Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Amon Tobin

Today involved lots of emails, lots of document reviews with careful annotation and lather, rinse, repeat. In cases like these, I want some background music that I can occasionally surface from my concentration to enjoy, but which otherwise forms an unobtrusive background tapestry. What Brian Eno dubbed ambient music. An album like Music for Airports is a classic example of this, but I'm willing to stray into more traditional fare such as Waltz for Debby, if it is not too 'excitable'.

So anyway, today I decided that the particular genre-unto-himself that is Amon Tobin would make a great background for the day, and just started the playlist of multiple albums that I have in my default list-of-playlists on my iPod. If you go to my Last.FM tracks page for today, you'll see the result. Cujo is just one of his early aliases...

Amon Tobin got me to thinking about my semi-random approach to music discovery. Some of my favorite albums of all time were nearly-random purchases. Judas Priest's Sad Wings of Destiny and Patti Smith's Radio Ethiopia were both bought in a record store in Houghton, Michigan while I was working at a radio station there. I'd put an LP on the turntable, lock up the studio, and walk down to the record store. Browsing covers, I'd say, "That's a cool cover, I wonder what the band sounds like?" Many times, the result was a dud, but sometimes, as with Judas Priest and Patti Smith, they became albums that have followed me my entire life.

A funny side-effect of this approach to buying music is that I sometimes fall in love with an album or albums by an artist, when it is generally agreed by their main followers that that album is one of their weakest or most atypical efforts. Amon Düül II is a good example of this effect, where I have Vive La Trance and Hijack, both of which came about during a flirtation with more commercial music by the band which upset it's core followers.

Another example would be Guided By Voices, a band renowned as a seminal force in the low-fi music movement. I picked up Do the Collapse, enjoyed it quite a lot, and only later discovered that it was Robert Pollard's "sell-out moment", taking the band into the studio for a polished production at the hands of Ric Ocasek.

Of course, sometimes the effect is reversed, and I pick an album only seemingly at random, which I've somehow heard about via the Zeitgeist. My exposure to Amon Tobin was of this nature. Some years ago, browsing the Internet, I came across a mention of a shot-by-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark, done by a bunch of teenage friends. The article included a link to a short video clip showing the teenage actor portraying Indy, fleeing the giant boulder trap from the beginning of the film. Instead of copping John Williams' soundtrack, they overlaid some electronic music I'd never heard, but which I found intriguing. I had to hunt for awhile before I found the claim that it was in fact Four Ton Mantis by Amon Tobin. A little bit more hunting uncovered Supermodified as the album on which it could be found. I had to hunt a few record stores, but I got it and it remains my favorite Amon Tobin album. Guess what I'll be listening to tomorrow?

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