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Amon Tobin: Chaos Theory

 
How's this for "synergy"? Tom Clancy = Video Game + Amon Tobin = Video Game CD - right? It's perfect. Except that, musicianship aside, it can be weird to listen to music made for video games: the listener misses the action the music is made for, more than they would in, say, a film score. It's pretty obvious there are things, in the arrangements, specifically because a player may decide to take a left and shoot something (as opposed to heading straight, hitting a target, and moving to the next level) which has nothing-at-all to do with how we think about song writing. So, there are some people who can't listen to video game tunes as Pop Music.

I'm not saying that's always fair. Pop can - and does - take unexpected turns. The trick is for the performer to do it naturally, with grace, which, I think, comes from a total respect for form - even when they're out to break something. And, of course, Amon Tobin's work (in case you don't know) has been exemplifying this for years, in his compositions for the (All-Time-Great) Ninja Tunes label. There's never been an indication of where Tobin's pieces will go, from beat to beat or bar to bar or song to song, and yet it all holds together to create what anyone would recognize as a collection of Pop Songs.

Anyway, it was only natural for a game maker, in this case Ubisoft, to contact a brilliant DJ/Cut & Paste artist about working on a big project (in this case, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory for XBox, PS2, etc.) and for this 10 track CD to be created. A no brainer, as they say. But the big question is - just as a CD - what did they create? And, the answer is,...unfortunately, I'm not sure. But first, before I go on, let me say - as background for your next Dungeons & Dragons competition, or for anyone looking to construct a really cool Haunted House for next October - IT'S TOTALLY HOT! (I'm not kidding.) It starts off with this thing, called "Lighthouse", which is a dark bit of threatening ambience, with occassional, over-caffinated, blasts of Chemical Brothers-type drumming that goes absolutely nowhere, but - I guarantee you - makes for some tantalizing audio wallpaper.

"Penthouse Flight" is more successful, going for the CB/Future Sound Of London-type thing, again, and not looking back this time, but, still, making diversionary glances that had me seriously wondering what was happening on the computer monitor Mr. Tobin was looking at. "Battery" was pretty lame - not a real compositional work but lots of gongs and things, trying to create some kind of fake-ass Kung-Fu atmosphere. (Ooohh, I'm so scared.) Like the Kill Bill movies, it just lies there, while all this stuff is happening.

Should I go on? "Koku Stealth" also didn't hold up as music - none of it does, actually - convincing me this CD is just another aural exercise (for Tobin - not us) but, because it's Tobin and Ninja Tunes, we're supposed to feel special because we're privy to it. "Cargo" isn't a bad song, building as a pop song should, with dynamics in place, but it, too, meanders and peters out, just like the others. Which brings up the question: if some degree of cohesiveness could be accomplished, on "Cargo", why not on the songs that came before? Where DOES the game come into the process? And, besides the selling of the CD, where does the listener fit into all this - if there's no game to play?

Until "Penthouse Stealth" (Track 7) I never felt like I was listening to pop music, as I usually would, and, even then, songs took too many unecessary turns to fully engage me. I think Mr. Tobin understood this because, by "Bath House" (Track 10) you can hear him stretching to make, at least, one real song for the album.

CMC

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Amon Tobin
song:The Lighthouse
album:Chaos Theory (Ninja Tune)
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