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Amon Tobin:
More Musical Mayhem From the Jazzy Jungle King

Written for Seattle Weekly but spiked, October, 2002

Amon Tobin—born in Brazil, raised in England, currently based in Montreal—has become one of the most respected names in electronic pop music. His intricate arranging and processing of samples yields a sound that is simultaneously mysterious, ethereal, funky, jazzy, organic and eclectic. In fact, it’s fairly safe to say that there isn’t much else like his style out there.

His accomplished arrangements and subtle sense of rhythm have brought him a rabid fan base and nearly unanimous high regard from critics. His post-modern jazz stylings have even been tapped for a high-profile BMW ad campaign.

Out From Out Where, released last week on Ninja Tune Records, is his fifth full length (including his first disc, released under the name Cujo) and it hits the streets more than two years after his last effort, Supermodified.

Reaction to Out From Out Where seems to be a bit schizo: some say it's more intense and darker than your past albums while others say the opposite. What do you make of that?
Well, this record is not as accessible, in my opinion, as Supermodified. It's definitely got some dark and dense stuff but it's also got some lighter, melodic moments. I tried to create contrast between the melodic elements and the aggressive stuff; I’m really into that contrast. I've put out five albums now, and each time there's been someone who's said it's this or that thing compared to the last album, and a few months later they've completely changed their minds anyway. I don't really pay much attention to that.
It does seem that your material, more so than many other musicians, reveals itself gradually, that details come out only after repeated listens or only when listening in the right state of mind. Do you have any idea why this is so?
Well there's a lot going on in these tracks. There's an element of instant gratification, which I think is important, but I certainly hope there's some longevity in the arrangements. There's stuff going on in the periphery of the tracks and hopefully it will open up with repeated listens.
Do you think this has anything to do with using samples?
Oh yeah, the thing about sampling is that it's not a very clean sound, there's always something lurking in the background, especially if you sample from vinyl. I tend to take three or four layers of samples and then strip it down again and there'll be remnants of things I've taken away. There will be kind of like shrapnel in there and I think that adds a lot of character to a sound.
How do you go about finding your source material?
I go into a record shop with my portable deck and my headphones and I go through a lot of different sections and pick out things that I find interesting. I just sit in the corner of the shop and go through them for sounds I need or could something with. Often the records won't be anything I'd normally buy but they'll have some sound that could be useful.
So, you probably have a huge record collection then?
Oh no, my flat is very small, so I can't keep a lot of records. I try to make a lot out of a little. I didn't have much of a record collection when I started so I learned to make the most out of what I had. I'm not really into collecting.
How do you pick from the nearly infinite available source material out there? The choices must be a bit overwhelming.
I think it's kind of the same as buying a computer and you start thinking about all the things you can do -- make movies, make music, make multimedia -- you end up just kind of stunned looking at the screen. I think it's much better to work the other way around, where you have a specific use for something, where you have an idea that you need to realize so you buy the tool to do it.
So, you have a concrete idea for a song when you start it?
I'd like to say that I always have a concrete idea for which I just magically find all the sounds. Sometimes I have a framework that is pretty solid and I try to find the sounds to make it happen but other times I'm just inspired by something I hear and I'll just roll with it. More often than not, especially on this album, I'm pretty disciplined. I think it would be a shame to limit yourself.
Is this discipline responsible for the rather long wait for Out From Out Where?
Yeah, I’m afraid so. I really wanted to make album that I could be proud of. It's important to me that people realize that this is "hand-made" music. It's not a vehicle to becoming a rock star or having lots of money. I happy to have money from what I do, it's really a labor of love and I work at it until I think it's right.
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