Originally published on October 12, 2011
Amon Tobin and Eskmo :: 10.01.11 :: The Warfield :: San Francisco, CA
The Warfield was transformed into a booming arena of sensory stimulation during two back-to-back sold out Amon Tobinperformances. The Brazilian born sound designer wowed San Franciscans with what may be the most technologically advanced concert experience yet designed. This tour showcases ISAM, his 2011 album of sampled and manipulated beats. It’s the first time Tobin has played shows dedicated solely to his compositions (as opposed to mixing his songs into other danceable tracks in DJ sets), and it’s also the first time he has incorporated elaborate visual elements into his performances. Anybody in attendance can verify that Tobin’s first effort at both of these undertakings resulted in a groundbreaking live show that left everyone astounded long after the house lights had come back on.
The night opened with an equally inspiring set of sound architecture from former San Franciscan producer Eskmo. His groove heavy beats got everyone in the mood for the night of electronic music experimentation. Eskmo incorporated many live samples into his sets, which made him a really interesting DJ to see perform. During “We Got More,” he recorded himself crushing a water bottle, drumming on a skillet, and tearing paper. He then arranged these previously dissonant sounds into his recognizable song, which grew to a pulsing, echoing ball of beautifully crafted noise.
|Eskmo by Annelise Poda|
When watching Eskmo mix, you can really see how proficient he is at his craft. He manipulates knobs and switches like he is one with the console, deeply immersed in the tracks. During “Gold & Stone,” he took a thick drum part and conjured it into an explosive, grinding climax that hit right as his focused expression spontaneously burst into a wide smile. The crowd was also lost in the same happy energetic vibes from the masterfully crafted music as it progressed and distorted, taking everyone on a sonic expedition.
After a short intermission, the curtains parted to reveal Amon Tobin’s much-hyped stage set, a mass of jutting cubes that resembled a giant 3-D game of Tetris. As the room went dark, the magic began. A single projector transmitted advanced rendered images onto the blocks as Tobin’s melodic notes of “Journeyman” echoed up from every side of the room. The music and the visuals were perfectly intertwined. Seemingly endless layers of Tobin’s bass tremor reverberations and cyclical melodies moved in unison with dazzling video-mapped images of spinning gears, warping constellations, and glowing fire.
|Amon Tobin by Annelise Poda|
Amon Tobin himself was integrated into the center stage cube as the commander of the show. This booth would periodically light up from inside and illuminate Tobin’s constantly nodding baseball cap, causing the crowd to go absolutely wild. At one of these points, his hands could be seen flowing through the air as if he was conducting his own digital orchestra. After reading more about the technology behind the show, I learned that he was synthesizing video waveforms to be projected on the fly by signaling different movements into a Kinect motion-sensing camera. These parts of the show where you could watch Tobin were great, and I wish that there had been even more opportunities to see him at work throughout the night.
The unquestionable highlight of the show was during a song that had a bass part like an earthquake that rocked straight to the center of your body core. Deep notes slowly built up with other varied samples, and at this apex, giant confetti cannons were unleashed upon the crowd. The room was immediately saturated with small, white paper drifting over the audience. It was amazing to see and feel it ‘snowing’ in the midst of giant bass shocks and blinding strobe lights, a moment of full-on sensory assault. There was a warning broadcast to people prone to seizures at the beginning of the show, and this was definitely the moment that they should have hopefully avoided.
|Eskmo by Annelise Poda|
This whole concert was a full on audiovisual journey. Every time I looked back at the crowd, their eyes were transfixed on the spectacle in front of them, slowly swaying to the all-consuming experience. This hypnotic state was interrupted when Tobin emerged to take a bow. The crowd was fanatical, yelling appreciation all the way from the far ends of the upper balcony. A subsequent mind-boggling encore left everyone buzzing about how inspiring and overwhelming the performance had been.
Once outside in the night air, a guy emerged from the crowd and ripped off his shirt while shouting, “I am reborn!” with his hands reaching high into the air. His gesture was a great physical summary of the performance, and I have no doubt that many others felt the same spike of excitement from the show. I know it’s very early to be thinking about it, but I can’t wait to find out what Amon Tobin’s next project will be to see how he can possibly top this futuristic concert. There are only a few scheduled dates remaining, but if you have the chance to go, you definitely should, as the ISAM Tour is a unique music experience that will most certainly be a creative benchmark in the next generation of live music technology innovation.