"Anyone making electronic music has always had this f---ing problem," Tobin tells Spinner.
"How do we present studio-based music to an audience? I think more so, this record than any other, because it's so weird -- it wasn't about making people move -- so I really had to think of a different way to do it. The first thing that came to mind was to take myself visually out of the equation as much as possible to show more about what the music represented."
Tobin's also highly aware that many expect the show to be along the lines of a performance you'd get from electronic acts like DJ Shadow or Deadmau5. "These guys make incredible productions to perform with, but mine isn't a dance floor show," he says. "Mine is a weird hybrid movie experience; you're watching a narrative and the life performance is integrated into the story -- it's a really different animal."
While performing in a sort of holographic 3D cage, the producer of classics such as '4 Ton Mantis' and 'Verbal' performs on a futuristic keyboard called the Haken Continuum.
"It's a soft continuous service with keys painted on with springs under it with this wetsuit-like material. It's like an analog instrument because there are no threats or interpretation between the notes. There's a lot of flexibility with the x, y and z axes; there's a huge range of possibilities with it, and I've spent a long time trying to get my head around it."
Only such an innovative device could be used to bring to live 'ISAM,' an album made entirely of field recordings rather than pre-recorded samples. "It had a lot more to do with processing the sound, rather than where they came from," says Tobin. "I had a different approach than my last album, 'Foley Room,' which was all about trying to get bizarre source material to begin with. Trying to make a genuine marriage between synthesized and recorded sounds was a big challenge. I didn't want to make a token gesture to those camps, but rather a real cohesive mixture between them."
Adding to this mix of sounds was Tobin's first foray into songwriting -- and singing. But, like everything else on the album, his real interest lay in the sound of the words rather than what the words meant. "The lyrics are silly and don't mean anything, but it's not about that. I'm not a lyricist with a message to get across, it's really about sound. I don't think I even understand what I'm saying on some of them; it's very nonsensical."
Tobin knows that there is a real challenge for him these days as an artist and musician. His work with video game studios like Ubisoft for 'Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory' series was poo-pooed for not being "serious enough" while his current work may be a bit abstract for fans of strictly melodic music. But, like any artist, Tobin sticks to his core values and has a sound and confident rationale.
"My music has always been about reorganizing existing content -- the challenge is to do things that I'm not familiar with -- I don't believe in creating anything new. Back in the early '90s I would try to take things that were very familiar with sounds of jazz and then tried to put them in an unfamiliar electronic context. But as time went on, I got more interested in the process of transforming sound.
"Right now, I'm essentially doing the same thing as in the '90s, exploring grounds that I haven't covered and learning as much as I can about how sound works. That's something I hope I'll be able to carry on doing for as long as I can."