Amon-Tobin

A Sit Down With DJ Amon Tobin

Amon Tobin never set out to be in the music industry. To him, music is an end in itself, not a path to commercial success. His own success is basically a by-product of his obsession, and remains something of a welcome mystery to him. The fact is, whether or not the world had ever heard of Amon Tobin, he would still be creating music. His life has been a long-term love affair with sound and rhythm, and a personal study of both. His work is a contribution to the evolution of sound in the spirit of the pioneers of electronic music.

 

 “I’m not trying to make it fit in any category, whether it is art or club music. In the end I’m just doing what I’m interested in right now.”

 

When did you first start playing music just to play it? How old were you?

Oh, I’ve been doing that since forever, but I mean, really, I guess I started out with a cassette deck, one of those twin cassette decks, and I’d make a radio show for the kids at school and I’d sit on Sunday night and record the top forty or whatever and then kind of edit the tracks and get the parts I didn’t like out of the tracks and try and make new things out of those.

How would you characterize your sound?

It’s a learning process—the music comes out of me trying to figure things out. I’m always analyzing the world around me and how it works, and the music is just a byproduct of that.

Are you more the Star Wars guy?

Like every kid, I was definitely a fan of The Empire Strikes Back. I liked the movie, but what I was really into was the sounds in Star Wars. The sound design by Ben Burtt is so awesome. He’s just the master. Even those terrible prequels. I still remember going to see the first one and bringing a little Mini-Disc player with me to record the pod-races. The sound was just insane!

So when you play live, do you go up with a bunch of synthesizers? Because when I’ve seen you play I just see a bunch of gear and you can’t exactly tell what’s going on.

Well, you know, it’s electronic music, right, so there’s no live band and there’s no emphasis on that really. And I like that about it. I think there’s plenty of fantastic bands out there and it’s not something I’m trying to be a part of.

Let’s talk about the sound of ISAM. You ‘hunted’ a lot of these sounds outdoors?

It was a process where I’d have a song or a track in my mind, and I’d have the instruments and the textures of the sounds that I wanted, and I’d try to find different elements of those in different places. Then I put these layers of sound together, but instead of doing it like I did in the Foley Room album, with just audio, I analyzed all the sounds into those more spectral properties. This way I was able to morph them in a synthetic way. This opened up a whole other way of working for me.

Have you ever thought about making it obligatory to have the exhibition of Farmer’s art along with the live shows?

That would actually be a nice thing if we could always do it. But as everything this is restrained by logistics and budgets. So far we managed to pull it off in London and Paris and we’re gonna do it in New York this September. It is possible in some places, just not everywhere.

What was the vision behind the Cuboidal structure you use onstage?

I knew from the beginning that I wanted to be inside a structure, not on top of it or in front of it. I like the idea of being incorporated into a greater visual theme. We played around a bit with where I should be on the stage, but finally settled with somewhere near the center. I knew I wanted to do mapping as well, because I felt like it was linked to what I was doing—a hyper-real world where you think things are going to act a certain way but then they do something completely unexpected. It’s the same with the sounds on the record—they have a sort of anchor point that you can relate to but then they do things that acoustic instruments could never do. Heather Shaw came up with the design for the stage, with involvement from VSquared, Leviathan, Glasshouse, and Alex Lazarus. It was a combined effort from a lot of people.

Tool wise, these days, do you find yourself using hardware samplers or using stuff on laptops?

Well, I tried using laptops and it just doesn’t work for me, because I need to be in a studio where I’ve got a bit of control over the environment. I use software samplers. I use Contact a lot. I really like that. It’s really a mixture of hardware and software.

Tell me about some of your musical influences.

Oh, It’s across the board. I try and keep an open ear and I listen to a lot of new stuff, but a lot of old stuff, too. I guess one of my first loves is hip-hop, still, and jungle, drum and bass, that was a big influence on me.

Do you have any advice for budding producers?

You have to be stubborn as a producer sometimes. Everyone tells you “this isn’t going to work,” then you do it and it works, then they say “it’s never going to last,” and it lasts, and then they say “but you don’t really deserve it.” It’s about being so interested in what you’re doing that even if a lot of people don’t agree with it, you do it anyway. I think something good can come out of that, rather than trying to figure out what people might like and trying to do that. I tried to do that when I started, and I just ended up being wrong.

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