Amon Tobin: Enter the Foley Room

In the last ten years, over the course of four albums, Amon Tobin has undoubtedly taken the art of sampling to new and dizzying heights. Tobin’s intense tracks invariably brings together intricate layers of samples to form massive and chaotic walls of sound that spiral out of control to drum and bass rhythms or abstract hip-hop beats. Accompanying Kid Koala around the country this month, I caught up with Tobin who was getting ready for this tour on the phone from his home in Montreal.

How did your last set in Melbourne end up as an instalment in the Solid Steel mix series?

The last time I was there, Melbourne seemed to be a bubbly and vibrant place. Who could have predicted that set would have become a Solid Steel mix? I guess it was a nice recording of that show. Unfortunately a lot of the tracks that I played could not make it onto the final mix because they could not get clearance for them. That’s why there are some weird edits on that CD. Unfortunately a lot of my favourite parts were edited out.

It was nice to be able to give people a recording of that show. I see myself more as a producer than a DJ. Obviously, I play music that I like and music that has influenced me, but DJing also provides the place where I can play my own music whether it is something I am working on or something from the past that people might recognise.

I read that you have completed work on a new album in which you explore Music Concrete or found sound techniques. Could you tell us more about this album?

People have been making Music Concrete since the 40s. I have been very interested in the work of Pierre Schaeffer, who was experimenting with tape loops around that time. Music Concrete may sound very highbrow but it was never my intention for this album to sound highbrow. I have lots and lots of vinyl from all the electronic and sampling pioneers of the 70s. As a music nerd I find it fascinating but that kind of music also tends to be very exclusive. I can appreciate the noise those people were making but always their work leaves me wondering where I am supposed to find the tune. I am, after all, a simple man; I like tunes and melodies and things like that. The idea behind what I am doing is to develop strong songs from these interesting approaches to production. When you listen to my forthcoming record you can sit back, appreciate that the drum parts have been made from the sound of insects masturbating and lions roaring, but it is still going to be a track, if you get what I mean.

My work has always been about sampling. I think I have reached that point where I am interested in discovering and using different approaches to sampling. Generally I am just keen to broaden my approach to making music. Sampling from records is just one aspect of what I do but there is a whole other world out there in terms of how you can approach sampling. I guess my own curiosity has made me want to learn as much as I can about my field, which is making sampled based music.

‘The Foley Room’ will be released in March of next year with a DVD that documents some of the experimental techniques used to make the album. It is not a movie or anything. We just stuck a whole lot of footage onto a DVD, which shows some of the places we went to collect sounds and some of the things we tried. I guess it is really for the people who want some extra background on how the album was recorded.

What is a Foley Room?

‘The Foley Room’ is the room where they make all the sound effects for movie soundtracks. So when you hear horses running in a movie there is a Foley artist standing in the Foley room clapping together coconut shells or something. It is just an airtight environment full of toys that are used to make sound effects. I used a room like that when I was working on the Splinter Cell soundtrack. We just brought in our own material to record that room.

Are you working on any other projects that we should look out for?

More recently I have another project on the boil called Two Fingers. I am working on this project with a guy called Double Click. It really is the opposite of what I have been doing lately. We have just been putting down some straight up beats and got an MC to put some flow on it. I can’t disclose who the MC is quite yet as we are locking it down but I am really excited. It should be a really nice project.

Amon Tobin tours Australia with Kid Koala this month:

Fri Dec 8 – Prince of Wales, Melbourne

Sun Dec 10 – Factory Theatre, Sydney

Tue Dec 12 – The Rev, Brisbane

Thu Dec 14 – Traffic, Adelaide

Fri Dec 15 – The Bakery Artrage, Perth

Sat Dec 16 – Toast, Canberra