Transmedia + Music

Amon Tobin’s ISAM Project


While live performance may not often be considered an extension of recorded music, carefully crafted presentations can bring new meaning to the songs of an artist and convert potential fans. One such musician to have accomplished this recently was Amon Tobin, an electronic artist who is currently touring an elaborate video presentation for his album ISAM.

Originally from Brazil, Amon Tobin has released seven albums on the Ninja Tune record label in the past fifteen years. His work has become more experimental over time, including a recent album created entirely from manipulated field recordings. He has also worked in other media, such as creating the score for the video game Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, produced in a manner that allowed the in-game music to change in reaction to the player’s actions.

Tobin released his latest studio album, ISAM, in April of this year. In preparation for the release, he collaborated with Saatchi Collection artist Tessa Farmer to give form to the themes of his music in a series called Control over Nature.

Said Tobin,

It’s a musical album first and foremost, but it’s a couple of other things too, because we’d been trying to figure out ways that it has a relationship with other art and even performance. One aspect of it is the whole project we’re doing with Tessa Farmer where it’s an exhibition which we’re hoping to tour and reach a whole other group of people who are just interested in the ideas behind the record, and can see that in what Tessa does.

This is the perfect comment on how extending out into other media, preferably with experts within that field, can bring your music to new audiences. People may not realize they would appreciate what you create if they aren’t very familiar with the music scene. Reaching out to, say, fine arts fans through an art exhibit gives them a familiar access point to your messages.

Farmer is well known for her intricately built diorama-style pieces, populated by tiny “fairies” made of plant matter, soil, and fly wings, interacting with the carcasses of small animals. Farmer listened to Tobin’s music and created her art from the images that came to her. For example, she took a more literal approach to the track “Kitty Cat” with a group of creatures taking over and making a home of a mummified cat corpse.

With other songs, she reacted to the pace and energy, creating large swarms of insect battles inspired by the frenetic songs of the album. One of these sculptures would become the cover artwork for the album.

The imagery not only matched with the music, but the construction itself mimicked Tobin’s approach to producing music. As her process is the use of unexpected materials to create her structures, so too does Tobin use strange sources of sound that he manipulates into his music. Tobin explained,

To some extent, she’s doing a very similar thing, just with a different medium. She’s imagining worlds and she’s building them out of things that already exist in a different form, and that’s very much what I’m trying to do with music.

Tobin himself would go on to work with digital projection to create a new world of his music for the live tour. Collaborating with V Squared Labs and Leviathan on the visuals, and blasthaus and Vita Motus Design on the structure, the group constructed a traveling white cubic structure, upon which HD 3D video was projected. Projection mapping was used to map the visuals accurately onto the cubes, the largest of which Tobin performs inside.

I was very lucky to see this show this past Tuesday at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple. I attended with a group of people who had never listened to his music before. By the end of the performance, they were blown away, having been able to experience the music in such a visually and emotionally engaging format. I have since heard of a number of audience members who attended solely based on word-of-mouth around the presentation, with little to no prior familiarity with Amon Tobin.

Besides just being stunning, the video served a few purposes. One was to transport the attendee to another world where this music exists. At times, the video took the viewer on a trip through a strange fiery landscape that moved along to the tempo of the song. During a different track,  the structure became a spaceship to move the attendee through space.

At other times, the presentation was used to connect the audience to Tobin. His cube would be lit up occasionally, allowing the attendees to see the creator within his own creation. At a certain point, his upper body was visualized onto the cubes while he interacted with a camera. This direct connection of the audience member to a musician who is usually hidden (he often interviews while sitting in shadow or using a voice modulator) is very valuable.

Overall, the presentation is a full-body experience (the music so loud it shakes your bones) that cannot be realized in a home environment. This experiential element is a beautiful and effective way to add another level to the music, and is only possible through the benefits of live performance. I have seen many comments online applauding the effort to make live performance, especially for electronic music which can be uninteresting to watch, a unique event very worthy of the ticket price.

Tobin’s thoughtful approach to his album’s release created access to nontraditional fans through fine arts and impressive word-of-mouth generated by the tour. Given these positive results, I believe this is an effective model of how to use creative collaboration and innovative live performance to present music to current and new listeners, and I think we’ll see more examples in the near future!

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