It’s not enough merely to listen to Ben Frost’s fifth full-length studio release, A U R O R A (or any of his other albums, for that matter). To truly absorb the magnificence of Frost’s musicianship -- the sonic tsunamis that rattle your chest cavity and boom within your organs as well as the beguiling moments of melodious beauty -- you need to be present in the room as Frost performs his work.
The Australia-born Icelandic-based musician has been in the Twin Cities three times now—in 2012 with Tim Hecker at the Southern Theater, in 2013 at Amsterdam Bar and Hall and a recent Thursday evening in late October, again at Amsterdam -- all courtesy of Kate Nordstrum Projects. In this most recent show, Frost essentially performed A U R O R A in full, with an electric guitar, laptop and sound board as his instruments. As always, the work was a full-on kinetic and aural thrill, by turns feral, industrial, mythic, extraterrestrial, melodic and cinematic.
The piece, as he performs it, is also a fully realized whole-- with a beginning, middle and end -- slashed and sliced through with deafening ferocity, seared with swipes of distortion and shimmering sheets of sound, and wound through with sinuous threads of poignant harmony. Read any review of Frost’s work. Adjectives abound, or rather, the reviewers’ evident search for the perfect descriptors. That’s because, in many ways, his work defies description. Frost’s soundscapes seem to come from a parallel universe, some fourth dimension we humble humans can’t possibly know except through his work. Still, we try.
We try, because experiencing Frost in performance is to find oneself in that slippage between dimensions: where the archangels open their infinite maws, where mythic predators snap and snarl, and layers of pummeling noise, heat, shape, shots of steam, color and viscosity plume ever forward. Imagine sitting inside an erupting volcano. Then, imagine resting within a most delicious void.
To watch Frost perform, by the way, is also to witness a dance infused with an ever-present sense of urgency. He moves between his instruments (wearing sneakers this time…he’s usually barefoot), thick forelocks of hair falling over his face like fingers, his attention never wavering from its internal focus. He’s intensity personified. As he wrote for the magazine self-titled:
With this record [A U R O R A, available now through Mute], something became evident very quickly: this realization that the DNA of the music was damaged at its core. It was this weird ecosystem—melodies, harmonies and rhythms that were all relying on one another. Fucking with that in any way that was counterintuitive to the inherent ferocity of it … I could feel it. It would rap me over the knuckles every time I tried to dial it back. It would not stand for anything less than absolute oblivion.
There’s a kind of submission … in trusting that process and following it through to the end, rather than carving those sharp edges or softening the blows in order to sustain a listener… A U R O R A is not a record that deals in darkness, though; it’s this radiating heat wave, a ray of light.
And on that chilly late October evening when he played for us in St. Paul, all was illuminated.
Camille LeFevre is a long-time dance writer in the Twin Cities and the editor of The Line, an online publication about the creative economy of the Twin Cities.