REVIEW: Amon Tobin – Foley Room (2007)

Released in 2007, Montreal-based composer Amon Tobin’s Foley Room offers itself to oddity while never acting as a novelty. Opening track Bloodstone is a psychedelic trip of unnerving melancholia heaving and swaying like a choppy sea. A sort of ‘could be’ scoring style for a would be Edward Gorey film.

The album proceeds into a musique concrète / rock hybrid with proceeding track Esther’s. Motorcycle engines rev up and pull out in time to a sample of Dick Dale’s rapid tremolo picking, each source material processed and warped perfectly over a thudding rhythm section.

Every piece of Foley Room is mixed and processed in such a way as to keep things from sounding choppy or jagged. It’s a justified use of post-production polish that leaves things sounding smooth, atmospheric and at times quite cinematic.

“The idea was to get source material that was pretty basic. I got drones mostly from the Kronos Quartet. Patrick Watson gave me little piano melodies that I then cut up and re-arranged, and even mixed them with some vinyl piano to make different melodies from. It was all treating everything in the same way: a rock falling, a musician, a vinyl sample. All these were treated as an objective source, and then applying the arrangements and the creation of the music afterwards,” said Amon Tobin in a phone interview with Radio Free Canuckistan, a Canadian music blog dedicated to “musical musings from the frozen north.”

As we get further into the album, more and more commonly ‘electronic’ elements work their way further into center frame. Big Furry Head slams and twists with all the industrial bravado of Author & Punisher, its groove reminiscent of industrial dub mastermind The Bug.

Near closing tracks Ever Falling and Always give the listener a relative moment of levity on an otherwise dark and unnerving album. Choir vocals lift us over a field of twisting and crackling rhythmic sounds on Ever Falling, while fun bass lines and childlike vocals come through a fog of bombastic reverb-drenched drum breaks on track Always.

Originally developed in the 1930s in France, the techniques and theory behind musique concrète have expanded greatly due to technological development and the accessibility of equipment. We see the proliferation of reel to reel recording equipment post-WW2, followed by cassette tapes in ’63, and later the first digital sampler in ’69. This whole time music studio equipment is becoming better and better, granting more facilities and allowing artists more control with post-production manipulation.

Enter the digital audio workstation, or DAW. With computers, the facilities granted to the artist are greater than ever, yet the momentum behind musique concrète’s development and experimentation has fallen by the wayside. Musique concrète is a term most often relegated to analog-based ambient music strewn carelessly across the internet. On the other hand, with Foley Room, Amon Tobin pushes musique concrète forward, never sacrificing the music for the clear-cut regulations imposed upon the genre.

“Basically, I want the music to come first, the satisfaction I get from making music. Whatever idea I have to begin with, I don’t want it to restrict where the song could go or how good it could be. I don’t want to be saying, ‘Well, I’d like to do that, but it doesn’t fit into my concept.’ It’s not going to happen. I want the music to be king, and everything else just facilitates that.”

For fans of: Igorrr, Meat Beat Manifesto, The Bug

Like Amon Tobin? Give these a listen: Brian J Davis, Barbed, skintape

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