Amon Tobin samples music to create songs the way Rembrandt used color to create art. He has an ear for finding that single perfect element in a song and understanding where it could go. The result is electronic music that is both familiar and mysterious, punctuated by once disparate elements that are as energizing as they are inspiring.
Tobin moved from Brazil to Britain when he was 10. Growing up in Brighton, he began to compose and mix hip-hop, refining his techniques throughout the early 1990s. In 1996, he released his first album, Adventures in Foam, launching a career that has taken him, quite literally, across the world.
Even with the current success of his latest album, ISAM, the journey is never over. “I guess it’s more [of] just a personal exploration of sound, and what’s possible with sound and music,” he tells CULTURE. “In composing each song I try to find the hardest thing to do and do it. It’s about overcoming obstacles.”
The DJ confesses that it’s not just the work, though. It’s also the art. “It’s a love affair,” he says. “With music, I try to explore as much as I can.”
ISAM is worth falling in love with, and fans will discover the album to have a much more acoustic touch, compared to Tobin’s previous works.
“This latest album I’ve been working on is based on acoustic instruments that I’ve learned how to play and make songs [with]. It all started a long time ago when I became interested in the context of changing a piece of music for greater effect,” Tobin says.
“Let’s say you have a drum solo and a piece of jazz music. It’s going in a certain direction, so you take a few beats from that drum solo, you take some pieces of the jazz music, and then you place it in a musical environment that is vastly different, with an entirely different speed and an entirely different style, but the original energy of the music is there.”
He’s moving beyond sampling with ISAM. “Over time my samples got smaller and smaller and now I’m now more interested in affecting the sound, transforming the sound. The sound’s origin is less important.”
Tobin’s latest album contains an organic quality that can often be missing from electronic music. “Everything done on the album was supposed to be there. I based the songs on ideas that had come out of instruments I used. It’s emotionally driven. It’s based on rhythms and melodies.”
And, he’s still exploring new realms of sound. For Tobin, it’s a journey, not a conquest. “I don’t look at albums as challenges, as if they are a problem to be solved. I’m driven by curiosity about music. That’s my enthusiasm. Music is something to explore.”
Tobin’s international tour for his latest album features a 3-D electric art show designed to make the audience feel like they are part of the music. “It’s an electronic show that doesn’t apologize for being electronic . . . What I’m trying to do is make it about the record, but I’m going to incorporate myself into a visual element. I want the audience to enjoy something they see as well as hear. It’s a cinematic experience.”