Ben Frost Interview
Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: Interviews, Music.
To call Ben Frost unique would be an understatement. The Australian-born experimental composer now resides in Iceland and is on the brink of releasing By the Throat, his second release on the Bedroom Community label. The album is a chilling listen that scans Frost’s environment, picking up on the majesty of nature, and the welcoming the sounds of its most primal inhabitants. Part Richard D. James, part David Suzuki, Frost’s cross between the digital world and nature creates a soundtrack which is as delicate as it is aurally impressive. In this interview Frost discusses his disdain for much of modern music, his collaboration with the Arcade Fire’s Jeremy Gara and his admiration for the world’s natural sounds.
Through your connection with Valgeir Sigurðsson on the record, it didn’t surprise me to think of Medulla when listening to “Hibakúsja.” And with “Leo Needs A New Pair of Shoes” I felt as though the track wouldn’t have been out of place amongst Aphex Twin’s Drukgs. Do you find yourself being influenced by other artists when creating your own compositions?
Ben Frost: I listen to a very limited palette of music nowadays, the vast majority of modern music bores me terribly.
Many of the songs on the album carry a very primitive, sort of animalistic sound (in “The Carpathians” it’s fairly explicit with the howling of wolves). The liner notes refer to the inclusion of orca recordings and also feature pictures of wolves. Was there an aim to make the album reflect the raw sounds of nature?
I have been perpetually fascinated by the natural world my whole life. By the Throat is certainly the most explicit example of that, but its always been there — I grew up surrounded by animals, and was always encouraged to explore that world. When I was leaving school I was very torn between art school and the zoology department, it’s a left brain right brain argument. The orca recordings I used in By the Throat were given to me by a marine biologist in Norway, Heike Vester, whose work I have followed for a number of years — she studies orca language, which fascinates me. The beginnings of By the Throat were born pouring over her hydrophonic recordings, often sleeping with them playing. My fascination with them probably goes back to my mother, reading me a book called The Killers of Eden when I was a small boy.
Sonically, as with most things, truth is stranger and more captivating than fiction. There is simply more honesty and more power in the tone produced by the snarl of a lion than by the same tone performed on a bass synth. I am not setting rules to make an “animal record,” these things, just make sense to me, I am not trying to be eccentric. I am inspired far more a by breathing snow leopard than by a new max patch.
This perpetual adoration of mediocrity, taking the past, the ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s, or whatever is in fashion at the moment, and just microwaving it just makes me want to hardwire my radio to the BBC world service and never enter a record store again. It’s aural Botox. People demand so little from the music they listen to these days I don’t even blame these “artists” for supplying it to them — why bother struggling with art when you can be acclaimed for producing vapid, pointless drivel. I am actually working in Australia this week, this is particularly evident here.
If anything By the Throat is me expressing, explicitly, my need to hear things that scare me and shallow my breathing – I want flesh in my music, it has to bleed to mean something to me. It’s just not enough to make the notes fit together for me anymore.
Winter also plays a significant roll in casting a particular feeling when browsing the liner notes. Is that feeling meant to reflect something of a bleakness within the sounds on the recording?
Have you ever seen a wolf pack running in the snow? Bleak is not my intention at all. By the Throat is a celebration of nocturnal, carnivorous joy — it’s not evil, it’s simply visceral. It is drawn from, if anything, primal, elemental forces. I crave that, especially now. It is no coincidence to me that vampire culture is so en vogue again — clans, bloodlines, unity — we are not supposed to operate alone to the level we do, unplugging ourselves from the pack, our undeveloped caveman genes are screaming at us. Bleak? I cannot think of a time I have felt more joyful than when I was running around in that blizzard with those beasts.
Is there a relationship between Bill Murray’s character in the Ghostbusters movies and your songs “Peter Venkman (Parts 1 & 2)”?
If there is one, what is the concept behind the final three “Through the…” songs on the record.
In the early stages of this record, just after I was kind of done with Theory of Machines, I started listening very purposefully to quite a lot of ceremonial music, both western and eastern—music whose design is solely to convey a sense of order and ritual and provide space for something else to happen. It amazes me how instantaneous those ideas can be conveyed in that music, similarly though in some pop music like Control by Joy Division or Disintegration by the Cure. The elements of those pieces of music are all presented within the first four bars of the composition and they exist wholly, together, like “Fascination Street,” for example, an unchanging un-evolving rhythmical and melodic structure that simply provides a stage for Robert Smith’s voice.
Structurally this approach was the antithesis to Theory of Machines, and up until this point the majority of my work actually, where the idea has generally been to accentuate each element and its relationship to every other element – to build: the crux of “post rock.” This is simply not the case with By the Throat. My focus here is not the music, but the drama operating within it, and as such, for the most part the elements that create that space are there from the start, until the end, the point is to put you there and keep you there. I mean, it’s more like Part or maybe in a physical sense more like the Rothko room at the Tate Modern. In place of single infinitely detailed landscape, it’s not about revelation of detail but presenting a three dimensional space whose singular atmosphere alters the drama that occupies it.
Also how did you become acquainted with Jeremy Gara & did he lend any insight during the recording of “Through The Mouth of Your Eye”?
Jeremy Gara was the Big Lebowski‘s rug for that piece, he just really tied the room together.