Tobin performing live in Luxembourg City
|Birth name||Amon Adonai Santos de Araújo Tobin|
|Also known as||Cujo|
|Born||February 7, 1972|
|Origin||Rio de Janeiro, Brazil|
|Genres||Electronica, trip hop, breakbeat, IDM, house, nu jazz, drum and bass|
|Occupations||DJ, record producer, musician|
|Instruments||Synthesizers, keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, saxophone, theremin, chapman stick, drum machine, sampler|
|Associated acts||Two Fingers, Eskamon|
Amon Adonai Santos de Araújo Tobin (born February 7, 1972), known as Amon Tobin, is a Brazilian musician, composer and producer of electronic music. He is described as a virtuoso sound designer  and is considered to be one of the most influential electronic music artists in the world. He is noted for his unusual methodology in sound design and music production. He has released seven major studio albums under the London-based Ninja Tune record label.
In 2007 he released Foley Room, an album based entirely on the manipulation of field recordings. His latest album, 2011's ISAM, included "female" vocals made from his own processed voice. His music has been used in numerous major motion pictures including The Italian Job and 21. Tobin has created songs for several independent films, including the 2006 Hungarian film Taxidermia, and had his music used in other independent films such as the 2002 Cannes Palme d'Or nominated Divine Intervention. A selection of his tracks were featured in commercial bumps on Toonami and in the 2005 anime IGPX, and he produced the musical scores to critically acclaimed video games Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory by Ubisoft in 2005, and Sucker Punch's Infamous in 2009.
Early career (1995–1997)
Tobin was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At the age of 2, he and his family left Brazil to live in Morocco, the Netherlands, London, Portugal and Madeira. Tobin settled in Brighton, England as a teenager which remained his permanent residence until 2002. There he began producing electronic music in his bedroom with samplers and other audio equipment such as an Amstrad Studio 100 4-track, although he was "not really involved in the [music] scene" at that time. While taking an editorial photography class at a university in Brighton, he responded to a magazine promotion for the London-based Ninebar record label asking artists to send in demos of their songs. Ninebar signed Tobin to the label in 1996 after hearing his early work, and he traveled between his home in Brighton and the studios in London to produce his first official works. He also spent some time living in Montreal before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2008.
Under his original moniker Cujo (in Portuguese, the word for whose), he released a series of original compositions on 12-inch vinyl. Allmusic called them "head-turning" in a review. Many of those tracks were later included on his first full-length album Adventures in Foam, originally released in 1996 by Ninebar to a limited release of 5,000 copies.
The larger Ninja Tune record label had been growing in the United Kingdom at the time with help from their successful artists such as DJ Food, Funki Porcini, The Herbaliser, and Coldcut. DJ Food and Funki Porcini noticed Tobin's work on Adventures in Foam and prompted the label to approach him. Ninja Tune signed Tobin in late 1996, this time under his abbreviated name "Amon Tobin". The official Ninja Tune website has said that Adventures in Foam had been re-released without permission by the US-based Shadow Records that same year and that this unauthorized version, labeled the "US release", included only 7 of the original songs, different cover art, and that some tracks were titled incorrectly. In 1997 Ninja Tune acquired the proper licenses from Ninebar and re-released the album themselves. This version included the original album in its entirety, and a second disc containing previously unreleased material. As of 2008, copies of Shadow Record's "US version" are still sold by online retailer Amazon.com. Over the course of its production, Adventures in Foam has been reviewed favorably. Ryan Schreiber of Pitchfork Media said that its break-beat style "got totally out of hand", but that it "never fails to let the listener know who's in charge." The album was released for a fourth time in 2002, again by Ninja Tune.
Defining albums (1997–2002)
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Over the next several years, Tobin released three albums. Bricolage, released in 1997, was the culmination of two projects Tobin had started after his debut album earlier that year. His third album Permutation was released in 1998. Independent radio stations aired Tobin's pieces during the summer of 1998 to positive listener reaction from conventional jazz aficionados, who identified with the computer-generated drums and composition. In the late 1990s, sample-based music was becoming more popular with a wide range of emerging and developing genres, but Tobin himself was still largely unknown. Tobin's style of music was not seen as definitively belonging to one genre or another. The critics that commented on Bricolage and Permutation gave them positive reviews and they are often mentioned, by later reviewers and interviewers, as classic albums of the time. Pitchfork Media acclaimed the use of jazz instrument samples, comparing him to famous composers Quincy Jones and Miles Davis. In a 1999 review, they awarded Bricolage a very rare 10/10 and said that it was "one of the most inventive records of the decade."
Tobin released his fourth album, Supermodified in 2000. The album is regarded as his most commercial album to date. Critic reviews were generally positive, with Pitchfork rating the album 9.1/10, and Stylus Magazine saying, "Not many studio-bound electronic musicians could put forward such a vivid and dynamic statement or make it as entertaining and downright funky as Supermodified has managed to do."
"Back From Space" by Amon Tobin, from the album Out From Out Where
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In 2002, Tobin relocated to Montreal, Canada where he had spent time previously at Ninja Tune's North American Headquarters. Tobin lived in the industrial area of Old Montreal to avoid noise complaints from neighbors after dark. There he produced his fifth album Out From Out Where released that same year. This was his first album created primarily in a professional studio. He later released a single, Verbal, taken from Out From Out Where. Otis Hart of Dusted Magazine said that Tobin's style of producing had come into its own. He acclaimed Tobin's "refined sense of tempo".
In January 2004, Tobin was contracted by video game company Ubisoft Montreal to compose the soundtrack for the third installment of their critically successful Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell series, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. To facilitate using the music in a video game, where the level of action or plot can change in real-time, each track was broken down by Tobin into four distinct but similar parts based on their level of intensity. The game's developers could then use each section to provide music based on the actions of the player. Despite not being an official album in Tobin's discography, it was considered a ground breaking work in the world of video game sound tracks described as "an entirely new era of media" by Tiny Mix Tapes
The album continued the trend Tobin started with Out From Out Where, as he used more field recordings during production. In addition to being included with the game, Ninja Tune released the score as an individual album in 2005, titled Chaos Theory – Splinter Cell 3 Soundtrack, several months before the game's release. It was received well, benefiting from a wider audience of reviewers in both the music and gaming industries. Ben Hogwood of MusicOMH.com applauded Tobin's use of melody and texture, adding that he controlled the sounds with the "clarity of a classical orchestrator." He later recorded a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound version of the album with audio engineer Bobby Azinsky in a dedicated Solid State Logic studio in Los Angeles.
Tobin's sixth studio album, Foley Room, was released in 2007. The title alludes to the "foley rooms" used by recording engineers and foley artists to record sound effects in the movie industry. On this album, Tobin concluded his transition away from prerecorded source material that started with Out From Out Where. All of the samples used for production were recorded by himself using an omnidirectional microphone. Recorded primarily in Montreal, San Francisco, and Seattle, the samples came from a wide range of sources including motorbikes, tigers, insects, and water falling from a tap. Also contributing to the album were the string quartet Kronos Quartet, drummer Stefan Schneider, and harpist Sarah Pagé. Foley Room's use of field-recordings was used to help promote the album, including two official pre-release trailers posted to YouTube. Nate Dorr of PopMatters.com called it a "smooth, natural progression" from his work on Supermodified. The first single, "Bloodstone", was released to the iTunes Music Store months before the rest of the album. Ninja Tune also published a DVD titled Foley Room: Found Footage which documented the recording process.
In 2008, Tobin announced he was working on a new video game soundtrack for an "undisclosed PS3 title". This was later revealed to be the PlayStation 3 exclusive game, inFamous, and in 2010, Tobin announced that he would be working on the music for Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction. Recent works include "Hey Mr. Tree" as a 'Bonus Joint' to accompany his earlier 'Monthly Joint' collection, a remix of Noisia's "Machine Gun" released alongside remixes by 16 Bit and Spor, and a collaboration with ESKMO dubbed Eskamon. Eskamon has released a single "Fine Objects". A new AT record has also been officially announced via www.amontobin.com, for which he is "researching and developing new production tools and techniques" and using "a whole new array of gadgetry from the past and the future".
Amon Tobin's sounds and samples are frequently used in the British car-based TV show Top Gear, and his song "Four Ton Mantis" has been used in a few of the more recent Nissan Qashqai and Juke advertisements.
Musical style and influences
Tobin is best known for his use of audio manipulation techniques, where any given source material is transformed to produce a new sound. His use of this technique has changed over the course of his career. On his original singles under Ninebar and his first three albums, Tobin acquired all of the sound sources to produce music from his personal collection of vinyl records. He manipulates the sounds with a combination of audio hardware and software such as Cubase, often leaving the original source unrecognizable in its new context. The majority of his early work focused on reordering the break beats from jazz and blues music into faster more complex patterns. Guido Farnell of InTheMix.com, wrote about his use of this technique, saying that Tobin has "taken the art to new and dizzying heights." His fifth album Out From Out Where, began the gradual shift away from prerecorded material by incorporating original guitar samples. His techniques began branching into technical sound design, taking break beats or single instruments, modifying specific frequencies, and producing new sounds. This trend continued through his video game score Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory Soundtrack, and by his sixth album, Foley Room, all of the source material was recorded in the field by himself. Speaking about the creativity of sample-based music compared to traditional instruments, he says that "creative input is not determined by your source material but in how you edit and manipulate the sounds."
Tobin experimented with various instruments. He does not come from a music family, nor has he had any formal training in music theory. About his music in general, Tobin says that he sees it as a "genuine" expression of the time he lives in, as he says that by contrast, blues, jazz, and Brazilian genres were "genuine" expressions of the 1960s. Despite his indirect connection with Brazilian genres, Tobin collaborated with a number of artists on Bebel Gilberto's 2000 bossa nova album Tanto Tempo. Tobin's albums are often compared to soundtracks, and he says that movies by David Lynch have influenced him. In addition, he has stated to like films by the Coen brothers, Dario Argento, and Roman Polanski.
Tobin began performing live shows in clubs with other Ninja Tune artists after releasing his second album, Bricolage. His shows generally contained music that he had produced during his career, mixed with modified songs from drum and bass, hip-hop, or other genres. Because his music was entirely produced in a studio with electronics, Tobin was not interested in adapting his music to suit a Live PA incorporating musicians. He instead used turntables which he felt had more in common with his approach to music production. He is known for building Dolby Digital 7.1 surround sound speaker systems for his performances.
In 2011 Tobin has developed a live show in support of the album ISAM fitting his criteria for a performance that is both live and purely electronic. He told Wired Magazine “The idea was to integrate myself, quite literally, into an audio and visual presentation of the album,”. It incorporates the use of new video mapping techniques that are projected onto a large cubic structure from which Tobin performs. The show has been met with international acclaim described by Vice Magazine's Creators Project as "revolutionizing the live music experience".
Tobin has performed individual shows in many countries including tours in Europe, Australia, Japan, and the United States. His 2003 live performance in Melbourne, Australia was used for the fourth album in Ninja Tune's Solid Steel series because Tobin was not available to record a studio mix at the time. Many songs from the original recording were omitted because of copyright issues with the original artists, including the R&B group Destiny's Child.
A second Solid Steel album called Foley Room Recorded Live In Brussels was recorded in Brussels at the Ancienne Belgique in 2007 and was released for free in November 2008. According to Tobin's official website, "After months of back and forth and despite everyone’s best efforts the mix was in danger of being edited into the ground to accommodate big labels and publishers. Rather than release a compromised version commercially, the decision was made to give it away for free instead."
Tobin has released eight major studio albums:
- 1996: Adventures in Foam
- 1997: Bricolage
- 1998: Permutation
- 2000: Supermodified
- 2002: Out from Out Where
- 2005: Chaos Theory – Splinter Cell 3 Soundtrack
- 2007: Foley Room
- 2011: ISAM
In addition, his body of work includes 21 extended play (EP) albums which contain several B-sides each, a live album for Ninja Tune's Solid Steel series, new material for various compilation albums, and original tracks available as free downloads on his website.
Tobin's music has been used in several major motion pictures including The Italian Job and 21. He has also produced tracks for a number of independent films, such as The Last Minute, and has created production music for the BMG Zomba commercial library which is used in various films. In 2006 he scored the soundtrack for the Hungarian horror film Taxidermia which was made available on his website. He also produced the score for the 2009 documentary Pax Americana and the Weaponization of Space.
In 2006 he began collaborating on a hip-hop oriented project with drum & bass/jungle producer Doubleclick and a number of guest vocalists. Under the name Two Fingers, the pair have released several singles followed by their self-titled debut album in 2009.
In 2009 he collaborated on a track titled Sylo with the UK drum and bass artist Dom & Roland for the album No Strings Attached.
In January 2011, his artist page was updated on Ninja Tune's official website, announcing a new album in 2011, called ISAM, as well as a Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory remix album. Later, the official Ping Pong Facebook page suggested that ISAM would be released on May 9, 2011. After being leaked by a journalist with a press copy of the album, ISAM was instead released on April 20, 2011.
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- Official Amon Tobin Website
- Official Two Fingers Website
- Official Amon Tobin page at Ninja Tune website
- Amon Tobin discography at Discogs
- Amon Tobin at AllMusic
- Amon Tobin at The Creators Project
- Amon Tobin at Rolldabeats
- Amon Tobin career retrospective article at PopMatters
- Video on the Infamous Soundtrack