Ben Frost

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Steel Wound (2003) , 7/10
Theory Of Machines (2006) , 7.5/10
By The Throat (2009) , 6.5/10
Aurora (2014), 5.5/10
The Centre Cannot Hold (2017), 6/10

Australian-born Iceland-based laptop composer Ben Frost, who had already recorded the solo School Of Emotional Engineering (2004) under the moniker School Of Emotional Engineering, choreographed the fanciful scenes for treated guitar of Steel Wound (Room40, 2003). The 47-minute piece begins with an imposing drone that, after four minutes, acquires both a life and a voice of its own. The bleak dense humming of this section (I Lay My Ear To Furious Latin) is followed by the ten-minute You Me And The End Of Everything, in which the guitar tones finally reveal themselves for what they are, louder and louder, like in a psychedelic trip. The nine-minute Steel Wound returns to cosmic droning but with a strident quality that slowly takes over and becomes a symphony of ear-splitting overtones. The guitar then intones the agonizing requiem of Last Exit To Brooklyn, that almost sounds like an ambient remix of a Jimi Hendrix solo. The last movement, And I Watched You Breathe, continues in that fashion with some slow-motion mind-warping distorted evolutions. This trippy ending contrasts sharply with the mournful and austere beginning.

Frost then coupled industrial horror with glitchy post-rock dynamics, and psychedelic drones with minimal techno, for Theory Of Machines (Bedroom Community, 2006), a set of four lengthy suites. With its manic, implacable crescendo of distorted drones Theory Of Machines feels like a response to Pink Floyd's Welcome to the Machine. It eventually explodes supernova-style, leaving behind ineffable stardust and an increasingly bellicose crackling process, probably a prelude to another apocalypse. Instead the album transitions to the android dance-music of Stomp: its rhythm is an irregular heartbeat that radiates vibrating tentacles whose spiderweb threatens a swarm of insects. Its ending is the charge of a mechanical device bent on destruction. The Swans tribute We Love You Michael Gira is instead a piece of sophisticated chamber music: initially as doleful and anemic as it gets, it evolves into an industrial nightmare although preserving an underlying drone of intense melancholy. Forgetting You Is Like Breathing Water is another piece of austere electroacoustic chamber music: its asynchronous drones, that initially have a cold mathematical quality, slowly coalesce to form a melodic pulsation that turns into another sad adagio-like theme. This composition turns minimalist repetition on its head.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Alessio)

Australiano di nascita ma di base in Islanda, il compositore elettronico Ben Frost, che aveva già registrato il solo School Of Emotional Engineering(2004) sotto il moniker di School of Emotional Engineering, orchestra le fantasiose scene di Steel Wound (Room40, 2003) attraverso manipolazioni chitarristiche. I 47 minuti della traccia iniziano con un imponente drone che , dopo quattro minuti, si avvia verso vita e voce proprie. Il denso ronzio desolato di questa parte(I Lay My Ear to Furious Latin) è seguito dai dieci minuti di You Me And The End Of Everything, dove i toni di chitarra si rivelano per ciò che sono ,frastornanti e potenti, come in un trip psichedelico. I nove minuti di Steel Wound si muovono su un droning cosmico che da stridente si trasforma lentamente in una sinfonia dalle sfumature assordanti. La chitarra intona un agonizzante requiem in Last Exit To Brooklyn, che suona quasi come il remix ambient di un assolo alla Jimi Hendrix. L'ultimo movimento, And I Watched You Breathe, continua su questa linea con evoluzioni più distorte, lente e deformanti. Questo viaggio finale contrasta nettamente con l'austero e lugubre inizio.


Frost si collega all'orrore industrial attraverso dinamiche glitch/post-rock, drones psichedelici e la minimal techno con Theory Of Machines (Bedroom community, 2006), un set di quattro lunghe suites. Col suo ossessivo e implacabile crescendo di drones distorti Theory Of Machines sembra quasi una risposta a Welcome to the Machine dei Pink Floyd. Infine esplode come fosse una supernova, lasciando un’ineffabile scia di pulviscolo stellare, e un crescente,bellicoso processo scricchiolante, quasi a preannunciare una nuova apocalisse. Invece l’album si sposta sulla dance-music androide di Stomp: il suo ritmo è un battito cardiaco irregolare, che irradia vibranti tentacoli, come una ragnatela che intrappola uno sciame d’insetti. Il suo finale è la carica di un meccanismo pronto a distruggersi. We Love You Michael Gira è invece un tributo agli Swans, un pezzo di sofisticata chamber-music: inizialmente è dolente e anemico come ci si aspetta, poi evolve in un incubo industriale anche se accompagnato da un rassicurante e intenso drone malinconico di fondo. Forgetting You Is Like Breathing Water è un altro pezzo di austera chamber-music elettroacustica: i suoi drones fuori tempo che all’inizio hanno una fredda impronta matematica, si fondono lentamente formando una pulsazione melodica che si sposta verso un altro rattristato tema simile ad un adagio. Queste capovolgono l'assunto della ripetizione minimalista.

By The Throat (Bedroom Community, 2009) is a more humane work in that "found sounds" from the environment combine with his electronic meditations in a less arcane manner, thus flattening the expressionistic gradient of the compositions. A string quartet and echoes of popular genres (from heavy metal to hip-hop) further enhance the feeling that Frost's doom has been tempered by a new source of inspiration: life itself. Generally speaking, the music is much more intense. Killshot displays one of Frost's masterful choreographies: an extremely turbulent electronic soundscape eventually unfolds into a duet between melodramatic sound effects and an exotic guitar melody. The interaction of the electronics and the guitar with strings, horns and voices in the two parts of Peter Venkman creates a gloomy expressionist atmosphere. His chamber music has also become more convoluted: Hibakusja toys with horns, hiccupping sound effects and a drilling drone. The discreet events of guitar and piano that constitute the fabric of Leo Needs A New Pair Of Shoes drown in a steppe roamed by icy drones and howling beasts. However the album is also more fragmented than its predecessors, which seems to indicate a collection of unfinished drafts rather than a set of fully scoped-out compositions.

Solaris (2011) was a collaboration with Daniel Bjarnason inspired by the 1972 classic film. Black Marrow (2013) and FAR (2013) were soundtracks for dance works (the latter contains Enlightenment, one of his most anguished compositions).

The music on Aurora (Mute, 2014) doesn't sound focused. In fact, it doesn't sound like an album at all. It sounds like a sketchbook. Synths and drums are used and abused to produce grand atmospheres, but little substance remains. A house-like melody and beat emerge from the densely distorted industrial clangor of Nolan. The melody erupts from Secant after a few minutes of electronic doodling. But even these apparent standouts pieces display the same problem of the filler: a trivial idea is stretched out as far as one can, and in some cases this amounts to little more than cranking up the volume. The real standout, the apocalyptic mayhem of Sola Fide, works better (with less melody and less rhythm) as a soundtrack for the post-industrial android society (but still paged if compared with music made by Throbbing Gristle 30 years earlier). Everything sounds a bit too facile. Everything sounds like something that anyone with enough money to buy the same digital tools can produce. A three-song EP it would have been enough.

In 2013 Frost and librettist David Pountney turned Iain Banks' novel "The Wasp Factory" (1984) into an 85-minute opera, excerpts of which were released on The Wasp Factory (Bedroom Community, 2016). The novel's protagonist is a teenage psychopathic killer, and the opera is mostly a sequence of chamber lieder for three female voices, each representing an aspect of the teenager's psyche.

In 2015 Frost scored the soundtrack for the twelve-part TV series "Fortitude", and Music From Fortitude (Music From Fortitude, 2017) collects forty snippets.

Frost also scored the soundtrack for Kevin Phillips' film Super Dark Times (Orchard, 2017).

The Centre Cannot Hold (Mute, 2017), produced by Steve Albini, is another mixed bag, although the production quality is impeccable. The most powerful moments are Threshold Of Faith, in which a looping abrasive industrial noise slowly acquires symponic depth and splinters into a fleet of free-floating cosmic drones; and especially Trauma Theory, whose shivering sheets of metallic cacophony coalesce into whirling evil symphonic grandeur. Other pieces are either confused (A Sharp Blow In Passing, which glides from a glitchy ambient tide into baroque tinkling via a distorted crescendo) or trivial (the magniloquent horror soundtrack Eurydice's Heel), or both confused and trivial (All That You Love Will Be Eviscerated), or just pure filler (Healthcare). The failed sonic explorations of these pieces, however, sounds like steps towards two successful musical odysseys: the deconstructed schizoid melody of Ionia (a poppy song lurks behind the irregular seizures) and Entropy In Blue, a journey into a devastated split psyche from which there emerges a disturbing heartbeat-like pulsation.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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The EP All That You Love Will Be Eviscerated (Mute, 2018) collects three new pieces: the symphonic horror of Self Portrait In Ultramarine; An Empty Vessel To Flood, that begins like a blast of radioactive abrasive noise, and Goonies Never Say Die, where angelic drones are devastated by a loud demonic distortion. Frost's own remix of All That You Love Will Be Eviscerated is eight minutes of cinematic cacophony. Albini remixes Meg Ryan Eyez and Alva Noto remixes Ionia.

Catastrophic Deliquescence (Mute, 2019) collects the music composed for the crime drama Fortitude (2015-18), originally a British television series created by Simon Donald. Dark Cycle 1 (Invada, 2019) and Dark Cycle 2 collect the music composed for the sci-fi thriller Dark (2017-19), originally a German television series created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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