Amon Tobin [Special]

Amon Adonai Santos de Araujo Tobin (born 7 February 1972), better known as Amon Tobin, is a Brazilian electronic musician and DJ. He is best known for his use of sampling. Tobin is also credited with helping to create the emerging "trip hop" genre in the late 1990s. He has released seven major studio albums since 1996 under the London-based Ninja Tune record label where he is considered one of their most successful artists.

Toby debuted the moniker Cujo on the album Adventures in Foam (Ninjatune, 1996). Hip-hop is the main influence in Northstar and Sighting, but the rhythmic element (staccato beats and jazzy basslines) is always reined in to let the superimposed (and extremely artificial) sounds flow naturally. Tracks such as the fibrillating Cat People and the suave A Vida filter hip-hop so as to leave only a swampy carpet of beats, apparently for the only purpose of transforming the continuum of melodic music into a discrete pulsating grid. Languid piano notes and Brazilian polyrhythms washed away any debris of hip-hop from The Brazilianaire, the sweetest moment of the album. Ornette Coleman's bass-driven funk is another influence, and, while few tracks sound like funk, that praxis is often encountered in Cujo's songs. Whichever the method, shimmering secretions such as Traffic (the album's second standout), the torrential percussion and piano feast The Sequel, Break Charmer and Fat Ass Joint build a bridge between jazz and drum'n'bass. Even the least eventful creations, such as The Light and Paris Straitham excel at weaving eerie atmospheres (possibly transposing the art of Duan Eddy and the Ventures to the era of drum'n'bass). out of convoluted rhythms and barely hinted sounds. The closing six-minute jungle/electronica pastiche Cruzer sums up the album, pointing to a direction of eclectic beats, jazzy nuances and somber climaxes.

The singles Creatures, Mission, Chomp Samba marked further progress in his compositional technique, and led to the monumental Bricolage (Ninjatune, 1997), credited to Amon Tobin. The album title is a manifesto of sample-based collage-oriented abstract hip-hop composition, along the lines of DJ Shadow's work. Several tracks revisit the magic of the previous album, adding a slightly stronger psychedelic/oneiric quality. A loud bass line opens Stoney Street, mimicking a rhythm and blues theme. The surface of the song is a dialogue between a jazz trumpet and decadent violins, and it keeps merely looping, one voice alternating to the other, each voice merely repeating its tune. The backdrop for the song is hyper-busy drumming. A new structure arises in which the "leitmotiv" is assigned to the bass, while the other instruments simply embellish the atmosphere, although it is the other instruments that are actually laid out in the front. Easy Muffin is hypnotic and dreamy, as different weeds alternate at uttering simple melodic patterns, but never reaching the consistency of a refrain, while the drum machines erect a bush of impenetrable beats. Creatures is another highlight, a cloud of ghostly free-form noises segueing a geometric shower of piano notes over machine-gun beats, while a grotesque and languid trumpet lingers by. The hawaian guitar of Yasawas, the cool-jazz trumpet of The New York Editor, the romantic sax line of The Nasty, are all counterposed and juxtaposed to disorienting textures, and revitalized by a process of musical introspection. Each track becomes a study in counterpoint, a chamber piece for a small number of instruments that trade nuance.

In Chomp Samba it is the frantic, tribal rhythm itself to be subjected to such a treatment, and the result is a futuristic ode to primal insticts. Tobin's studies on timbre should also not be overlooked. The apparently unassuming Deficus is actually a new kind of symphony. Tobin warps the distinctive tone of an instrument to produce a new kind of instrument, and then weaves a few of them (a bee-like violin, a distorted bass, UFO-sounding flutes) into an organic flow of sound. It is, in fact, one of the most significant innovations since Beethoven added a choir to a symphony. Dream Sequence exploits that techique to lay all sorts of bridges between genres, as the tones mimick country and raga, while its essence is kosmische musik.
Needless to say, jazz fuels and dresses these compositions. However, Tobin does to jazz what Picasso did to impressionism: it uses only discrete fragments of the image to reconstruct the whole. Furthermore, it is never the only or main element. For example, the sax solo of Wires And Snakes coexists with industrial metronomic pulses and with soothing ambient waves of electronics. The jazz feeling is pervasive throughout One Small Step, and the choppy bossanova of One Day In My Garden is the only regular, hummable, linear song on the album. They are both anomalies for Tobin. With this album, Tobin unified classical, jazz, rock and dance music in a genre and style that is universal.

The concept of Permutation (Ninjatune, 1998) may not have been groundbreaking anymore, but the painstaking care with which Tobin assembled and warped snippets from archaic Big Band records of Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa was comparable to a Sistine Chapel of beat-based music. Tracks such as Like Regular Chickens (which, incidentally, references David Lynch's film "Eraserhead") or Reanimator were all about acrobatic drumming convulsions. Bridge was more explicit in quoting its sources, loud drumming and soulful melodies delivering a forceful message of both nostalgia and futurism. Switch, perhaps the most elegant piece on the album, was equally effective in recreating the vintage mood of the "jazz age". Some of the slower tracks allowed room for exotic accents (the Latin Sordid, the exotic flute line in Nightlife, the bossanova-ish Nova) and a darker atmosphere. Alas, too many tracks seem to meander pointlessly around a good idea. Even when the idea is good, as in People Like Frank (that quotes Angelo Badalamenti's soundtrack for David Lynch's "Blue Velvet") or Toys (that mimicks the cling-clang of mechanical toys), it hardly justifies six minutes of random beats. The longest one, Fast Eddie, tried to bridge the futuristic dimension (the galloping breakbeats) and the noir dimension (the slower melodic passages) but only succeeded in parading Tobin's studio skills. This time the bridge wasn't so much between jazz and drum'n'bass as between two distant ages. The subject was time, not style.
Tobin kept refining his art of sophisticated and seamless puzzles on Supermodified (Ninjatune, 2000). The intricate Get Your Snack On (funk guitar, jazz flute, soul organ, exotic saxophone, etc etc) and Golfer versus Boxer represent the equivalent of baroque art in the sampling world, and harken back to the original hyper-kinetic Cujo program. However, the rhythmic spectrum has broadened considerably from the early days: Four Ton Mantis maximizes rhythmic attack, Marine Machines toys with industrial metronomy, Precursor liquefies the beats to the point that they sound like Morton Subotnick's electronics, the seven-minute locomotive Rhino Jockey is oriented towards the raves. At the same time an introspective and somewhat obscure strain has penetrated the fabric of Tobin's music: the tenderly noir Slowly, the liquid downtempo Deo, the lazily Brazilian Saboteur. Most affecting is perhaps Chocolate Lovely, a pensive jazzy theme floating in a lattice of restrained beats.

Out From Out Where (Ninja Tune, 2002) marks another peak of creativity. Tobin's android treatment of jungle is the quintessence of the trans-cultural. Witness how he blends minimalist concerto, Chinese ballet and Middle-eastern ceremony in a tricky novelty such as Proper Hoodidge. His artsy manipulations of jungle music would be nothing new, but his dressing for Back From Space (a disorienting piano sample of Debussy's Clair de Lune and chiming bells that drowns the beat fury into the equivalent of a Christmas music-box and galactic drones), Chronic Tronic (a breathtaking beat symphony, a demented clockwork that redefines the temporal coordinate, perhaps Tobin's statement on the irrelevance of tempo), El Wraith (an exotic fantasia that runs the gamut from Japanese temple music to from intoxicated hindu processions to symphonic fanfare to dub reverbs), and Verbal (a vocal track over chunky beats in which the frantic rapper is slowly decomposed until he becomes only an alien signal, perhaps Tobin's statement on the irrelevance of the message), show his perverted genius still progressing towards ever more daring abstractions. Searchers is another peak of unbridled imagination: a chaotic crescendo of strings (two separate samples of string orchestras), drums, bells, cheeping electronics, warped lyric-less vocals and middle-eastern flute. The noisy sci-fi vignette Triple Science, with machine-gun beats worthy of grindcore, the marching robots of Rosies, the simulation of exotic dancing of Cosmo Retro Intro Outro, the atmospheric jazz shuffle of Hey Blondie, that sounds like an instrumental remix of a Pink Floyd track from Dark Side of the Moon, emanate from the same, unfocused center. The album's closer, Mighty Micro People, that dumps a gentle melodic theme inside a confused container with a piano that echoes tv-series music and the electronic simulation of a shy quavering voice, is perhaps a tribute to himself.
It appears that Tobin is carrying out several philosophical debates at once, while entertaining his audience with catchy numbers of an extra-terrestrial music hall. Tobin is debating on the meaning of music itself, on the nature of composition, on the viability of communication, on the ultimate constituents of sound. His neglect for form is a new kind of form, a form that has reduced form to the annihilation of form. The dualism of content versus form was resolved by the post-modernists as a non-issue: Tobin redefines it as a process, a process of form-abatement by which content is created, as if content and form were the same substance, and more of one means less of the other one. Tobin's music is also unique in evoking a broad range of moods, from witty amusement to sheer paranoia (and sometimes within the same track). They are all facets of the same existential experience. After the mediocre Verbal Remixes & Collaborations (NinjaTune, 2003) and the awful live dj set Solid Steel (Ninja Tune, 2004), Tobin worked on Tom Clancy's Chaos Theory: Splinter Cell 3 (Ninja Tune, 2005), the soundtrack to a videogame that recycled his cliches with an impressive lack of imagination or variety.
Tobin largely dispensed with the sampling machine and instead opted for found sounds and field recordings as the sources for The Foley Room (Ninja Tune, 2007), the first serious work since the mesmerizing Out From Out Where. The underlying technique did not produce a dramatic change in style though: it was merely a new face of the same puzzle. The imported sounds (like by the motorcycle rumble in Esther's or the water drop in Kitchen Sink or the tiger in Big Furry Head) are perfectly integrated in the overall machine to yield the trademark Tobin sound. Some of these constructions (such as Big Furry Head) create a kind of fluid instrumental music that harkens back to Brian Eno's futuristic vignettes of the 1970s. What has been lost is the drum'n'bass roots, and any ambition to fuse it with jazz. Bloodstone toys with a melancholy klezmer motif on piano and chaotic string melodies. Horsefish indulges in effects of cascading harp notes and little else.
The psychedelic reference is particularly strong. Keep Your Distance echoes the psychedelic ragas of the Sixties. The Killer's Vanilla sounds like distorted soul music that is fed to an uncontrolled freak-out (except that Tobin's freak-outs are driven by breakbeats, not guitars). Always could be a parody of garage-rock.
Having left behind drum'n'bass, allows Tobin to concentrate on what the other half of his art (the collage) but what has been lost is not trivial (his acrobatic symphonies of beats). The notable exceptions are Foley Room, a futuristic sonata for solo digital drumming, and Straight Psyche, a return to the "baroque" breakbeat harmonies of Supermodified.
Two Fingers (Paper Bag, 2009) is a collaboration between Amon Tobin and Joe Chapman, and their first album together, credited to Two Fingers.
[Releted links]

1996 - Adventures in Foam
1997 - Bricolage Part 1 Part 2 [FLAC] Part1/Part2/Part3
1998 - Permutation [FLAC] Part1/Part2/Part3
2000 - Supermodified
2002 - Out From Out Where
2005 - Chaos Theory - Splinter Cell 3 Soundtrack [FLAC] Part1/Part2
2007 - Foley Room Bonus Dvd : Part 1 /Part 2 /Part 3
2007 - Kitchen Sink (Remixes)
2008 - Monthly Joint & Freebie

1996 - Creatures
1997 - Chomp Samba
2002 - East To West
2005 - The Lighthouse
2006 - Taxidermia
2007 - Bloodstone
2008 - Shut Down
2008 - It's A Lovely Night
2008 - Delpher
2008 - Eight Sum

Collaborations & Live Recordings
2003 - Verbal Remixes & Collaborations [FLAC] part1/part2
2005 - Live @ Breezblock [2005-01-18]
2006 - Peeping Tom (with Mike Patton)
2007 - Live at Club A38, Budapest, Hungary (17.4.2007) main set/bonus set
2007 - Experimental, Live @ Mary Anne Hobbs [2007-11-21]
2008 - Live @ Donaufestival Krems [2008-04-27]
2009 - Foley Room Recorded (Live In Brussels
2009 - Two Fingers (Amon Tobin feat. Sway)

2008 - (Ninja Tune) - You Don't Know - Ninja Cuts (3CD) Part 1 /Part 2 /Part 3 or here
2004 - Solid Steel Presents Amon Tobin Recorded Live Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 or Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5