Australian Ben Frost has made a name for himself as one of the world’s leading proponents of dense oceanic layers of electronic noise.
Settling in Iceland after several years living in Europe it’s a rare event to see him perform in the UK. Outside of his strictly musical explorations he’s often collaborated with film, theatre and dance companies creating sweeping epochs of analogue-tones punctuated by modulating noise that conjure auditory portraits of Precambrian tundra, volcanic fields and the Stromatolite formations underlying the tepid Melbourne indie scene. Hence, he has many reverential fans. His detractors, if any, are usually content to shrug and move on.
Watching his performance at the ICA the audience was divided between the ardent and the curious. One fan remarked that we were witnessing the future of music and as Frost, shrouded in darkness before an undulating cinematic of aquatic forms slowly layered monolithic static over monotonal echoes I felt that, if he was right, we were fucked.
It’s not that there weren’t interesting moments in Frost’s performance, however, dissatisfaction was certainly encouraged due to these epiphanies arriving predictably, and compounded by their tardiness. It appears that when Frost channels the music he draws from palette of moods, allowing them to evolve from generative techniques before boosting them with a flourish. This gives each performance the sense that he’s guiding it to tense climactic moments based on catalytic internal struggles in sympathy with the audience. The process is done in such a way that the audience is drawn into a sonic vocabulary that transcends what they know and ideally what they expect, and yet pours from them as much as from Frost.
A great example of this comes from Ben Frost himself when in 2014 he played a blistering set at the Mouth to Mouth festival,crescendo following pyroclastic crescendo, leaving much of the audience deafened but elated.
As it was, the expectation of the ICA performance never fully delivered on the transcendence of its promise. While Frost takes the role of sonic-medium seriously, and when he chooses to unleash the music into more energetic plateaux there are some objectively buoyant moments, but the slow build thing seems a bit old hat. That’s the risk of shamanic performances, when it works it’s the only thing in the world. Comets pause, suns blink and hearts soar. But when it falters… time. ticks. very. slowly.
Loud, powerful and complete, the concert ended with an satisfied exhalation from the unshakable. They had shared something encompassing, meaningful, something that spoke to them in aphasic glacial shimmers that rocked their cynical collective cores. The rest of us left them to it, imagining our own meanings evolving elsewhere, sometime this century and with luck, before the shops shut.
Ben Frost: ICA London. 11th October 2017