Not only is the music of drum n bass/sampling pioneer, Amon Tobin, some of the first to make me embrace more contemporary electronic music after being completely turned away by the sounds and social scene associated with the house and techno music of the 1990s, but after seeing him live for the first time, it was also an incredibly eye opening experience that made me realize that electronic music in a concert environment didn’t have to be produced by Kratwerk to remain interesting. At the time, Tobin was working with a simple DJ setup and I believe that his arm may have even been in a cast or sling. Still, every single sound that he tweaked seemed to be layered, multi-leveled, with a weight of their own, buffered by static or leaking steam. From there, he would work them through every possible interpretation until he was finished and ready to send his next group of beats and sounds through the same rigorous process, as he constructed a completely new soundscape. In a completely sober state, I was experiencing some minor synesthesia and actually seeing some pretty wacky shit. It both tripped me out and made me a believer for life.
Since then he has continued to push his work forward, never content with repeating himself. As time has passed, his pre-recorded samples have slowly disappeared. While even the samples that he would mine from sources such as old jazz records would be heavily manipulated from the beginning, the Brazillian-born Tobin migrated first towards field recordings and then, more recently, to sampling anything and everything in his immediate environment, only to run them through cutting edge processors and equipment, rendering them virtually indistinguishable. For his 2011 release, ISAM, he even modulated his own voice into that of two separate female vocalists. The whole process and result are equally impressive, because Amon never does anything strictly for the experimental gimmick factor, he consistently delivers a final product that is, remarkably enough, as mindbending as the techniques that he employs. [To read our detailed review of the ISAM album and the production behind it, please click here]
Meticulous as he is, Tobin isn’t simply satisfied with a successful experiment or even with an incredible album, instead he chose to implement it into a head-spinning and reality defying live show, as well. As someone who doesn’t need a lot of bells and whistle to enhance the brilliant work that he already crafts and someone who viciously embraces their connection with the audience, for the brilliant sound designer to incorporate a highly technical and visual live show, it had to be something that no one had done before and it had to be something that was beyond visceral and would legitimately complement and rival the music that he was performing, rather than overshadow or be overwhelmed by the ingenious soundscapes that he is able to produce. What they came away with for the ISAM live tour, incorporated digital projection mapping and live triggered visuals, but the overall result was virtually indescribable. I saw its first run at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle during the 2011 Decibel fest and it was amazing, but the term “amazing” doesn’t do it justice. Those who saw it already know that. The following year it returned and, although I was beyond content to simply check it out out again before it was put to rest, indefinitely, so that Tobin could move on to new horizons, he opted to take that already massive set and expand it, while making the visuals even more insane.
Here are the technical details that were provided in conjunction with the 2012 promotion of the ISAM 2.0 Tour:
For the first time in Amon Tobin’s career, he’s now able to perform a show based around the concept of an album and deliver a truly unique visual experience to go along with his renowned audio experiences. Tobin has officially stepped away from previous DJ centric performances, and is now bringing a large scale live audio/visual experience of his latest album ISAM to select cities around the world. The highly-buzzed about, highly ambitious and breathtaking “ISAM” live show is now gearing up for it’s US debut. A truly visual onslaught – abstract narrative, subtle and bombastic – using projection mapping, generative/audio reactive real time and pre-rendered elements combined with custom software to control the show. The visual elements have been synched to ISAM to make a large scale next level HD experience. The show features a stunning 25′ x 14′ x 8′ multi-dimensional/ shape shifting 3-D art installation surrounding Tobin and enveloping him and the audience in a beyond 3-D experience. Amon conceptualized the show as a projection mapped “visual score” to the music from ISAM. He performs the music as a navigator of a large craft through a surreal visual narrative. The spectacular mapped content follows the framework of the narrative carefully storyboarded between Amon and Vello Virkhaus then realized through internationally published, award winning V Squared Labs in collaboration with Leviathan. A collaborative feat between the minds madmen, scientists and visionaries. Leading the animation and interactive team for the ISAM Live project inlclude directors Vello Virkhaus & Matt Daly. V Squared team has an impressive visual experience design resume including 50cent, Erick Morillo, Paul Oakenfold, Marquee Las Vegas, Korn and Red Hot Chilli Peppers amongst others. Creative Director Alex Lazarus (blasthaus) who has been on the production crew at Coachella Festival for eleven years, and has worked with everyone from Flying Lotus, Boys Noize, and Massive Attack, to Lady Gaga, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. Designing the set is Heather Shaw from Vitamotus Design Studio, who has designed award winning stages and environments for festivals and exhibits around the world. Building the set is Stefano Novelli.
Consistently evolving, Tobin was incredibly up front about his intentions to bag the tour after he gave it a solid run. Knowing this, I made sure not to miss that first ISAM run, making it the first ever event that I left my home to attend, after the birth of my son. A return tour with version 2.0 was great, because it gave the mother of that child an opportunity to catch the the ISAM experience, herself. For me, the aiblity to witness the difference from just the previous year was evidence that the producer hadn’t stalled, even for a moment; more than simply continuing to tour the project to hit more locations, or because of how much he had invested into it’s creation, he was continuing to hone it and improve upon the already magnificent foundation that he and his team had constructed. Not unlike one of his tracks that he reworks, builds on and modifies to perfection, I realized that, as brilliant as it was, Amon was really just experimenting with that first run of ISAM and testing it out, discovering the extent of what it was truly capable of. He needed to remix it first. The structure became even more massive and the control cube that he was operating from within that interactive sculpture/canvas could now effectively transition between an opaque block to a transparent window with much more effectiveness and fluidity. New imagery had been integrated and the artist himself was now donning a space suit. It was ISAM 2.0 that he took to Coachella in 2012, the same year that a live CD/DVD was released. Sporadic shows continued, but it already felt as if the electronic mastermind might be content with what he had accomplished with the project.
For better or worse, a natural byproduct of being so innovative and ahead of your time is that it can take a while for many people to catch up and, by the time, Tobin has often already moved on. In fact, in the case of the ISAM 2.0 tour in Seattle, the show was moved to a slightly smaller venue due to low ticket sales. This resulted in me never quite witnessing the full scope of the new larger setup, because there wasn’t room to house it with the reduced stage width. But one thing that Amon Tobin has proven is that, as he continues to explore new territory, he’s only building on an already extensive skill set that allows him to draw and build on his arsenal at will. Like a shark, it seems impossible for him to ever swim backward, and remaining stagnant can be artistic death, but for a project of this caliber, it still felt like a bit of a shame for it to never be revisited.
Last year, Tobin put on his final ISAM 2.0 live performance in San Francisco as part of the annual Outside Lands music festival and, whether or not we’ll ever see a day when the project is resurrected again, in it’s previous state or an updated version, we now have the ability to view that farewell concert in it’s entirety. Today, Outside Lands released the footage on their youtube channel explaining that it was being provided in celebration of “5 years since Amon Tobin’s ISAM album and groundbreaking live show.” The video of the full show can be viewed in below. A zip file of the show can also be downloaded through THIS LINK.