Review Summary: transcends its unique production and proves itself as a classic record in itself.
''For a long time I've really only focused on making music from music...'' Amon Tobin
Amon Tobin is one of the most left field artists I have ever come across, originally he worked exclusively with sample based music, making ambient and drum and bass music. For this, his latest record, he departed entirely from samples from records, and instead started to work with live recordings.
Alot of time was spent gathering the samples used on this record, which have been gathered from all over the world. The samples range from Tobin's self built instruments, insects with specialist equipment, live tigers and lions, a CD pressing plant, endless electrical feedback and the Kronos Quartet. The list doesn't end there either.
This is not a clumsy mish mash of eclectic samples however; Tobin did not want the attention to be drawn to what was being recorded, but to grab your attention with the unique melodies and soundscapes created. Many of the recordings have been edited beyond recognition in order to do this. It would be an achievement in itself if he was able to just make music, but the way he has made music that is so extraordinary is uncanny. If you played someone this record and then told them how it was made, they may not believe you. If you told them how it was made and then played it, they wouldn’t believe what they were hearing.
The Foley Room is a recording studio used for sound effects, and as such has a very flat and soulless sound, unlike the rich qualities of ambience other studios strive to create. It was in here that the home made instruments, insects and Kronos Quartet were recorded. So that Amon Tobin had as much free reign as possible when mixing the sounds as possible, and so the layers of sound recorded in the studio and onsite wouldn’t sound like they came from different sources, and they certainly don’t. Sometimes it almost sounds like a single cohesive orchestra, which is what all of the best sample based records should sound like.
''It's not meant to be a concept record, it's just a curiosity really, that's all it is.'' Amon Tobin
It was under this impression that a bought the CD, expecting an unusual and interesting addition to my music collection, though not one that I would listen to very often. In fact, I listen to it a lot, and it is my current favourite record to introduce to other music lovers. A fan of turntablism would enjoy the beats and understand the background it came from, a fan of experimental artists such as Tom Waits and Radiohead would enjoy it for its initial concept and unusual sounds and time sequences. A fan of Avant-Garde music such as experimental Jazz and Classical probably would never guess the music’s origin.
The Kronos Quartet are an experimental group of musicians, who are at the forefront of modern classical music, and have worked with notable artists such as Faith No More, Bjork and Café Tacúba. Their work appears at different points on the record, coming in and out of different songs. Although their compositions are far from straightforward they are the most recognisable sounds on the record, and also the most relaxing.
On the accompanying DVD, you see Tobin collecting his samples from different sources around the world, with degrees of success. A safari trip proves how quiet animals can be at the wrong times, which is then made up for by recording feeding lions face to face. Tobin remains extremely placid the entire time, always considering how the recordings could be used and put together. Always in his own world. Instead of simply playing what was recorded by the camera, we hear songs from the record, this shows how these seemingly misguided trips to unusual places finally became a great record. Although sometimes it would be nice to hear the source material. Especially when inside a dome for a huge satellite, or in a CD pressing factory.
It also shows the experimental minds of the musicians, you will often double take at what you see them doing, and be shocked that it actually worked. Some instances of this are when they use metal dishes floating in water as drums, or when they are recording the insects inside little rolls of tin foil, and trying to coax them to spread their wings inside are baffling, and show the level of patience and commitment this record took. Far too much time and effort was put into this for it to be written off as simply a curiosity, Amon Tobin must just be a very modest guy.
There are some beautiful little moments on this record, such as the fantastic strings, strong beats, candid singing captured while one of the engineers was setting up. This is a very strong instrumental record, which transcends its unique production and proves itself as a classic record in itself.