[SOUND AND VISION] If you ever want to hear the sound of grown men and women reduced to the giggly wonder of 10-year-olds, cue up some YouTube videos of Amon Tobin's current live show.
The 40-year-old Brazilian electronic musician has been on the road for the better part of a year in support of his latest album, ISAM. And rather than stick himself "in front of a wall of LEDs or having some ginormous production behind me showing everyone what a big star I am," Tobin says via phone, he thought he'd try something new. "Something that's a genuine narrative, both visual and musical. Almost like a visual soundtrack to an audio score."
To do that, he and a team of audio engineers, computer animators and set designers concocted an immersive 3-D experience that doesn't require clunky glasses to enjoy. Tobin and his beat machines and noisemakers are ensconced within a 25-foot-tall, 14-foot-long structure upon which is projected a precisely coordinated series of images, colors and visuals—everything from swirling psychedelic patterns to churning steampunk gears and pipes—that correspond to each track in his hour-plus set.
The result is an immersive multimedia experience, and the perfect complement to an album that, though it was released more than 12 months ago, still carries a great deal of enveloping and overwhelming power.
ISAM was a step away from what was expected from the already beloved producer. Or as Tobin bluntly wrote on the Web after the album's online release: âAnyone looking for jazzy breaks should look elsewhere at this point.â
ISAM moved away from the funky drummer beats and bouncing intrusions by MCs in place of a grander, more synthetic approach. Or, as Tobin puts it, "a contrast between advanced futuristic sound and clunky dust-covered mechanisms.â
So, a track like "Goto 10" will balloon out with huge bass notes and frizzy overtones while being pricked from underneath with distorted guitar stabs and cheeky vocal samples. "Kitty Cat" features a campfirelike singalong and a 2/4 shuffle tumbling with the sound of flying cars hovering over the scene.
The only potential downside to this type of live show is, Tobin can't deviate from the set list, nor can he improvise on his material. The only time he can change things, he says, is "if something goes wrong." But that's exactly what he was looking for from the start of this project.
"It's been a choice to do something structured," he says. "That's how I approach DJ sets anyway: working on something for years that will only be half an hour long. I very much like that approach, as opposed to jamming.â
That said, though, with this huge stage show and the structured audio-visual overload it provides, does Tobin need to be there at all? Couldn't he have someone push "play" on his behalf while he stays cozy in his adopted hometown of Montreal?
Not so, Tobin says.
"The whole point is to integrate myself into a visual presentation of the music," he says. "I'm very much in the place. I just don't feel like I need to be the focus."