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…
Above photograph by Steven Taylor.
“Any claims I’ve made about controlling nature are obviously exaggerated,” sighs Amon Tobin, fidgeting with the large espresso machine dominating his corner counter. He motions outside his airy kitchen window, where the onslaught of forest vegetation is barely being kept at bay by the stonewall defining his patio. “I try to keep up with the yard, but it’s 20 acres so it’s very hard to stay on top of it.”
Controlling nature isn’t just a claim, but rather the title to a recent joint collaborative art project linking Tobin’s latest album, ISAM, with the work of highly lauded Saatchi Collection artist Tessa Farmer. Their Control Over Nature installation, which exhibited at London’s Crypt Gallery and Paris’ L’Espace Art Roch last year, centered on the mechanization, or synthesizing, of natural elements. In Farmer’s case those elements are insect husks, shards of bone, roots, dried leaves and decayed animal skins re-assembled to create diabolical creatures brought forth from her aphotic imagination into the warm light of a gallery space. In Tobin’s case those elements are acoustic sounds — the strum of a guitar, a chandelier hit with a pen, the clanging of a bottle factory — that are first digitally synthesized and then re-purposed, drugged, operated on, stretched, warped and mutated. They become almost an abomination of sound, which are then pristinely sequenced and layered over each other until they become a prism of delicate beauty — or at their most dense and chaotic, downright terrifying. If you close your eyes while listening to an ISAM track you can envision the army of Farmer’s fantastical creatures leaping gymnastically in organized chaos to the various ping-ponging beats. At times it’s not “music” so much as sonic creation, a bubbling cauldron of carefully placed sine waves and oscillations.
But more on that later.
Tobin’s name may not be as recognizable as some electronic music DJs who collect 6-figure booking fees and headline festivals (although he played grandmaster at the Gobi Tent in last week’s Coachella Festival), but he’s surely one of those DJ’s favorite artists. Gushed over by every producer from Deadmau5 to Diplo to Richie Hawtin, his work is simply cinematic — one of the most common adjectives applied to his oeuvre. He was tapped to create the entire soundtrack to the Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory video game, one of the highest selling franchises of all time. The legendary director Wim Wenders used his music in the film Pina, saying it had “great energy, rhythm, feeling… even after months and months of listening to it every day in the editing room I did never grew tired of it. On the contrary, it kept growing on me.” The highly influential and terminally indie music portal Pitchfork compared his sampling tapestry to Miles Davis, and gave his 1999 album Bricolage a very rare 10/10 rating while calling it “one of the most inventive records of the decade.” And currently he’s working on a remix of a Philip Glass composition for a Glass remix album curated by Beck. Tobin is the quintessential Producer’s Producer and has, for better or worse, remained relatively obscure to the mainstream.
A quick shot of Tobin’s live show below. Hit the Jump to continue reading “The Next Level: LIAS Interview with Amon Tobin vol 1″…
“If you don’t hear from me in a good while, it’s cause I’ve been crushed. That’ll be the culprit…”
But that’s how he prefers it, as he’s always flourished on the fringes — of sonic exploration, artistic expression, commercial success, professional acknowledgment. Hell, even geographical fringes, as his expansive cabin compound tucked away in a knoll of the Redwood Forest above San Francisco underscores. It’s not shabby in any way but well lived in, rough around the edges; the secluded laboratory of a half genius/half hermit. There are several structures in the compound, including a greenhouse, his wife’s art den, a lookout tower and of course his state-of-the-art studio. It’s paradoxical in a way that here under the canopy of looming wildgrowth evergreens is where Amon plots to control nature. He’s got his work cut out for him.
“You know, to some extent it’s kind of humbling living in a place like this, because you’re such a speck on the horizon, and if anything that probably keeps me in check. Every now and again I’ll be involved in my little computer world and I’ll hear some enormous crash and some great big fucking tree has just missed my studio by a few feet! Right now there’s a branch the size of this terrace that came down and crushed a structure in the front of the house. So to some extent it’s probably a healthy thing to not be the lord of your domain, and to feel that these trees have been here longer than I.”
We’ve grabbed our espressos and have now moved into his back patio, sitting at a long wooden table with a warm mid-summer breeze playing with the leaves around us. The birds tweet melodically in the sugar pines over our heads. “This one bothers me,” he says, suspiciously eyeing a gigantic coniferous tree less than 30 feet from his precious studio. “It’s got a lean on it, and there’s some heavy winds in the winter. I’ve investigated some dodgy looking branches — if you don’t hear from me in a good while, it’s cause I’ve been crushed. That’ll be the culprit.
“But I don’t know man, I’ve never felt a close link between my geographical location and the things that I do. I always felt that what I’m doing is based on imagination and based on an internalized world, and I feel like I could be anywhere doing the things that I’m interested in. Maybe it’s because I traveled a lot, and I never felt this close cultural connection with any one place. There’s a bad side to that too, but the good side is that I’m liberated; I’m not stuck making music that my neighborhood makes.”
Click HERE to continue reading the second installment of our 3-part feature The Next Level: LIAS Exclusive Interview with Amon Tobin…