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Wednesday, June 09, 2004 

Wednesday's Emotional Setup: Red Stone Sun

Scannerfunk only put out one album. Well, more accurately, Robin Rimbaud (aka Scanner) only used the moniker Scannerfunk for one album, Wave Of Light By Wave Of Light. But it was brilliant - thick, rich techno that balanced perfectly evolution and repetition and only had a few vestiges of his stolen cell-phone conversation past. I recently dug it back out again, and it's just as good if not better than I remember. For whatever reason it's always seemed like more of summer album to me, and I've always had trouble really getting into it when it's cold.

Of course, given that I hate summer these days (I loathe the heat and the humidity), that doesn't say much for the album, but it's great, trust me.

"Red Stone Sun" is a highlight; not quite up there with "Spinique" for headspinning whirl, but very similar in impact up to a point. The dry, busy percussion track that underpins "Red Stone Sun" is similar although slower to the one that drives "Spinique", and is in fact identical to the one used in "Ice That Abandons Me". And yet, I don't care - and this is something that would normally drive me nuts. That's how good the album is. "Red Stone Sun" definitely feels different than either other track, and that has more to do with Rimbaud's skills for arrangement and construction than anything else - I'm pretty sure he could have used the same beat all album and still made a good one.

"Red Stone Sun" opens with a watery, quasi-dub piano(?) bit before the treated/artificial drum loop comes in, while behind it all some woman mutters the words "shiny, shiny". She recurs a couple of times during the track, as does some guy muttering something illegible. Scannerfunk may no longer use the famous scanner, but Rimbaud still excels at dropping in bits of speech (see, from the album, especially "I Am Calm" and "Automatic"). But it's what happens next that really makes the song.

First a low drone putters around the edges of that occasionally stuttering beat, and then at 1:23 the strings come in. They sound off in the distance, the kind of oceanic, mournful mass strings that always sound to me like dark shapes gliding through space, sad but somehow hopeful. Trying to describe them is making me think seriously about trying out this audioblogging thing, so you could just hear them - it'd be far more effective.

In any case, the beat and the dubbed out gurgle in the background keep going as the strings ever so slowly get slightly more prominent until they finally are the focus of the track. Like the beat they don't really change, just flow effortlessly into a looped sequence. If you wanted to pick "Red Stone Sun" apart there wouldn't be much there, just a few repeated parts that are added in and faded out with skill (by 4:15 you suddenly realise that the beat is gone, the piano barely there).

By the song's beatless ending at 5:28, the strings have finally progressed fully into hope and have then slid to a graceful halt, leaving the same watery sound to end the track. As I said, if you pick it apart there's ostensibly not much there - but if you pick it apart, you're missing the point. It's more than the sum of it's parts, as is all of Wave Of Light By Wave Of Light. There's a line from an old NME review of Death In Vegas that often occurs to me when thinking about instrumental songs:

or 'Neptune City''s deceptively sprightly brass-parping finale, a song that says, shakily, as only instrumentals can, "Well we got there in the end, didn't we? And wasn't it bloody marvellous?"

I know what they're talking about, both in terms of "Neptune City" and other songs. "Red Stone Sun" is a bit more sombre than that, but it does get there in the end, and it is bloody marvelous.


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Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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