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Press Reviews for A U R O R A

It might be five years since Ben Frost released a studio album, but it’s not like he has been slacking. Since By the Throat appeared in 2009, the Australian composer, long resident in Iceland, has completed two film scores, two scores for contemporary dance troupes and a collaborative album with Daníel Bjarnason. He has been mentored by Brian Eno and popped up as a producer on Tim Hecker’s monumental Ravedeath, 1974.

In between all that, he also went to the Democratic Republic of Congo with Irish artist Richard Mosse to create the sound that would so chillingly accompany Mosse’s video installation The Enclave.

It was during his time in central Africa that the initial ideas for Aurora, his latest studio album, began to develop. The contrast between these two works with roots in central Africa is startling. Where the sound design for The Enclave was slow and filled with dread, Aurora hits hard and fast right from the opening bell.

Frost says that no matter how far he got from the album’s origins in Congo, he found the music retained a particular character that could not be shaken off. “I found it very hard to push the music in any other direction than exactly where it wanted to go,” he says.

The resulting album is a dark, post-industrial soundscape, relentlessly synthetic, teetering between pure chaos and epiphanic transcendence. In its wildest moments, when the most overjoyed melodies collide with the most savage noise, the most physical beats, it can feel like there might be no distinction there at all.

Trial by fire

“My feeling on the writing of melodic music is that it needs to pass through fire in order to convince me that it belongs there,” says Frost. “In a strange way it becomes a kind of trial, testing the properties of melody and harmony.”

Tracks such as Venter and Secant most obviously wear the scars of this trial by fire, functioning as a kind of twisted rave music. And, like all rave music, it feels at times as if the recording is an enjoyable but somewhat pale representation of something that can only truly be experienced in the flesh. A level of volume not generally available to the home listener is required.

“Something happens to music when you turn it up and you put it in that situation where it can actually potentially do damage either to you or to windows,” says Frost. “I mean, it’s euphoric but there’s a danger there. It can all fall apart; it can all go terribly wrong. That’s why I perform live music; that’s what makes it interesting to me, to have that opportunity for things to feel unstable and to enjoy that space with other people who are willing to enjoy it with me.”

The Congo effect

Talking to Frost as he begins the process of bringing Aurora to life on stages across Europe and elsewhere, it is clear that the work’s place of origin is still very much on his mind. While he prefers to leave the “grandstanding about Africa” to “Bono and his friends”, his experience in Congo had a “profound impact” on his work and on his life outside of music.

“It put into perspective a lot of my bulls**t as a whining f***ing white person with bulls**t problems that really don’t mean anything when you’re seeing them against the real world,” he says. “And that is the real world.”

One of the few expressed criticisms of The Enclave is that it is, in some ways, ambiguous. Without subtitles, the Congolese people can be seen as practically speechless, rendered as silent black bodies in a white man’s art for people in “first-world” art galleries to contemplate and pity. That’s not a question to be teased out here, but the tension between white artist and black subject is one that Frost is aware of, and he is keen not to overplay the team’s aims or achievements.

“I’m really proud of what we did there but I’m not purporting to have changed anything,” he says.

Frost, like all artists attempting to engage with the world beyond themselves, can only work with their limited tools, hoping that what they do might help to open people’s minds and offer new perspectives .

“You just have to hope that, on some level, it’s itching away at a growing collective awareness of that situation, and that slowly that can contribute in some minuscule way to meaningful changes,” he says. “I don’t want to make work that has a kind of benign belligerence to it, that is unfeeling to the world it is occupying.

“I’m an optimist, I want to make works that glow. Even if it’s a dark glow.”

The Irish Times (June 24th 2014)

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