Helen Zhao

Amon Tobin @ House of Blues – San Diego 9/27/2012

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Amon Tobin is another Wizard of Oz—just a regular guy behind an astonishing display—with the tools and machine-power to bring an element of hypnosis to his show on September 27 at the San Diego House of Blues.

He hasn’t got a microphone, electric guitars, and a series of amplifiers. Instead, it’s just him and his turntables housed inside of a massive white cubist structure protruding in all directions—a pristine contemporary sculpture at its blankest, or else a mountain of giant speakers and electronic equipment or maybe a factory and its smokestacks—among infinite other possibilities, once illuminated by holographic projections made possible by video-mapping technology.

It’s never one thing for very long—fitting as the visuals morph alongside a fluctuating soundscape—from the ringing and clanking of the mechanical “Journeyman” to the chiming and ethereal voices of the mysterious “Kitty Cat.”

Tobin’s sounds range from gargantuan crunches, squelches, and slithers as well as delicate smatterings of bells, whistles, and wind chimes—often made from a palette of real world noises that has consisted of a motorbike engine’s roar, a hive of wasps, someone singing in the shower, and a lion devouring a piece of meat.

He calls his seventh album, ISAM, “an album of ‘made up’ instruments that don’t exist in the real world”—in commentary provided on the Amon Tobin SoundCloud page—also declaring a refusal to use real drums in this series of works, which follows in a succession of past jazz inspired music often characterized as “drum and bass.”

In the real world, sounds don’t play out according to patterns and logic—taking turns in an orderly fashion. Instead, they layer and intertwine haphazardly—however reflected in Tobin’s music with a precision and harmony that still seems crafted with careful intention—elevating the music from a product of deliberate creation to the auditory byproduct of alien life forms engaged in various daily activities.

In this case, these aliens are machine-driven, animated by electricity and digital motherboards—however differing from traditional machinery in their possession of “spirit”—conveyed through Tobin’s visceral productions.

They resound, sometimes thick, clunkering, and pulsing as in “Piece of Paper,” “Goto 10,” and “Mass and Spring”—like a rising of machines whereupon we stand by and watch as our world is taken over by cyborg-like creatures similar to those found in The Matrix.

That scene is familiar to the human imagination in 2012 and may be a world we’re hurdling toward, where man and the machine coexist with equal parts importance—a world with its plausible power struggles.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way, as heard in pieces such as “Bedtime Stories,” “Wooden Toy,” and “Kitty Cat.” Machines hum and churn playfully while sometimes a girl’s ethereal voice sweetly sings—all in homage to  innocence and fragile life.

This world can also sustain calm and tranquility, as heard in “Night Swim.” Mechanistic sounds simulate the rhythm of a swimmer’s strokes to the whirling of pendulums and wind chimes in an altogether uniform concoction.

You could say it’s all about harmony, not cacophony—as the whole performance dictates, perhaps in a sort of utopian idealistic way—where everything you see is perfectly synced with everything you hear—a circumstance nearly inconceivable considering the sheer volume and variety of sensory stimuli as seen by the many faces of the cubist structure that flash, evincing clouds of smog, fiery lava, a rockslide, vacillating electrical waves, what looks like the guts of a computer—to name a few—and lots of starry galaxies.

Strange how all these disparate elements seem somehow seamless as they combine in our imaginations, producing a spell of synesthesia in which senses overlap and one can see sound or hear visuals. Through all that confluence, your senses are more acute than ever.


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