I was lucky enough to have a prime balcony position looking straight onto the stage for Amon Tobin’s ISAM live at The Palace Theatre in Melbourne last night. We arrived early (read 2 hours early!) to make sure we got a good vantage point as this is a show that is heavily reliant on the relationship between the incredible visual performance and the carefully manicured and layered sound that are Tobin’s brilliant trademark. I recently attended Aphex Twin‘s concert at the Palace and unfortunately arrived just before the main act and couldn’t get a spot to see the stage anywhere. Luckily the 2 hour wait was absolutely made up for with a performance, like nothing I have ever seen before.
The set was a combination of different shaped white cubes creating a 3D precarious looking stack- not unlike toy blocks stacked up high by a toddler. While interesting in itself- this was nothing compared to the transformation once the show started by way of precision projections onto the surface of the block. Timed to the music with such absolute perfection, the blocks morphed in on themselves, lit up, caught fire, melted like lava, got sucked into themselves like some kind of vacuum or black hole, went all fluoro like a scene from Tron, turned into some kind of grinding machine and on and on it went. For over 1 1/2 hours you could not take your eyes off the stage. It was mesmerising, the patterns never repeating, always keeping you engaged. The sophistication of the images made the whole set feel as if it was alive- pulsating, breathing and moving, not just with the compositions- but as part of it as if it was creating the sounds. I loved that Amon Tobin himself was inside one of the cubes and that at various points he was lit up and at other times camouflaged. You really got a sense that he was the pilot, or the beating heart in this strange creature.
Performing electronic music can be disengaging for the audience and it is something I try and consider every time I do a show– a head in a laptop, slaving over buttons and faders that are complex and take a lot of skill are lost on an audience who is listening to you with their eyes and don’t see the complexities of your performance when they are not taking the physical form of fingers on the string of a guitar, of sticks on drum skins. Although a show like this takes a massive budget and huge team to achieve, I find it good food for thought when thinking of ways to show the scope and power of electronic music to an audience.
Here is a little overview of the show and below it an insight into the amazing technology and skill that went into creating the projections.