to a long lost world.

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Song of the day: SCANNER – Passage de Recherche (1999)

Robin Rimbaud aka Scanner is one of those artists who has a confusing discography with a whole host of full length albums, mini albums, eps, CDRs, live recordings etc etc appearing on a bewildering number of labels, sometimes in very limited editions. The Lauwarm Instrumentals was the second release on the short-lived Beggars Banquet experimental offshoot Sulphur (known as Sulfur in the US). It’s one of my favourite Scanner discs – six tracks of varied instrumental electronica. It’s probably one of Rimbaud’s most accessible collections too. The phone scanner samples are less prominent than on some of his earlier works, and are more chopped up. “Ground Veil” uses samples of automated elevator voices and London Underground announcements to produce something oddly unsettling and inhuman. “Lithia Water” is cinematic drum and bass and “Sonnenlicht” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Bola CD.

Pick of the litter for me, though, is “Passage de Recherche”. The tune is based around a simple, looped, vaguely orchestral swell that resembles a steady inhalation and exhalation of breath. It fades in after around a minute of fairly abstract noise, and provides the backbone of the track whilst various short conversation samples and abstract noises drift in and out. Its relentless repetition is both calming and disturbing – the scraps of monologue/dialogue registering like half remembered dreams and repressed memories. It plays for seven and a half minutes, but has an odd way of sometimes seeming extremely long and others frustratingly brief depending on how it catches you. The Lauwarm Instrumentals is a good place to get into Scanner if you’re not too familiar with his music. There’s a hell of a  lot of other stuff out there to explore if you get hooked.