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Tone poet

Amon Tobin stays on the edge of technology
By DAVID DAY  |  April 23, 2007

LIVELY: On Foley Room, Tobin compounded thousands of samples, from dripping water to revving motorcycles to cats eating rats, then added the Kronos Quartet.

As one of the darlings of electronic music, Amon Tobin has seduced millions with layered blends of techno, jazz, and samba, all buoyed by kinetic beats. Since the mid ’90s, when he got his start recording under the name “Cujo,” Tobin has helped define the æsthetic of the Ninja Tune label Bricolage, Supermodified, and the classic Permutation — CDs that sound as fresh as the day they were born. And like any able electronic auteur, Tobin (born in Rio de Janeiro 35 years ago; full name Amon Adonai Santos de Araujo Tobin) has continued to master and control the newest technologies.

One of his latest projects, a soundtrack to the video game Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, employs a dizzying array of effects. And you have to give it to a guy who can push the envelope in a video-game soundtrack. But for the Ninja Tune album Foley Room (named for the traditional soundstage technique of creating sound effects), Tobin went farther, compounding thousands of samples, from dripping water to revving motorcycles to cats eating rats, and then added music by the Kronos Quartet and Mapstation, among others.

What’s more, some of the dates on his current tour (which touches down at the Paradise this Sunday) are being performed in exhilarating 7.1 surround sound, a step up from the now-current 5.1 technology. “More speakers!” he writes via e-mail from France, where he is finishing up a European tour. “Surround sound is really all about the shows for me. It’s a way for me to take the focus off the stage and put it on the floor where people are listening, getting down, or whatever. My music really isn’t about performance so much as it is about the sound, and doing shows this way makes sense to me.”

Collecting the array of samples on Foley Room was not easy. He deployed numerous assistants, particularly his “compadre” Vid Cousins. “I’d credit Vid in conceptualizing, researching, and helping make this possible. Most the sounds were recorded in Montreal. We used the Ubisoft Foley room [the Ubisoft game company’s sound studio] after hours for the Foley recordings and went on various road trips for field recordings.” One of the most effective samples is that of a growling tiger. “He was at a safari park. The way I got close was to record him in his night habitat.”

Tobin then set to work organizing the plethora of sounds he’d accumulated. “There were many hours of tape from about four months of recording. I then spent about a month sorting through and archiving. It was a long process, but I already had a good idea of what I wanted to use at the time of recording. . . . Technology is a tool. Music will always come from people.”

He carries this attitude over to his live performances. “I am trying to use turntables and technology in creative ways not typically explored by other DJs. I’m using the decks more like samplers, building layers of sound and reconfiguring original music by changing time and pitch as well as key. I’m then sending the whole mix through surround systems, playing with image placement within the mixes. I don’t make live music and so don’t do live performances. But I will be alive, and the set will be as live as a DJ set can be.”

The bad news is that the Paradise set will not be a surround sound show. But you can count on Tobin and his touring-partner-in-sound Cousins to make the most of whatever technology the club can provide. It’s what he does.

AMON TOBIN | Paradise Rock Club, 967 Comm Ave, Boston | April 29 | 617.931.2000

  Topics: Music Features , Amon Tobin , Entertainment , Music ,  More more >
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