Jul 09, 2012
Amon Tobin

Amon Tobin marches to his own beat more than any other producer in electronic music, & it works–his ISAM album & live performance have captivated countless audiences. Read our fascinating interview with Amon as he delves further into the story behind his sound.

Amon Tobin - Bedtime Stories (Original Mix) [Ninja Tune]
LessThan3: What birthed the idea for your mind-blowing ISAM setup that you are currently using for your live performances?
Amon: It was really because the ISAM album was just a weird record, sonically. It wasn’t gonna really be a DJ thing, it wasn’t going to work with musicians, so I had to think a bit about how to present it. I tried to make it so that the music could still be what the music was but not just have me onstage with a bunch of knobs and dials, which I always thought was kind of dull. It was a big risk we took, so we are all relieved that it did well.
LessThan3: How would you characterize your sound?
Amon: 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.
LessThan3: What are some of the ways you create your sounds?
Amon: Recently I’ve been synthesizing field recordings. I’ve been trying some foley stuff and figuring out how to incorporate all kinds of sounds into music, be they “musical” or not. I try to view every sound objectively and as potentially musically useful. I got really interested in taking these sounds I’d recorded and analyzing them in a synthesized environment and building my own playable instruments out of them. It was a long process for each track on ISAM—I had to think about the kinds of textures that would work for melodies that I would think of, then I would go find those sounds, record them, analyze them, and synthesize them, then try and assign parameters to the instruments.
LessThan3: Were you around the industrial sounds you use when you were growing up?
Amon: Not really; I mainly use industrial sounds because they are tonally interesting and rhythmically rich. A lot of machinery has inherent rhythm and harmonics in it. It gives me a lot to work with. A lot of the sounds I’m making have got tenuous links with real-world instruments. I try to make my own version of something that already exists.
LessThan3: What was the vision behind the cuboidal structure you use onstage?
Amon: 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.
LessThan3: Are you triggering everything that goes on visually?
Amon: Yes, it’s all coming from my “cube.” It caused a problem the first week of Coachella, actually, because there were some latency issues in the setup and things weren’t triggering properly. It was the first time it happened. Fortunately it wasn’t a big show or anything [laughs sarcastically].
LessThan3: How do you incorporate tracks you’re currently finishing into your live shows?
Amon: ISAM is really a showcase for an album, so I’m not really incorporating new tracks on the fly. For smaller DJ gigs, I’ll just try things out and see what works like most any DJ would. I get away with quite a lot. I usually don’t think quite as hard about what the crowd is reacting to—it’s more of an absolutist approach where I have a journey in mind that I hope the crowd is ready to go with.
LessThan3: What was your stage setup like before the current one?
Amon: Super minimal—even now if I DJ I’ll just show up with some decks. Again, this was a really different record, so it needed a different approach.
LessThan3: What up-and-coming talent are you currently watching closely?
Amon: I really like Rafferty’s stuff, and Lorn, who just put out an amazing album. I’m into bass-driven music and production. I’m a big fan of Noisia, too.
LessThan3: Do you have any advice for budding producers?
Amon: 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.
LessThan3: If the world were ending in LessThan3 minutes, and you had an iPod with every song ever made on it, what would you listen to?
Amon: If 6 Was 9 by Jimi Hendrix.
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