Amon Tobin on Writing Music in the Marin Woods and His Bigger, Bolder ISAM 2.0 Show
Brazilian electronic music producer Amon Tobin grew up in England, moved to Montreal in 2002, and quietly moved to Marin County almost three and a half years ago. He hasn't had much time to get acquainted with Bay Area life, however, since he's spent half of his time as a local resident touring the world with an extraordinary, multidimensional sound and visual performance called ISAM (also the name of his latest full-length album, released in 2011).
Calder Wilson Amon Tobin's ISAM 2.0.
Last seen in the Bay Area on New Years Eve at S.F.'s Sea of Dreams party, ISAM has recently been upgraded into an even more immersing experience. While Tobin is reluctant to be too specific about what the upgrade entails, the trailer for the show, now called ISAM 2.0, offers the promise of a new level of visual detail. We spoke to Tobin ahead of his show this Friday (Oct. 5) at the Greek Theatre with Kronos Quartet and Holy Other.
Where have we been that we didn't know that you have lived in the Bay Area for three and a half years now?
Amon Tobin: I keep my head down and I don't get out much, so there would be no reason you'd know, actually. [laughs]
Are you in San Francisco?
No, I live up in the woods -- in the sticks -- in Marin. It's not really in any town in particular, it's quite a deserted little spot I found, it's great. I built a studio out there, it's super quiet, and I can get away with making loads of noise without bugging anybody. I don't really have any neighbors, so it works out great. And it's really pretty up there, too.
How has your ISAM show evolved from the first presentation to what is now called 2.0?
When we did the first version, it was really to see if the technology would work. There were so many things that I was just trying for the first time, and I had no idea [how it would work], like whether I should be invisible for most of the time and how people would react to that or how reliable the visuals would be with the music triggers. So it was a lot of testing. And now we've really figured it out and are trying to see what we can do with it, how far we can take certain concepts and certain technologies. It's a much more expanded version, and we've spent some time making some real detail.
Can you give some examples of how there is more detail visually in the show?
I'm vague on purpose, because I want to keep the element of surprise in there a bit, but the actual canvas we're projecting on is a widescreen version of what we had before. The idea really is to try to submit that I'm in a movie of my own making and make it more cinematic and changing form and space. It's three times as big, in a widescreen format, and that in itself makes an incredible difference in the experience, because it occupies your peripheral vision.
Leviathan went insane and built all these robots and contraptions out of bits of old typewriters. They made robots and moving animatronic creatures, and pumped them full of liquids and gases and lights, and made these things that moved robotically with strings and pulleys and then filmed them. We incorporated that into the visual content. I would never have had the thought to go along with something like that before knowing that the show would work. It was such an enormous amount of work to do that.
The two times I saw ISAM 1.0, in San Francisco and Brooklyn, you had the crowd gasping and screaming and squealing at the visuals and the performance. Do you get a kick out of hearing something that's not a typical reaction to an electronic show?
What I get a kick out of is trying something that I'm not sure has ever really been done and feeling like people vibed to it. Having that sense that this is a huge gamble, that it's not necessarily based on something commercial. So it might not appeal to everyone, and having people respond well to that is so encouraging.