First published on 8 May 2012. Updated on 28 May 2012.
Vivid festival director Fergus Linehan told Time Out that Amon Tobin was a “terrifying choice” for the Vivid line-up. The drum ‘n’ bass master turned composer isn’t known for his record sales, but he has a strong underground following and we’re pegging his ISAM live show as one of the standouts of Vivid 2012. Developed with design houses V Squared Labs and Leviathan, ISAM live is performed from within a 25 ft, three tonne installation of cubic light boxes, which act as a 3D screen for cinematic visual mapping.
Amon, where are you at the moment?
I’m by a pool in Palm Springs. It’s a week between the two Coachella shows, so I’m staying here, like a mini-holiday.
How’s Coachella going?
This is the first big show of the year for me, but I guess the ISAM Live show doesn’t really fit in a festival. It’s not a DJ show and last week we played here and I couldn’t believe people stayed because Swedish House Mafia were playing on another stage at the same time.
Well, you and Swedish House Mafia aren’t exactly offering the same kind of experience.
[Laughs] Yeah, it was a world of contrast. I just hoped people hung around and they did. They were super patient and they stuck around and saw the whole thing. I was really surprised. We pulled it off! And I’m really, really excited to go out to Australia. I haven’t been there for ages and I’m pretty overwhelmed by playing at the Sydney Opera House. That seems crazy to me.
Yes, it will be pretty amazing to see such a visual live show in an amazing architectural space like the Sydney Opera House.
I reckon the show is just about weird enough to work there. I’ll wear a tux.
ISAM is very different to and a lot more challenging than your earlier stuff. Did you think about developing it into a show like this when you started working on it?
No. Actually, it turned into this because I’d made an album that couldn’t really be performed.
Right. There aren’t any instruments, and it doesn’t exactly lend itself to a club show.
Yes. The sounds are all made up. ISAM was born of trying things out and being curious about sound and its possibilities. I ended up with this album and then it was like, ‘oh shit, how am I going to perform this?’ It forced me to think about performance in a different way, and we ended up with a pretty unique show and people have responded to it really well.
The experience seems like the total opposite to Autechre, who also make quite challenging electronic music, but perform their shows in complete darkness.
Yeah, I really respect them, but you know, you can really only do that once. Their stuff is also a bit more danceable. ISAM is more about being immersed in sound. I think if I turned off the lights people would just get really creeped out.
What kind of visuals are involved?
A lot of live visuals just provide a backdrop for a performance, but this is a more cinematic experience. There is a very carefully thought out visual interpretation of each song that follows in a sort of linear, loose narrative.
But you don’t play the album from start to end, right?
No. I paced out a live version of the show and then did a storyboard for the visuals to the set. The show is mapped out to the second and generated from cues.
It’s very cool that the female vocals on ISAM are actually you. Will you be performing them live?
Yes I will. I was actually pretty nervous about doing that because I wasn’t sure what people would make of it, but I’m quite proud of it in the end. I thought it was quite convincing and I’ll be performing those vocals at the show. Maybe I’ll be wearing girls’ clothes instead of that tux.