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"I'm inside a film, I guess, of my own making," says electronic musician and producer Amon Tobin. "It's a genuine mixture of movie experience, a live performance, and music. I'm trying to be part of a much bigger thing."
The Montreal-based sonic experimenter is referring to the live presentation of 2011's ISAM (Invented Sounds Applied to Music), which was created with a team of visual and auditory artists. The show features a sprawling three-dimensional stage constructed of chaotically overlapping cubes, and immersive visuals controlled in real time. It's an impressive, if unorthodox, canvas on which to paint.
Even if his music is produced by electronic means, Tobin embraces a rich narrative process instead of the crowd-response dynamic of the EDM DJ circuit. "You know, it's really not that kind of show," he explains. "Even my DJ sets have never really been like that.... There've been some shows about reading the crowd and trying to decide at the moment what would be the best track to play, but I've always spent a lot of time working on pacing. I'll have an arc, peaks and valleys, and things like that are timed to happen at intervals during the set. It's really got nothing to do with DJing."
While its initial U.S. run dodged Minneapolis, the 2012 iteration (dubbed ISAM: Live 2.0) is going to get cozy in the Orpheum Theater.
During a phone interview with City Pages, Brazilian-born Tobin says he usually stays in his studio, insulated from the arts and culture of Montreal. "I think these things do subconsciously feed into what you're doing," he admits. "I'm not always really aware of whether or not the city was influencing it. I hope so, in a good way. It's a great city and there's a lot going for it. But I'm in this world — it can be anywhere really."
Despite some prodding, Tobin's not one for giving away spoilers when describing upgrades and updates for the world of ISAM 2.0.
"I can say we've been working hard on a few different technologies," he says. "This time we've had a bit more luxury in terms of the amount of time available. The stage structure itself is different. It's grown into this wide-screen version of itself which is really quite lovely, [the set] is really a gorgeous pallette."
Tobin does offer that his current crew is the most solid tour ensemble he's ever had — over a career steadily approaching two full decades. In that time, the Ninja Tune label signee garnered a dedicated cult following, a lot of favorable press (Pitchfork gave 1997's Bricolage a perfect 10.0), and placements in popular film (The Italian Job), television (Top Gear), and video games (an album soundtracking 2005's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory).
"What I'm really interested in is learning about sound and how music's put together and experimenting with all of that," he says. "My personal output is almost a side product of that. It's the end result of me sort of fumbling my way through the dark and trying to figure out where I am."
His next recorded output comes from his actual side project, Two Fingers. Stunt Rhythms comes out in early October. It's a slightly wub-wubby follow-up to his 2009 self-titled debut, a collaboration with U.K. producer Doubleclick. And though the new one's results, with titles that refer to a variety of rhythms — "Stripe Rhythm," "Crunch Rhythm," "Elmer Rhythm," and so forth — are head-noddingly satisfying, this is a far more relaxing state of mind for Tobin.
"I've always had to just make straight-up beats for my own sanity — things that I just want to do for fun," he says. "Two Fingers is a great vent for that. I've been doing it forever, and the only way I can release it is under a different name. Making my own record is fun, but it's much more of a focused agenda."
So what exactly is Tobin's focused agenda? This question of "process" comes up a lot, and he's always got a really clear idea of what he wants. "I never really get there but I always get as close as I can," he says. "What's really satisfying is when you really get there, you know, or you feel like, 'Well, I've managed to realize what I'd hoped for, I'd imagined.' It's a real sense of achievement when that happens, but it's not very often."