Amon Tobin

I am not in the position of writing about Amon Tobin music. It is not the music I listen to, it is not the music I know, I couldn’t put together other then meaningless words to disappoint fans and people in love with him.

I learnt Tobin is a Brazilian musician, DJ, overall famous for sampling, just few hours before the gig.
I can’t understand sampling because I don’t listen to enough electronica. Simple. I can’t understand seeing a live gig of sampled music either. I find it bizarre. I’m old school (or just old), I’m linked to instruments, tools, devices to make music, sound, noise.
As a theoretical/philosophical thing I find fascinating the use of a piece of music as instrument to create other music but, put it into practice, I don’t get it.

What Tobin was playing inside is multi-cubic, giant sculpture is something I can only trust. I don’t know what was happening in there, I have to believe he was live performing and not putting a vinyl on a turntable then watch it it spinning.

Sorry, I am just exaggerating my ignorance to divert this review somewhere else.

Must be added he has an album, Bricolage, that got the rare pleasure of a Pitchfork full 10.0 mark. Very few artists managed to get it, kudos to him.

All said, when The Quietus asked me if I wanted to go shooting Amon Tobin one-off live UK representation of his latest album, ISAM, it needed nothing more than a YouTube video to get me jumping onto the train to London.
A tube journey, a walk under the pouring rain and I was inside Camden’s Roundhouse. Sold out for an event which, until the day before, I was not aware of its existence.

What I want to write, instead, it is about the installation related to Tobin’s last album starting from mentioning the people who worked at it.
Because they are worth mentioning and rarely are. It may be because they are many and it is difficult to understand the different roles within the project but it is without doubt this entire team of visual artist that makes ISAM memorable.

Leviathan is the studio working at it, headed by Vello E Virkhaus who, if I got it right, is the mind behind the concept. Alex Lazarus of Blasthouse is at the creative direction. Heather Shaw from another (Vitamotous design) studio is the responsible of the amazing efficacious yet simple set design and Stefano Novelli (name is Italian at least I don’t get him wrong) is the one that built it. Without these people and their team Amon Tobin gig would have not been as mesmerizing.

What Tobin’s collaborators built around his music piece is nothing less than a conceptual art installation. Probably weak on the “conceptual” side (but it doesn’t pretend to be such a thing) but surely big as installation.
A huge 3D multimedia sculpture made out of two walls of white cubes piled up and scattered one over the other. A pyramidal shape pointing one angle at the audience. A bigger glass cube in the centre hosts Amon Tobin.

Visually it reminds me a lit up version of Embankment, Rachel Whiteread installation inside the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern, back few years.
Conceptually ISAM is miles away.
Whiteread work was about bringing the inside out, those plastic translucent cubes at a closer inspection were casts of the interior of cardboard boxes, giving emptiness a mass, a shape.
Tobin piece is made of cubes that rejects their own shape. They pretend to be simple motionless blocks. They become containers put there to receive the impalpable mass of lights (and videos) projected onto them.
Matter in Embankment was made out of void, in ISAM is made out of light.

Cleverly set at an angle, with empty spaces and multiple surfaces, the oeuvre offers two sides doubling the surface and the power of the lights effects it amplifies.

These pictures due to the sad “three songs no flash” rule are limited to the first 15 minutes of the show. The entire exhibit lasted about two hours and it was relentlessly changing and visually astonishing throughout.

From Op(tical) Art traditional illusions, Victor Vasarely and Bridget Riley can be frequently referenced, to Dan Flavin neon art, every time art dealt with lights and moving objects seem to be quoted over Tobin‘s giant sculpture.

Sci-Fi movies (as The Matrix) are a big influence. The outer space landscapes probably are the most recurrent during the soundscapes Tobin performs.
Green Laser beams and computer monitors simulator alternate with old style videos, all constantly soundtracked by the ambient infused music coming out of Tobin central block.

Amon Tobin must be a modest man, he keeps is superstar role hidden. Standing inside is box for the entire performance appears only a handful of times. In the minutes I was allowed in the pit to photograph he appeared out of the smokes and the backlights for less than a minute, than he disappeared again submerged by the lights galore.
Most of the time his installation is not about him but all about the sound and light performance that goes on.

This truly spectacular event kept the thousands people packing the venue glued and staring at the stage for almost two hours.
If you happen to read that “ISAM by Amon Tobin” is coming to one of the theatres of your city, don’t think twice, buy a ticket whatever you think of electronic music.

Even if you don’t listen to DJs and can’t bear sampled music (likely if you follow this blog) this is something which is worth seeing. Because it is not only about Tobin music but it is about the amazing crew of creative artists that helped him to put on such a spectacle.

Follow the tour here [website] [myspace] [facebook] [twitter]

Photo tip

Believe it or not this is the first show I shot at the Roundhouse in London.
The Roundhouse is a quite large venue with a capacity of over 3000. Flat stalls with a round shape, as you can imagine from the name, and a circle on the first floor.

The pit and the stage are quite large, moderately high and there is enough space for a few photographers. On average standard for this kind of venues.
There is a inner circle of columns that isn’t nice because it obstructs the visual if you stand in the wrong place.

What isn’t a standard situation was the ISAM installation. With access to the pit just few minutes before and a black curtain hiding it from sight we didn’t really know what to expect.

In the end I believe that part of the success of the pictures is due to it not me. Once I decided the lens to use, mostly an ultra-wide angle zoom, the rest was an issue of catching the moment. An important issue.

I noticed (I always do) many photographer tend to burst many frames a second, shooting about 1000 shots in 10 minutes. I rarely reach 150. I still believe that it is much more efficient (read: I am much more efficient) going the old way and shooting only when I feel the proper moment.

I may lose an unexpected frame but I know I will not lose key ones. Having time to see and think is as important than clicking on the shutter button.

Follow the music, see the way the lights respond to it. Music in songs comes back and very likely that amazing light scheme will be back with it.
The all colour picture I took was taken with that logic and was not by accident. I haven’t seen it if not partially in other live ISAM set.

To not lose my fame, I moved upstair after the three songs to catch some telephoto shots of the stage from there. It took Amon Tobin security less then a song to stop me, yet I managed to get some interesting perspective and different colour schemes from there.

I was neither hindering anyone visual nor, disturbing the show from up there, though there were no exception.
I was kicked out with what become one of my most retweeted rants

Security:”Do you have a photopass?
Me:”Yes
Security:”You must stop now, after the 3rd song
Me:”and them?
Security:”They don’t have it, they can snap all gig

As a partial consolation Tobin Management after seeing the shots wrote: “yep very strict in there, but your persistence has got some of the most original shots from the gig“.

I look forward for the day photographers will be allowed back to work with musicians freely.

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~ by Valerio on July 7, 2011.

6 Responses to “Amon Tobin”

  1. Wonderful pictures. Also great to see someone reviewing a show as a novice to electronic music and not pretending to understand everything about it :)

    If I may though… it may help to know that Amon, although known for sampling in the 90′s, created this album from instruments he actually invented, synthesized and then performed himself.

    Even the term “sampling” is very loose when applied to his earlier work which consisted of hundreds of fractions of sound then combined to make each song.

    Great blog, and thanks for the fantastic pictures.

  2. Thank you, John.

    Yes I didn’t want to write about something I don’t know enough. That would be pretentious.
    I wanted to put these pics out because the show is stunning… as you know.

  3. I was at the gig, it was utterly amazing. As an electro and breakbeat musician/producer myself Amon Tobin has been my idol for a lot of years now. If you’re interested to hear more of his groundbreaking stuff check out foley rooms. Named so because he created every sound from samples of day to day things. One track, ‘big furry head’ he uses a lion growling as a bass, was sad to see it omitted from this gig but the new album is stunning. I was humbled by his performance and his modesty as you rightly mentioned. These pictures are so good that despite actually being there I had a hard time believing that they are actual photos and not promotional images! Outstanding work fella. I shared a couple of the pics on google+ with your name in the post. I hope that’s OK.

  4. Thank You, Nick. I appreciate your comment and compliments.

    No problem, you can search for me on Google+ too, I believe I’m the only Valerio Berdini so far! :-)

  5. Added you to my circles!

  6. I really preferred your site!

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