Australian born, Icelandic-based composer/producer Ben Frost burst into the spotlight with his breathtaking Theory of Machines. Where does he go next?
“Music for me is most certainly a cold-blooded and premeditated crime, but that is not to say I don’t often get very lost in the passion of it,” Ben Frost writes via e-mail, his words a sharp contrast to the images of killer whales he includes to illustrate concepts from his forthcoming album. That album, due out later this year from Bedroom Community, has a lot of pressure on it already. Frost’s last album, 2007’s Theory of Machines (Bedroom Community) received international praise seldom doled out for experimental noise albums, including the claim that he was the future of electronic music.
Perhaps Frost’s music won over disparate audiences because it is so far removed from molds cut by other electronic artists. He is not even quite sure why he’s considered an electronic musician at all: “I find it very hard to reconcile the origin of my work with its public perception. When I listen to my music, I hear The Cure, Penderecki, and Burzum, but somehow it ends up in the dance/electronic section in many a record store. I have bought like five records in the last 12 months and most of them are by dead Eastern European composers.”
While the dead Eastern European composers may be comfortable on Frost’s forthcoming record, they share space with referents from myriad art forms. “Looking at the working titles I have used for this record, I see a lot of use of the word Black, stolen lines from Disintegration and a mildly disturbing number of Twin Peaks references,” he says, then quickly abandons David Lynch for modern art. “Sonically the record is much darker in hue. Where Theory of Machines was very clean and sort of lit in fluorescent clinical light, this record is sort of bathed in shadow like a Rothko painting. It is a far more primal and visceral record both sonically and conceptually.”
“I have many friends who make an album every year, sometimes many albums in a year. I am in many ways envious of that relationship to music.”
The primal and visceral impulses in Frost’s music come not only from the animals that guest-star (lions, sperm whales, orcas, gorillas, and wolves are all slated to appear on the new album) but from Frost’s creative process as well. “There are five pieces of music I began work on for this album and there will be five pieces on this album. I rarely abandon a piece of music. That struggle with my work is probably at the heart of its sound, a sort of fight with it. It is grueling and often there are painstaking changes and mutations and the risk of sort of sucking the life of the music is a very real threat.”
Frost reflects on his more prolific colleagues. “I have many friends who make an album every year, sometimes many albums in a year. I am in many ways envious of that relationship to music. I just need the time to fight with my ideas. I don’t spend every day on my album, far from it. It’s a very dysfunctional long-distance relationship most of the time. We meet for a couple of days, fuck and fight and then run off crying. And spend the next month waiting for the other one to call back.”
When the music does call back, it demands a nontraditional relationship. “For example, this new record contains quite a lot of very ‘electronic’ material, sort of pure synthesized tones and textures that have been created in the vacuum of the digital realm but then performed into and recaptured from very acoustic spaces, and as such the spaces that these instruments occupy are ones that are normally reserved for acoustic instruments.”
Frost is concerned about literal space as well. “I also have a lot of problems with standard procedure recording techniques. For example, there is a sort of unwritten law in sound recording that when you record something in stereo, you do so with a matched pair of microphones placed equidistant to the sound source—hard left and right. If you ask most engineers why that is most would probably tell you that this is how your ears hear the sound, so you just set up the microphones accordingly. This baffles me—it is the aural equivalent of traditionalist life-drawing and yet it is the standard approach in even the most experimental of music.”
When orcas swim with Laura Palmer and wolves howl in time with Robert Smith, traditionalist life drawing has certainly been long-abandoned. “The spaces on my records are hyper-real, extreme forms of illusionary naturalism. Furthermore I have never been one to get caught up in the comparison of the sound of something vs. the sound of the recording, as if looking for faults in the captured image. If my work indeed seems invested in the potential of instruments I think it simply stems from that pure irreverence for the “natural” aural-state of things.”
There you have it. Ben Frost’s new album will be full of cold-blooded crime, dysfunctional relationships, and irreverence. Long live the future of electronic music.
Words: Erin Lyndal Martin
Images: Bjarni Grímsson
as featured in Issue 27