Amon Tobin is a surprisingly Zen dude, especially when you consider that his new record, ISAM, and accompanying tour are anything but. In his soft-spoken monotone, the 39-year-old Brazilian producer, reached by phone in Northern Cali, contemplates his latest LP for Ninja Tune Records and its stunning stage show. I 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. 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 “We go to great lengths as electronic musicians to be able to control 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 Because ISAM is so studio-intensive, Tobin commissioned a Tetris-like, asymmetrical structure built of white screens centered around a cockpit (he’ll perform from inside) that makes for an incredible stage show.
The visuals “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, it gave us a linear feel to it.”
Translation Local design studio Leviathan helped Tobin realize his vision for projected video on the white screens, creating an elaborate world of intergalactic landscapes and mechanical ships straight from Robotech blasting through the cosmos.
The integration of sound and visuals “The music is all stripped out into layers, and each layer is controlling a different element of the visual [on the screens]. As I affect the music in various instances, each layer comes into its own visually 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 the song. Furthering his vision of a larger-than-life concert experience, Tobin eventually appears as a digitized version of himself, like a 21st-century Wizard of Oz.
Amon Tobin: ISAM Live • Congress Theater, 2135 N Milwaukee Ave (773-486-6672, ticketfly.com) • Oct 21; $20