Although not a name well known outside music nerd circles, Amon Tobin has recently lit the interwebs aflame with a Coachella performance these past two weekends. It was, by all accounts, a cinematic tour de force. We were among those that were there, and were properly dazzled. The Brazilian born, London-raised, Redwood Forest-dwelling electronic music maverick has always been two steps ahead of his sonic contemporaries. But with his latest album, ISAM, and its accompanying live show, Amon Tobin looks to elevate the art of production — and live concert presentation — to the Next Level. Read Part 1 of the LIAS Exclusive Interview with Amon Tobin HERE.
Photography by Steven Taylor.
Amon Adonai Santos de Araújo Tobin was born in February of 1972 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the son of an English teacher father and artist mother. They moved around a bunch in the early years, returned to Rio when he was three and essentially stayed there until he was 10, then pulled up stakes to move to London. Which is important, because for someone who’s continually referred to as a “Brazilian” producer, the truth of the matter is that Tobin was much more culturally influenced by his time growing up in the UK where he first heard the cultural bombshell that was hip hop, and its beatsmiths like Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad, Erik B & Rakim, Prince Paul and Big Daddy Kane.
While studying photography in college Tobin answered an ad asking for demos, and soon his first drum & bass singles were being released by Ninebar Records. His talent was evident, and it wasn’t long before he was snatched up by the highly respected Ninja Tune Records, home of top-tier underground talent like Cold Cut, Kid Koala, Mr Scruff and Herbaliser. Initially Tobin’s style was built purely on pre-found samples which he’d lift from old jazz records or online banks. But what always set him apart was the complexity with which he layered the samples together, finding ways to link sounds and beats with the deft and blind touch a spider applies to his web.
Through a series of six albums this intricacy increased, until 2007’s aptly named Foley Room, when Tobin eschewed the bottomless banks of pre-recorded samples available online in order to record his own sounds to sample and tweak — and in usual Tobin extremism, opted to record some truly bizarre sounds. Lions growling in a safari habitat, a CD manufacturing plant, various engines and children’s toys, a 50-ft revolving satellite dish, ants fighting different species of ants, a wasp nest he detached off his roof and brought into the studio, cats eating hunted rats, neighbors singing in the bath… all these were the paints in his musical palate.
And while Foley Room was a personal breakthrough for Tobin, it is his recently released ISAM that has really taken music production — and presentation — to the next level.
Listen to a sampler (mixed by King Cannibal) of ISAM below, and hit the Jump to continue reading “The Next Level: LIAS Exclusive Interview with Amon Tobin vol 2″…
“The way I look at technology is it lets me do the things that keep the spark alive in me, that’s what I get excited about…”
“The way I look at technology is it lets me do the things that keep the sort of spark alive in me, of this sort of unknown, that’s what I get excited about. If I wanted to make another record like Foley Room it would be really easy, but each time I’m trying to learn and grow and try things that I don’t know,” explains Tobin, pulling another American Spirit from its turquoise pack and lighting up. The latest branch a musical family tree that began with pioneers like avant-garde proto-electronic producer Pierre Schaeffer — inventor of the musique concrète school of crafting acousmatic music with “real” sounds like breaking glass and water drops — and continued on through luminaries like John Cage, Amon Tobin is a man obsessed with sound. And it is technology that has allowed Tobin to evolve, ever growing his ability to play with sounds, progressing from simple sampling to manipulating samples in ways that were simply not possible 5 years ago.
As Foley Room was a landmark in proprietary sampling, ISAM is a watershed moment in sound manipulation.
What has changed is the ability to morph sound. It begins with Tobin analyzing each sound, digitizing it from a wave form into a spectral representation of 0s and 1s. Then you can combine these representations, fusing a standup bass with the pluck of a harp, then lending it the sonic character of a rolling coin, resulting in synthetic modeled sounds that behave like acoustic instruments. “Making a playable synthetic instrument out of an acoustic sound was a breakthrough, and makes for a very strange combination; even if you’re not into any of this stuff and you’re just hearing the record, you’re gonna be listening to it thinking, ‘Well what fucking instrument is that, really?’ Because it’s obviously not a real instrument, but it doesn’t sound entirely synthetic either. And I love that kind of weird relationship you force people to have with the music, where they just cannot identify everything in the music – or almost nothing, in some ways. You can see why I don’t get out much!”
The resulting album, ISAM, is next level Amon Tobin. And as much as it was a sonic breakthrough, he knew that its live presentation could be no less spectacular.
Click HERE to continue reading the third and final installment of our 3-part feature The Next Level: LIAS Interview with Amon Tobin…