First published on 5 Jun 2012. Updated on 5 Jun 2012.
Amon Tobin’s latest album, ISAM, is difficult listening indeed. Akin to the challenging electronica of artists like Aphex Twin and Autechre, ISAM isn’t comprised of the kind of bangers you’d expect to hear during the average DJ set. The tracks are cinematic and experimental, and even feature a haunting female vocal line that is actually Tobin’s own modulated voice. “It was born of trying things out and being curious about sound and its possibilities,” Tobin told Time Out last month. “I ended up with this album and then it was like, ‘Oh shit, how am I going to perform this?’”
For those who missed it, ISAM was performed from inside a 25 foot, three-tonne installation of cubic light boxes that acted as a 3D screen for cinematic visual mapping. And the visuals, developed with design houses V Squared Labs and Leviathan, were the perfect accompaniment to the album.
On entry to the 9pm performance on Saturday night, each audience member was handed a set of earplugs. And rightfully so – it was one of the loudest gigs Time Out has ever witnessed. As Tobin, who was perched in a small booth inside the installation for the duration of the show, built to his first big bass onslaught, the audience winced in delight, and the bass notes shock the seats of the Opera House’s grandest theatre, the Concert Hall.
Witnessing ISAM Live was like watching a Terry Gilliam film for the first time. Imagery twisted and turned as if Tobin could guess where you might like a hallucination to take you, and a few of the more cinematic sections even resembled Brazil’s cluttered dystopia. Imagery spanned machinery, space, cells, the elements, abstracted geometry, smoke patterns, architecture and everything in-between, and Tobin seems to have found reference in everything from the colour palette of the original TRON film and the movement in isolated studies in nature and Transformers to the beautiful madness of Bosch. While some sequences drew us in to a heavenly lull, others repulsed like a great nightmare. Intermittently, Tobin’s own cube would light up to reveal the mad professor within and conjured images of the composer steering his spaceship, or planet, or whatever was being presented in the moment, forward.
The first encore nodded towards Tobin’s early drum’n’bass tracks, and offered a little head-nodding respite from the challenging and constantly changing tempos and melodic concepts of the previous hour. Tobin’s second return to the cube tackled more ambient territory, and was reminiscent of his softer cinematic work, like Out From Out Where’s ‘Back From Space’. This section also offered the most spectacular visuals. The individual cubes twisted, turned and fell as the music reached greater and greater crescendos.
Two standing ovations later, the audience was able to pause, gob smacked, only for a mere moment, before clearing the Concert Hall for Tobin’s 10.45pm performance. And we would have done it all again, had the show not sold out many weeks before.
ISAM Live captured Vivid’s ethos exactly. The show was, in itself, a complete festival of light, music and ideas. It was also a great example of how artists should be pushing the boundaries of contemporary performance, and was (hopefully) pointed firmly towards the future of film, gaming, and clubbing consumption more generally.