After an eight-year hiatus, all of the composer’s sonic personas find a home
Story by Michael Chary
In the silent years of cinematography, Jack Donovan Foley embarked on a career with Universal Studios as the first audio engineer to manufacture sound effects for films. He found, for instance, that cracking a head of frozen romaine lettuce sounded astonishingly similar to the cracking of a skull or any other bone for that matter — these sounds became known as Foley recordings. Decades later, his pioneering approach unsurprisingly made its way into the world of electronic music, most notably into the break-beat, sampled, and wildly manipulated work of Amon Tobin; his 2007 album Foley Room, serves as an obvious testament to that.
But after his 2011 release ISAM, which broke the mold for visual performances and arguably set the bar for what projection mapping could do for a live show aesthetically, Tobin dropped off the radar, not releasing any new music for eight years. Though in that time, he never slowed down artistically and has now returned with an abundance of new tracks and projects that would parallel some artists’ entire catalog.
“I wasn’t releasing music, but I was recording all the time,” Tobin told The Marquee during a recent interview. “I guess I was in a good position where I could spend a little time investigating a few interests and then try to develop them. But that takes time, lots of trial and error, and I wanted to have these fully-fledged ideas well-rounded before I put them out. Because a lot of them are very different.”
Different is an understatement, as those familiar with his discography could attest to. A pioneer of late 90s drum n’ bass, nu jazz, and trip-hop a la Bonobo, Kid Koala, and many other Ninja Tune labelmates, Tobin’s evolution over his 20-year career has been eclectic, eventually finding its way into the experimental IDM of ISAM. But he hasn’t given anything up in the process. Now it seems, he’s simply given each of his sonic predilections their proper outlets.
“I’m trying to separate my musical interests into parallel lanes because I have varied interests in music, even though it’s all kind of part of the same thing. I’m happy to explore whatever I’m interested in that day for my own personal gratification, but as far as other people than listening to it, I have to think a little bit more carefully about how that’s done. So, it just made more sense to create different entities that are cohesive within their own worlds,” he said.
“There’s an aspect that’s purely electronic and very, very experimental, there’s an aspect that’s more to do with making beats that are fun to make and also really enjoyable to play in a club setting — those two things have nothing to do with each other — and then there are other things, things that are more live sounding and less to do with electronics, and those things need their own space as well.”
Which is why Tobin needed the freedom that could only come from starting his own record label, Nomark, which will serve as home to at least three of his own projects: Amon Tobin, Two Fingers, and Only Child Tyrant. The latter may be the biggest transition from what Tobin fans might expect, but then again, Tobin fans probably know not to be surprised by the unforeseen tangents his work can take.
Described as “intense, angular indie rock made by acid-dripped machines… channeling a stroppy, relentless kid who’s been listening to his uncle’s collection of rock from Beefheart and Zeppelin to Fugazi via Dick Dale and beyond,” his initial release under OCT certainly sounds much different than other Tobin avenues.
But Tobin says there are many similarities in OCT to his early work — work from 20 years ago, that some of his long-term fans might now see as coming full circle, or maybe it just took a long-ass sabbatical.
“Interestingly, the thing it reminds me the most of are tracks from albums like Permutation or Supermodified, it was really just to do with programming acoustic drums, so they never sound real because they’re programmed, but they’re not drum machines, they’re based on recordings so there’s something really interesting about that. I’ve always loved that kind of approach to music and having catchy riffs on tracks, you know tracks from back in the day like “Get Your Snack On,” there were tracks from years ago that are what Only Child Tyrant sounds like.”
This seems to be a theme with Tobin’s recent offerings; one giant step away from excessively digital and one small leap toward analog — or something like that — except for Two Fingers, the drum n’ bass, hip-hop-inspired project he’s bringing to Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom this month.
“I got so preoccupied with realizing an idea and not deviating from it at all. It was a very satisfying thing to do, when you have a thought in mind and you don’t allow any tangents in. You don’t allow any surprises in, and you do exactly what it is you set out to do, there’s a personal satisfaction you get with that,” he said.
“But objectively you also can choke the life out of your work to an extent. And there’s also this whole thing of convenience when you work in the digital realm. There is a sort of immediacy and convenience to it, but there’s a price for that, and the price is that your own experience isn’t as rich. When you have an analog workflow it can be quite challenging to do very simple things, but those challenges, they add color into your process and they add experiences into your life that you wouldn’t otherwise have had and those things do translate to the music.
“So, it’s a lot to do with that — it’s to do with not only trying to make something that feels more spontaneous and a little bit less controlled, but also my own experience in making the music is more enjoyable when I’m not quite so tyrannical about it.”
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