Amon Tobin dazzles musically, visually at Greek Theatre

Jan Flatley-Feldman/Staff
Jan Flatley-Feldman/Staff

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A first listen to Brazilian electronic artist Amon Tobin’s latest album ISAM: Control Over Nature (Ninja Tune), released a little over a year ago, may have resulted in confusion for some. The disjointed electronic sounds created by Tobin were more comparable to scary bedtime stories than enjoyable music. But fast-forward to Tobin’s October concert at the Greek Theatre, where the album was put into context, and ISAM began to make a little more sense.
Tobin’s openers, Kronos Quartet and Holy Other, provided a mellow introduction to the heavy sounds of the Brazilian artist. While Kronos Quartet wooed the crowd with their deep violins and cellos, Holy Other prepped them with a dramatic, ethereal sound. But the show went beyond sound when Tobin took the stage. A parting of the curtains revealed an enormous 3D art installation that looked as if it belonged more at the SFMOMA than at a concert venue. Made up of white cubes that would later have light and images projected on to it, the shapeshifting art installation proved to be an entryway into Tobin’s experimental music, which can only be described as structural grace.
Tobin stood atop of the structure poised like a futuristic emperor, his set list a mix of his latest album. Tobin’s performance was more of a show that one absorbs rather than merely listens to. The blend of instrumentals with naturalistic images gave weight to the subtitle of his latest album; Tobin seemed to have a sort of control over nature. Additionally, a hauntingly eerie female voice accompanied his show, which turned out not to be a woman at all but a synthesized vocal. That is, Tobin used music technology to gender modify his own voice.
Though Tobin’s music was rhythmic and upbeat, the audience was unusually static. Instead of the dancing one naturally expects, the audience was one, swaying like a giant pendulum. The faces of the viewers were like those of deer caught in the headlights: wide-eyed and mesmerized.These visuals extended to the music itself. Insect noises — buzzing and fluttering — added to the visual display. The sounds were crawling with a kind of industrial meets sci-fi vibe that caused one to feel like they were the protagonist of a video game gone wrong: The elements of his songs were broken, dense and heavy.
The surge of emotion and awe that Amon Tobin stirred within the audience at the Greek was due in part to his combination of sound with design. The harsh movement of light and images across the cube display were a type of sacred geometry that played on the audience’s aesthetic fascination. What set Tobin apart from other visionary electronic artists was not his ability to control nature but his ability to take his audience on a visual journey by controlling their fears and emotions.

Contact Addy Bhasin at [email protected].