Robin Rimbaud stands enveloped in shadow alongside a spare wooden table topped with a CD player and a juice bottle. It’s the evening of Aug. 3, and the small man is getting ready to unleash some big sounds into the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s north atrium. Rimbaud, stage name “Scanner,” takes his alias from the machine he uses to tap and record conversations from cellular phones, police radioseven hearing aids.
Rimbaud presses Play. “Heidi, don’t lie to me, Heidi,” whispers a desperate male voice. Ambient beats sway below the voice. Hands clasped behind him, Rimbaud stares reverently at the black box, listening to sounds he siphoned from the airwaves a couple of years back. The audience of over 350 young art and music aficionados cranes toward speakers dotting the room.
“I’m like a vacuum cleaner of sound,” Rimbaud says. His
pronouncement echoes against violet-lit columns in the dim
Next year, Rimbaud will point his aural Hoover at all of Washington. Commissioned by Washington Project for the ArtsCorcoran Director Marta Kuzma, Rimbaud will inaugurate the organization’s Projekts seriesa collaboration between out-of-town and local artists to stage recordings, performances, or events that, according to Kuzma, will “take apart aspects of the city and its monuments.” Rimbaud recently completed a project in London that swiped tourist noises at spots like Big Ben for an aural-art-piece-cum-tour. He will do something similarly site-specific in D.C.
In preparation for that project, Rimbaud spent much of last week researching the District. He powwowed with a raft of local sound and visual artists. He took the Metro. He even took a Trolley Tour.
“It was so amusing to experience…#a tour…in the most sanitized manner,” Rimbaud said of the trolley trip. The tour “never once broach[ed] into areas of less repute.”
Arlington-based sound artist Richard Chartier, who took Rimbaud to places like the Hirshhorn Museum and Now! Music and Fashion, set the Brit straight. Chartier gave Rimbaud an earful about the real Washington’60s white flight, riot-ravaged streetsleft out by the trolley tour. “I told him it was a very strange city,” says Chartier.
Despite his better instincts, Scanner really got into the tourist thing. At the National Air and Space Museum, he had a dog tag made to identify himself during his Corcoran performance. The tag read: “Scanner: minimalist anti-hero.” But on Thursday night, Rimbaud’s neck appeared bare. Says Rimbaud, “[I] felt too embarrassed to wear it.” Jessica Dawson