A conflict—perhaps the conflict—central to this aesthetic is between the live, animal element and its technological surroundings. As Frost explains his working process, software designed to control and clarify live sound takes on a life of its own, seeding the voice of a musical instrument with its own idiosyncratic artifacts.
If scenario seems a little sci-fi, maybe that’s not entirely a coincidence. Frost confides that a primary influence on these pieces was the score for Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris (Soderbergh, not Tarkovsky) by rock drummer-cum-film composer Cliff Martinez. Like Frost, Martinez’s score eschews conventional melodies and other such cinematics. To depict musically the encounters of the human characters and their uncanny, futuristic environment, he instead toggles between warm orchestral chords and stranger, chillier, more electronically manipulated sounds. In particular, the emotionally hollow interval of an open perfect fifth intrudes again and again—played by some metallic instrument, perhaps steel drums sounding insistently processed and delayed.
A similar pulse extends through this piece, as if to suggest the electronic pulses that permeate our everyday surroundings. That high-pitched beeping, what is that? A fax machine? A delivery van in reverse? Or is it an EKG, translating the vital signs of a human being into a kind of terrible music? (The piece was triggered, Frost says, by a truck reversing, and being reminded of an Emergency Room.) Whatever it is, it’s as inescapable here as technology itself.
Frost uses a sort of studio legerdemain to disguise the introduction of this sound and of assorted other musical events. The piece begins with a bass drone passed from ear to ear, followed by the entry of a distant, unidentifiable harmonic cloud, and finally the Solaris-esque ticking and beeping. Unless we’re paying especially close attention, by the time the ratcheting, scraping noise that pierces the stasis of the “EKG” section reveals itself to be a half-obliterated drumbeat, we’ve probably failed to notice that the pulse has already dropped an octave and taken on a far gentler, more comforting “piano” tone, on a bed of unmistakably live violins.
The brutal rock Coda, after this careful balancing act, comes as a welcome catharsis. As the title of “We Love You…” suggests, this piece offers the full-throated Swans homage that “Stomp” held in check: Frost’s band- School of Emotional Engineering, pulls off a full-scale climax with every instrument snarling and groaning and violently present.
— Notes © 2006 Daniel Johnson
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