Ben Frost, creates space.
First, in these seconds when Theory of Machines’ begins to emerge into sound, what it brings to mind isn’t any instrument, but an environment. The distant resonances are a little like the end of that old Alvin Lucier tape experiment, I Am Sitting in a Room, in which the re-re-re-recorded sounds of the composer’s stuttering voice are gradually obliterated by the sympathetic vibrations of the acoustic in which he’s speaking—but here we begin with all resonance, all acoustics, and only eventually do we hear something that sounds like an instrument being played by human hands.
And when we finally do, the focus is still never on the material itself. From the ominous darkness and intensity of these opening moments, one might expect a death metal album to break out in an instant; but no, the tempo never picks up, no hooks or vocals arrive, and when the drums finally kick in, they’re about as fragmented and corroded as they could possibly be and still resemble a groove. As the music changes, it changes only in texture, color and intensity, so that the sense is not of something being created, altered or even developed, but of something already present being slowly illuminated.
Frost nods toward the dark photographs of fellow Australian Bill Henson as one of the chief influences over this record’s aesthetic, and it’s not hard to see why. Just in the way that this piece’s unearthed bass and drums, fuzzed-out and grainy as if half-forgotten, recall some of the sadness of an old favorite song, it’s impossible to look at Henson’s pictures without some nostalgia for the agonies of adolescence. Lux et Nox, Henson’s book of young bodies in dim, almost black, auroral tableaux, demonstrates all the unsettling emotional and erotic directness of Frost’s work—the slow-dawning rock slither of “Stomp,” the next piece, is explicitly dedicated to the Lux et Nox series—as well as his use of negative space as a compositional tool.
Like Henson, also, Frost is a master of landscape. He “creates space” acoustically and formally, but he is as well a creator of what can only be described as imaginary geographical spaces, through the breadth and depth of these pieces. Their scale is enormous, exploiting every extreme of pitch, volume and timbre over the course of nearly ten minutes each, recalling the unbounded enormity of the natural world. The changes in the music sometimes seem as gradual as changes in the weather—and sometimes as violent.
This album is as dark as it is unafraid to punish its listeners, but for all the “machines” of the title, for all the cold restraints of form, this is a hot-blooded music—a human music—hypnagogically raw.
— Notes © 2006 Daniel Johnson
from Theory of Machines
released March 1, 2007
Produced By Ben Frost
Mixed By Ben Frost and Valgeir Sigurðsson
Electronics [Additional Processing Occuring Post-collapse By] - Lawrence English
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