One thing is never enough to describe anything about Ben Frost’s immense creative work: Ben is a minimal electronic producer and composer of music that is tricky to categorise precisely, as it reflects echoes of several heavyweight genres, including drone, noise, dark ambient, black metal, and more. “Routine? There is no routine! It’s kind of like following breadcrumbs, following my nose”, says Ben, and laughs adorably when asked about the process behind producing his music. “You can’t have a planned routine. And if you do, within 10 minutes it’s gonna change because the chaos of the fucking world just makes it that way”. Indeed, that seems to explain the experience you get from listening to his latest record, the synthetic AURORA, where Frost skillfully forges an ominous, industrial sonic haze that occasionally gets sliced by hitch-pitched rhythmic melodies. Prior to his recent gig in Leeds, The Gryphon talked with Ben about the nature of his last album, live performances, video games and Hollywood.
“If it was up to me I would never perform this music for a sit-down audience”, he replies, when asked if he had instigated the decision to set his performance in front of a seated audience. “AURORA is not a record to sit down to… [it] is about the body, and I think it changes the meaning of it when it becomes a passive engagement. If everyone wants to stand up that’s just fine with me. I would be thrilled if that’s the case.”
In the end, the virtually academic environment of Howard Assembly Rooms did not seem to interfere, with Frost and his drummer playing over an hour of their trademark monolithic sound. The set featured a great deal of improvisation, an unforgettable part of which was around 5 minutes of Ben experimenting with a sample of a wounded animal. The tragedy of a dying creature was depicted perfectly in sonic form, and felt almost cinematic; not surprising, given that Frost has previously worked as a composer of film scores.
This period of his life, however, is not one he speaks of fondly. “I’m not really doing a lot of stuff in the film world”, he speaks, his smile fading as his focus sharpened onto the restrictions of a very different industry. “I think that in the beginning I probably wasn’t as careful as I should’ve been in some of the choices I made. Working in [film composition] is like working in servitude and almost without objection. That’s been my experience with working in film… for the most part that’s been an experience I don’t wanna repeat.”
“It’s an industry that is terminated by collective fear of something new”
One notable exception in his experience of cinematic work, he notes, was his work with Australian writer and director Julia Leigh on Sleeping Beauty, which premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, but he is firm in his overall view. “Working as a composer, making music for film is a compromised shit-fight of dealing with people who are just concerned with fucking making money. It’s not for me.”
Given Matthew Barnes’ recent announcement regarding a Forest Swords soundtrack for Assassin’s Creed, I ask if this might be an area of music composition that holds more intrigue. “Yeah, actually I’m involved for the past couple of years in a big video game that eventually will reveal itself”, he smiles, his mood lightening in acknowledgement of this exciting new venture. “That world is even beyond Hollywood, it’s hard to fathom.”
Why then, is composition for films and for video games so different?
“You’re not dealing with a single mind [in Hollywood]. You’re not dealing with a singular artistic intent. You’re dealing with a boardroom full of retards who think they fucking know everything, but actually don’t know anything. It’s an industry that is terminated by collective fear of something new.” Of course, creativity can never be completely restricted, he acknowledges, but his bemoaning of a copy-and-paste industry certainly holds some weight. “The irony [is] whenever something new eventually does come along, everyone is super excited about it. When one actually manages to slip his way through, the general public and everyone are like “Hey, this is different!” And then, of course, that person then goes on to be in demand for more different things and of course that double-cycle swallows them up, and they keep making that thing different for the rest of their career.”
It’s a scathing critique, especially coming from one whose use of atmosphere and feeling in his music would make him a prime candidate for a return to the big screen. Maybe someday he will, but the freedom to work unhindered by commercially focussed mindsets would be an absolute necessity. “I’m open to anything”, he reflects. “I’m open to any kind of idea. But I’m definitely very careful, much more careful these days than I was.”
If a move away from film composition means he has more time to invest in performances like the one that graced Howard Assembly Room, maybe that’s no bad thing.
photo 2: leedsgrandtheatre.com
photo 3: f1.bcbits.com