October 15, 2011
As Brazilian electronic producer Amon Tobin says at the beginning of his track-by-track commentary accompanying the full album stream of his latest ISAM on SoundCloud, "Anyone looking for jazzy breaks should look elsewhere at this point. It's 2011 folks. Welcome to the future."
Last night, Tobin presented his vision of the future at the Fox Theater with ISAM: Live, an ambitious a/v stage show created around the new album, with complex animations projected onto a 25' x 14' x 8' multi-dimensional, shape-shifting 3-D art installation.
ISAM is Tobin's Metropolis, or his Koyaanisqatsi--that's the scale and level of grandeur undertaken with this project. He presents a series of rapidly evolving word-less images, ranging from carefully calculated patterns to serene landscapes to factories housing jet engines and propellers, in a bold statement about technology and its omnipresence in the modern world. The projections are terrifying one minute, and beautiful the next. Objects appear to fly through space, and stationary cubes--arranged in a Tetris-like formation--seem to tremble with the pulsating bass emanating from the Pure Filth sound system.
The VSquared team--responsible for the visuals for 50 Cent, Paul Oakenfold, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and more--built Tobin a custom TouchDesigner application to run the visual show, from projection mapping, video playback, Kinect response, real-time effects and more. Alex Lazarus--who's been on the Coachella production crew for over a decade, and has worked with everyone from Flying Lotus to Massive Attack to Lady Gaga--served as Creative Director.
How ISAM: Live was constructed:
Tobin's said that ISAM: Live represents the first time he's able to perform a show based around the concept of an album and "deliver a truly unique visual experience to go along with his renowned audio experiences." While I wouldn't go quite as far as to say it's truly unique--a lot of electronic artists these days are working video mapping and large-scale installations into their performances--ISAM: Live was certainly a breathtaking and engaging experiment in sight and sound.
Tobin's presence was almost non-existent; on this tour, he's moved away from DJ-centric performances, choosing to embed himself into his own a/v stage show, only appearing to the audience from inside the central block of the massive 3-D structure for a few moments at a time to remind the audience that there was indeed a human behind the spectacle. After a few songs, it became easy to forget that Tobin was inside controlling the sounds and visuals that were unfolding in front of us.
The audience watched in the masterful construction in awe. Every other person had their iPhone out to record the performance, well aware they were witnessing something special that would be worth revisiting post-show. Tobin's ISAM: Live was quite impressive, and one of the most exciting live shows I've seen this year.
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Critic's Bias: I got into electronic music because of Amon Tobin.
Overheard in the Crowd: People were screaming, but weren't saying anything.
Random Notebook Dump: This is so loud and bass-heavy that my entire body is vibrating, and it feels pretty strange.