Interview | Amon Tobin + mp3


We Have Liftoff

Amon Tobin explores outer space with stunning live show

Interview by Joshua P. Ferguson

Originally published in Time Out Chicago magazine | 08.31.11


Amon Tobin is a surprisingly Zen dude. When I reach the 39-year-old Brazilian producer on the phone from Northern Cali, he’s so chill it’s disarming. This is especially true when you consider that his new record, ISAM, and accompanying tour are anything but. In his soft-spoken monotone, he contemplates the new LP and stunning stage show. I attempt to translate. 

The music: “I got very interested in synthesizing field recordings, trying to take [ISAM] more into a hybrid between synthesized music and recorded sound. That was the whole impetus behind this record, was to see if I could marry the two with the idea of sound design as not just an effect or something that was just on the peripheral of a piece of music but something that was very much part of it. As an artist, you don’t take credit for the raw materials, it’s just the way you build it and reposition it and form it into something that’s of your own mind. I’m just trying to make a synthetic version of the world that I can manipulate more freely.” 
Translation: Tobin took found-sound field recordings of nature and turned them into playable instruments through studio trickery. The result is a barrage of sonic distortion, sci-fi outbursts and space-age breaks. 

The show: “[ISAM] can’t be played by real instruments, that’s sort of the point, so to go into a band situation would be a real step backwards for this record. This was a way to try and make a show that was still engaging and interesting but also be true to the music and be unapologetic about electronic music, for what it is. Fundamentally it was about trying to make a compelling performance for electronic music, which is a real challenge. We go to great lengths as electronic musicians to be able to control many, many aspects of a sound through a very small movement. That’s great for the studio, but rubbish on stage. So coming at this from accepting that, I was integrated into something much larger than myself.” 
Translation: Since ISAM is so studio-heavy, Tobin commissioned a Tetris-like asymmetrical structure built of white screens centered around a cockpit (he'll perform inside). A visual storyline is projected onto it, immersing in a full 3D experience. 

The visuals: “One thing I always see in these visual shows is that, as spectacular as these visuals might be, it’s like, here’s another song and here’s a pretty image, here’s another song and here’s another image and they’re kind of related but not really. I had this mad idea one night that I wanted it to be a kind of story, like a narrative. This thing would be a spaceship basically and I would be piloting it. The beginning of the show reveals the ship and reveals me inside it over some time. Then the ship takes off and it goes into space and gets hit by a meteorite. Even though it’s not a great story or anything, but it gave us a linear feel to it.” 
Translation: Chicago-based design studio Leviathan helped Tobin realize his vision for projected video onto the screens, creating an elaborate world of intergalactic landscapes and mechanical ships straight from Robotech blasting through the cosmos. 

The cockpit: “The music is all stripped out into layers and each layer is controlling a different element of the visual. As I affect the music in various instances, each layer comes into its own visually as well. There are other little tricks that we’re doing inside the cockpit as well.I don’t want to give away everything...” 
Translation: Set in time to the beat, Tobin’s visual onslaught unfolds on the screens with each new element of song. As part of his larger-than-life goal, Tobin even appears as a digitized version of himself like a 21st century version of the Wizard of Oz. 

Amon Tobin: ISAM live is at Chicago's Congress Theater, 2135 N Milwaukee Ave Friday 10.21—Tomorrow!

Download: Amon Tobin "Surge" (Two Fingers remix) |  320 mp3


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