Live review: Amon Tobin @ the Ogden TheatreBy Sam DeLeo | October 20th, 2011 | No Comments »
After witnessing the technological overload that was Amon Tobin’s ISAM Tour at the Ogden Theatre last night, it’s gonna be hard to get excited about “Laser Floyd” at the local planetarium anytime soon. Inhabiting Tobin’s ISAM world, the capacity crowd glimpsed the future of the concert experience.
The technology behind the ISAM Tour — an architectural mapping of a “canvas” for laser projection — has been exhibited at various sites around the globe before. But the coordination of images and music for transport on a multi-city musical performance schedule is another trick altogether.
In Houdini-esque flare, the ISAM set was unveiled as an igloo-like conglomeration of cubes, which, for the next 80 minutes, would appear to melt, bend, break and topple under the weight of nothing more solid than the images of laser projections. The cubes transformed into what resembled an aerial view of a city at night, clouds ascending from its depths, as the music began with the melodic “Calculate” from the ISAM album. On Soundcloud, Tobin commented that it was influenced by early electronic pioneers and conveyed a kind of “sad robot syndrome.” “There is a human emotion all the more palpable when expressed through a synthesizer’s limited range,” he said. “If a piano played this, it would be sentimental. Perhaps it still is a bit.”
Which track followed would become a recurring challenge to identify the rest of the night, but the cubes’ shift into an imposing robotic monolith perfectly suited the crunch of Tobin’s beats. The robotic arsenal slid open to reveal the artist manning the knobs in the central cube. As soon as he appeared, Tobin vanished again in a flow of images — a giant turbine, firing pistons, stellar constellations that began to implode with the motion of water coming to a boil. Especially during the more thunderous moments of the album, the songs appeared to bounce the images across the cubes.
Though distinctions between organic and inorganic sounds seem to have been swallowed by today’s musical technology, Tobin did not use any samples in the recording of ISAM. The one-stringed banjo sounds in the Middle Eastern-flavored “Lost & Found” served as an example of one of Tobin’s “made-up” instruments. If nothing else, the ISAM Tour reminds us that Tobin continues to be one of electronic music’s greatest innovators even 15 years after “Adventures in Foam,” his debut album.
The setting for “Lost & Found” was an orange blaze that uncharacteristically brought the set’s true edges into relief for a breathtaking effect, as if one was being reminded, “Oh yeah, that’s what were looking at again, and what a brilliant autumn fire it is.”
At the same time, there are also moments on both ISAM the record and the tour that leave one feeling cold and marooned in a space emptied of humans. Though those instances were all washed away by Tobin’s two encores of D&B, hip hop-flavored older material, that empty space seems an intentional aspect of the ISAM world.
During the last song of the ISAM set (which sounded like “Journeyman”), images loosely depicting a scene of volcanic eruptions and lava flows gradually peel away to reveal a giant circuit board. It’s Tobin again probing our ideas of the “natural.” Maybe future ISAM-like concerts will entertain robots. They could serve as a therapy for “sad robot syndrome.”
Click here to read our interview with Amon Tobin.
Denver-based writer Sam DeLeo is a published poet, has seen two of his plays produced and is currently finishing his second novel.
Joshua Elioseff is a Boulder based photographer of everything, a self-professed music junkie and regular contributor to Reverb. Check his photos out on Facebook or his website.