Think of Brazil. Old-time samba and bossa nova might come to mind. But it's also the country that spawned one of electronic music's most forward-thinking artists.
Since the late '90s, Rio de Janeiro-born composer, producer, and sonic mad scientist Amon Tobin has been honing his own ever-evolving brand of electronica. Some call it intelligent dance music, or IDM, a style marked by experimental sound design, intricate textures, and broken beats that defy conventional dance-floor functionality.
Surely, Tobin's most ambitious project to date is ISAM, an experimental album and audio-visual show that he first took on tour in 2011. As he explains, "ISAM is about exploring what's possible with music and sound, using new technologies.
"The record used emerging production techniques — many of which had previously been tools only for sound design in cinema — and applied them to music. It took three years to complete. And love it or hate it, ISAM genuinely broke some new ground.
"The problem was there was no way to perform it live," he admits. "So new ways of presenting electronic music that wasn't strictly dance music also had to be thought about. The show is the result of this problem-solving process. I wanted to visually interpret what people could hear in a way that was more than some fancy eye candy.
"Instead, I'd perform the music inside an invented object that could shape-shift to a narrative — a kind of live movie that reacts to the score. The music would continue to be what it is, strange and heavy as fuck, but with an equally messed-up story unraveling around it."
Earlier this month, Tobin embarked on ISAM 2.0, a newly revamped version of his live show that promises to send the senses into overload. "Depending on where we play, [the show] can end up being twice the size, which opens up a world of wide-screen possibilities," he says. "But it's really down to new material, both visual and audio. In the end, I think live production is only as good as the work that goes into the material. And if nothing else, we've certainly all worked really hard on this."
The ISAM 2.0 international tour also coincides with the release of the new LP Stunt Rhythms by Two Fingers, Tobin's side project. Loaded with nods to his earliest electronic music influences, this album shows the Brazilian producer taking a stab at a less cerebral and more bass-heavy, floor-friendly sound.
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"Two Fingers is my outlet for just having fun with beats," he explains. "Unlike the work under my own name, I'm not trying to learn new things here. I'm just venting my love of beat-making. Stunt Rhythms is what I've held close since I was about 13 — all the electro compilations that would filter down from New York to the shitty town where I grew up in the mid-'80s.
"Tracks like Man Parrish's 'Boogie Down Bronx,' Cybotron's 'Clear,' as well as hip-hop like JVC Force's 'Strong Island' and EPMD's 'Strictly Business' all get vented in one way or another here, but through D&B production techniques. So it ends up being a hybrid of all I love about bass music, hip-hop, old-school electro, and half-step D&B."
Beware the beat blasts. And get ready for a sci-fi head trip. You've been warned.