Paul Labonté/ Sekondhand Projects


Amon Tobin plays the Commodore June 22 for Jazzfest. He spins records during his live show, using the turntables like samplers. Dim lights and a 7.1 surround sound system focus audiences on the “sonic environment,” rather than on dancing.


It all has the elements of an adventure story.

Intrepid breakbeat artist Amon Tobin travels the world as a sonic anthropologist, recording the sounds of motorbikes, tigers roaring and cats eating rats to use in his newest album, The Foley Room.

But as Tobin explained, the reality of his quest for samples isn’t quite as dramatic.

“(The sound collecting) is not the focus of the record — it’s really about the sounds themselves,” he said. “But that’s what everyone’s gravitating toward, which is my fault, partly, for including a DVD of me running around with a microphone.”

When building his songs, which meld a free-jazz esthetic with hip-hop or jungle breakbeats, Tobin has always used sounds to build contrasts between frequencies, tempos and textures. While he said people tend to over-intellectualize electronic music, Tobin’s interest is more emotional. He tries to find samples that are interesting not for political reasons, but their acoustic qualities.

“(When writing a song, I take a sample) with particular frequency, layered with another sample that’s not necessarily an obvious fit, but shares some property,” he said. “For me, it’s much less about where a sound comes from, and more about where it’s headed.”

Due to the processing that goes into each sound, Tobin said a “Where’s Waldo” approach to sample-spotting is vain. For example, the sample of a bee is so processed it’s become unrecognizable. As for the cat eating the rat, Tobin said it wasn’t as intense as it sounds.

“We were filming in a safari park and at one point someone caught sight of a cat with a mouse in its mouth, (so it) ended up in the footage,” he said. “When I went looking for sounds, I had a list of things that I thought would be useful. Some tended to work out, some not … I’m trying to be flexible.”