Robin Rimbaud, aka Scanner — sometimes he is William Orbit, and sometimes he is Brian Eno. Other times still, he can be Bruce Gilbert, making mysterious noises that occasionally take on musical properties. When he straps on a guitar, it can be another genre altogether. For The Great Crater, Rimbaud has taken the most minimal route to create some of the most compelling electronic music of his bountiful career. The results are as stunning as they are frightening. When you consider the source of the music’s inspiration, its eerie quality is easily magnified.
Three years ago, scientists flying over Antarctica spotted a large, circular anomaly that they took to be a meteorite crash site. When they started digging within the area, they found instead an underground “hot spot” full or lakes and melting ice. As you might have already guessed, this isn’t cheerful news. Polar icecaps are supposed to stay cold. When large scale melting such as this is underway, you’re not going to feel like humming “I’m A Believer” through your kazoo. Any sense of optimism you’ll manage to summon for yourself will inevitably come with a side of despair, or vice versa. Rimbaud understands this, obviously, and has sculpted his latest slab of music accordingly under the supervision of — wait for it — Glacial Movements Records. Who says we can’t experience a little aural beauty while we’re all drowning?
“The album explores an immersive, fragile and moving exploration of themes inspired by this simple tale,” goes The Great Crater‘s press release. What does that mean, exactly? It means you would be doing yourself a great disservice by not listening to this album through headphones, or secondly, through a beefy sound system. Laptop or monitor speakers do not cut it for this release. The sounds are too detailed and immersive for such weak means of projection. If you want to step down into this crater, you’ll need to hear all the frequencies that come with it. It’s alright if you choose to listen to The Great Crater in background fashion. It’ll remain a good album as such. But if you put a little more effort into the listening, it’ll become a great album.
“Cast to the Bottom” starts off The Great Crater with an echoey whisper, and the album’s overall dynamics rarely rise above these hushed tones. The one exception is “The Scar”, the album’s longest song at nearly a ten minute length. This is where the music starts to lean over to the sinister side of electronic ambient music. Somewhere around the halfway point Rimbaud introduces a sawing synth effect not unlike the Jaws theme. With approximately 90 seconds to go, large sheets of choral noise continually get in your way, adding to the imposing, cavernous sound. The surrounding tracks do everything from ambient sequencing (“Forming Circuits”) to shapeless soundscaping (“Deep Water Channel”). There is a moment of sunshine before the plunge on “Exposure, Collapse”, recalling Music for Airports, though “Katabatic Wind” throws a bleak blanket over the mood eventually .
If you’re wondering what scientists are going to do about this Arctic hot spot, know that you’re not alone in your uncertainty. The Great Crater concludes with “Moving Forwards”, a conclusion one wouldn’t exactly call negative but also seems unable to offer up a clear path to an improved future. Scanner/Robin Rimbaud is is more than 25 years into his career and is still discovering ways to maximize the effects of minimal electronic music. If humanity and the weather can get their act back together in tandem, this ambient music milestone could become less grim with each subsequent revisit.