From the traditional vinyl samplings of his debut album, Adventures In Foam, to the manipulated field recordings of Foley Room, Brazilian-born producer Amon Tobin has consistently been fascinated by the re-appropriation of sound. Like Foley Room, his seventh and most recent album, ISAM, sees Tobin crafting a cornucopia of sampled ‘found sounds’ into a sonic maelstrom – except this time, he went looking for curious sounds closer to home.
“When you’re synthesising sound, you only need a grain of something,” he explains, “so I was just at home, banging plates on fireplaces, and creaking my chair. There were no extravagant trips to record wolves or tigers.”
Nevertheless, there’s an untamed element to be found in ISAM – an interstellar abandonment that reflects the title of Tobin’s accompanying audiovisual show, ‘Beyond 3D’. Selling out tours across North America and Europe over the last 12 months, ISAM Live: Beyond 3D fuses the music of the album with a morphing visual display projected onto a massive cubist screen-installation.
“If you’re doing something that doesn’t have any musicians, you do have to think about how you’re going to present it to people, and that’s what the challenge was with this show,” Tobin says. “[ISAM was] a record that a lot of people had issues with getting their heads around; [I wanted to] present it in a way that made sense, without compromising the music.”
Besides incorporating the album’s nature-collage design work by Birmingham artist Tessa Farmer (think dead insects, decomposing foliage, animals and bones), ISAM Live is the product of some of the most ingenious minds in the field of visual design, including Vello Virkhaus – VJ, producer, and director of V Squared Labs. For Virkhaus, one of the most exciting things about the ISAM Live show is that it’s four-dimensional.
“4D in mathematics is a very abstract concept in which this additional dimension is indistinguishable, yet acknowledged,” Virkhaus explains. “What is fascinating is that [with this live show] we give viewers an idea of what it might be like to see beyond 3D space, to see all points simultaneously for both the exterior and the virtual interior of the set.”
ISAM Live: Beyond 3D premiered at Montreal’s MUTEK festival last June, to great reception: “The combination of this mapped effect and Amon’s music produced some very intense emotional reactions from people after [that] performance,” Virkhaus says.
The video of that performance opens with a visual of shattered glass projected onto a massive cube sculpture, at the centre of which is Tobin, the conductor within his own creation. This gives way to plumes of blue smoke, punched into the air while Journeyman, the first track from ISAM, blasts over the speakers. Shots of the crowd give witness to the overwhelming audiovisual sensation, with one crowd member saying, “It’s like feeling small, and the music overpowering you.”
Despite all the accolades and assertions that he has “revolutionised the live music experience,” Tobin insists that ISAM “is just an album, first and foremost. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel… I’m just always finding new things, exploring them as much as possible, and feeling completely out of my depth doing so. That’s what I love about making music – and maybe that’s what keeps me awake.”
BY DIGBY WOODS
Amon Tobin plays the Palace Theatre on Tuesday June 5.