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Ben Frost’s Sonic Tsunami

Early into Ben Frost’s 60-some minute performance at Amsterdam Bar and Hall last Saturday night, as the room darkened, a digital sonic wave began to roil and crest.  Paul Corley held his drumsticks in a preparatory gesture, as if in prayer, and an insistent thrumming began. Then, a sound tsunami rammed into my chest. I […]

Ben Frost. Photo: Bjarni Grimsson, courtesy of Walker Art Center.

Ben Frost. Photo: Bjarni Grimsson, courtesy of Walker Art Center.

Early into Ben Frost’s 60-some minute performance at Amsterdam Bar and Hall last Saturday night, as the room darkened, a digital sonic wave began to roil and crest.  Paul Corley held his drumsticks in a preparatory gesture, as if in prayer, and an insistent thrumming began. Then, a sound tsunami rammed into my chest. I literally couldn’t breathe. You do yoga, I told myself. Inhale. Exhale. Again.

If Frost’s music is an extreme listening experience, which it is (woe to those who didn’t bring earplugs), it’s also a thrilling physical, kinetic adventure for an audience in two ways: as comprised of listening, responsive bodies, and as watchers of the rhythmic, sonorous conjuring occurring on stage.

Frost performs barefoot, moving between laptop, speakers, guitar and sundry digital wizardry with choreographic precision. Sometimes he stands on one leg, flexes a foot, raises his arms, nods. His charisma is as quiet and understated as his music is a ferocious rush, immersing every sensibility in sound.

The other drummer performing with Frost for this gig, Greg Fox, (formerly of the Brooklyn-based “white metal” group Liturgy, and named Best Drummer by the Village Voice in 2011), is hypnotic in an altogether different way. His hands and wrists move as quickly as hummingbird wings, marvels of speed and blur that deliver a panoply of sounds—hard ticking, bright flashing, beats blasting.

The Australian-born Frost lives in Iceland, studies with Brian Eno and has worked with artists from Björk to British choreographer Wayne McGregor and his company, Random Dance (presented by Northrop Dance in 2009). He says he’s moving in a new direction with his music. This show, with the two drummers, was a preview; a 2013 album will reveal all.

Ben Frost with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, drummers and sound guy at Amsterdam Bar & Hall on Feb. 9. Photo courtesy of the artist's Twitter feed.

Ben Frost with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, drummers and sound guy on Feb. 9. Photo courtesy of the artist’s Twitter feed.

Frost’s first appearance in the Twin Cities in 2010, made possible by Kate Nordstrum, then-curator of the music program at the Southern Theater, was an 80-minute arc of aural intrigue (threaded with digitized wolf howls, crackling static and a few minutes of collaboration with Tim Hecker) that concluded with a repeating thud that became a single point in space, not unlike a heartbeat.

The Amsterdam performance on February 9, again made possible by Nordstrum who’s now curator of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music series (co-sponsored by Walker Art Center), was a series of works punctuated by pauses (filled with boisterous applause) in between. The new pieces were more “melodic” than before in the sense that, quite often, the head-nodding, body-swaying rhythms and an occasional plaintive series of notes, were melodically one in the same.

Transportive, tantric, meditative, exhilarating– these are the some of the descriptors that come to mind. But Frost’s music can’t really be explained; it must be experienced in the body. For those of us raised on electronic-music pioneers, such as Eno and Jean-Michel Jarre, the viscerality of Frost’s music points to the genre’s continual evolution. For the Billie Joe Armstrong look-alikes in the audience, with their punk hair and eyeliner, Frost’s music is a substantive, cerebral alternative. Feel it. And breathe.

Related links:

Find more information about the Liquid Music series and upcoming concert dates: http://www.thespco.org/concerts-tickets/liquid-music

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Camille LeFevre is a Twin Cities arts journalist and dance critic.

Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it. Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to editor(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)