Published May 24, 2011Isam marks Brazilian-born Amon Tobin's seventh album proper for Ninja Tune. Famous for his jazz-sampling downtempo work for the label at the end of the '90s, Tobin has since amassed a distinctive body of work and lately has been pushing the envelope even further to follow his unique sonic vision. On his previous album, Foley Room, Tobin eschewed the vinyl sampling in favour of collecting sounds via field recordings. Isam builds upon this technique with the addition of custom-built instruments and the synthesising of recordings of anything from a creaking chair to Tobin's voice, resulting in some of his most captivating work. More angular and disjointed than before, yet also more melodic and accessible, it's a more introverted work, in terms of process and sound. Unlike Foley Room, which was very much a collaborative project, this time Tobin recorded all the sounds and performed the album completely on his own. The end result is a fascinating record of headphone listening that will revive the interest of older fans while appealing to a broader spectrum of electronic music aficionados who will be pleasantly surprised by this innovative, fun release. This is undoubtedly Tobin's best work in years.
Was there any unifying concept for Isam? Anything thematic that shaped the work?
No, I'm not really interested in a concept. I respond on an emotional level to the sound; I'm not really that into thinking about that or even visuals. I really believe that sound is very direct. Otherwise you start to get to concept art, which is kind of cheesy. I don't want that; I want the music to be king, even if I have to use a preset. If some generic piece of software setting works, I'll use that. It's all about the sounds.
Who does the vocals on the album?
It's me! It's synthesized. I treated my voice just like I'd treat anything else on the album: like a sound I then take and manipulate. God knows I don't need my voice on the record. All the vocals on the record are mine. All the "ooohs," "aaahhs" and "la-la-las" are just a synthesized version of me.
But it sounds like a girl singing; it's pitched really high.
Yeah, it's supposed to be a girl. "Kittykat" is supposed to be an old American folksinger woman and "Wooden Toy" is supposed to be an English girl. I made these characters up to experiment with. How can I ostracize myself? [Laughs!] How can I make sure that people really don't like this?
It's definitely the Tobin sound but structurally it's surprising. It almost sounds like Autechre or Flying Lotus, in parts.
Well, yeah, the production style is electronic. The whole album is electronic. There aren't any samples; it's all instruments. That's kind of why it sounds like that. There's a video on my website you can look at that might help you, or help me explain it. Check that out.
Did you write your own software for this?
Yeah, within the structure of existing software. It's all instruments, really. (Ninja Tune)