Part of an elite group of artists who emerged during electronic music’s boom period in the mid 90s along with the likes of Richard D. James, DJ Shadow and Richie Hawtin, when people tell you that Amon Tobin is a pioneer, you’d better believe it.
Flipping from career to career since then and keeping his options open, the Brazillian’s nomadic existence has now lead to Montreal and in the rosy glow of a massively successful transition into a ground breaking live performer (a trick few of his peers or copyists have pulled off successfully), the DJ/Producer/Other finds himself in the midst of his most ambitious project yet.
More of a sprawling curate’s egg than a structured timeline, his new multi-format retrospective is stuffed with outakes, remixes, demoes and other obscure, and previously unreleased, material.
Unlike last year’s year ‘Arkives‘ collection released by Hawtin under his cult-famous Plastikman alter ego, this isn’t a straight reissues project as such, although it does span work from Tobin’s entire career. At 6 ten inch vinyl discs, seven CDs and two DVDs, it almost goes without saying that it’s also pretty breathtaking in scope, and one which despite the inherent quality, is going to require levels of fan-only commitment on a par with fasting and pilgrimages. Truly if electronica has a trial by fire, then this must surely be it.
This fourteen track sampler trails the main body of work trying to execute on the thankless task of giving an accurate impression of the motherlode. Feted by a list of industry names that range from Trent Reznor to Brian Eno, as expected there’s a richness, intensity and wild contrast to the contents even in this highly distilled environment, the break dominated opener ‘Carry On Marmaduke‘ blending industrial white noise with flute and keyboard motifs, an intriguing combination all leaving the impression of a folk barbershop quartet jamming off their tits somewhere in the orbit of Mars.
This richly off centre experience is from one of the most orthodox compositions Tobin chooses to include. ‘Shut Down‘ sounds like Orbital filtered through an old East German public information film, whilst the eerily droning ‘Bath Man (Here Comes The Moon)‘ could’ve come direct from the soundtrack of one of the David Lynch films of which he’s reputedly such a fan.
Having successfully transitioned from producing to scoring both video games – to the extent that his work on Splinter Cell 3 is now universally recognised as a bona fide release – and films, it’s perhaps no surprise that one or two interludes come to sound stranded out of context. As proof, ‘Sunhammer‘s techno stabs and high impact breaks are head spinning, but sound too close to FSOL’s proto-glitch efforts circa ‘We Have Explosives’. In a similar way, both the ambient ‘Angels & Demons‘ and ‘Carl The Gift‘ offer brief glimpses of fascinating potential, and presumably exist in more expanded and rewarding formats elsewhere in Tobin’s vast hard drive archives.
Unpredictably however, this is a collection that offers greatest insight when structured at its simplest. To this end Bibio‘s remix of ‘Wooden Toy‘ features a gorgeous analogue undertow and spectral, processed voices that eloquently give speech to ghosts, and by contrast a blistering drum and bass remix of Ryuichi Sakamoto‘s ‘Grief‘ spins from ambiance to neck snapping dancefloor aggression and back again.
Few projects can escape the glare of concurrent spotlights on artistic integrity, creative scope and commercial imperative, but on this admittedly scant evidence it seems like here Tobin has managed to satisfy all three dimensions. Pricey but beautifully produced, this isn’t a box set with a perspective on the mainstream, although you suspect that Thom Yorke has already signed up.
Clearly, there was never any hope in a 60-a-mere-minute running time of offering a complete perspective on every nook and cranny of this release, which in full will take a review of biblical proportions. For greatest reward, complete immersion is likely to be recommended.