The music of the Australian musician Ben Frost tells stories without words. In his album, The Centre Cannot Hold, he is held captive aboard an American aircraft carrier on which the only escape is music. Read a sonic fiction essay.
Since his first self-released EP in 2001, Music for Sad Children, composer Ben Frost has unearthed eerily haunting sonic depictions of life in the 21st century and beyond. The music of the Australian-born artist is rooted in minimalism with traces of left-field experimental, post-rock, and kosmische music, combining images of cyber-punk and speculative horror fiction. It was his 2009 album, By the Throat, that took on a darker greyscale of ontological conundrums and weird phenomena – that can be heard through his deconstructions of sound, place, and time – compared to the more ethereal, minimalistic textures of his previous works. In 2010 Frost embarked on a year long mentorship with Brian Eno, and later, collaborations with avant-garde musicians like Tim Hecker and Colin Stetson. He has also contributed music to contemporary dance performances and video-game soundtracks, whilst scoring for films such as Solaris and Ian Banks’ The Wasp Factory, as well as TV series including Music from Fortitude and the Netflix cosmic horror hit, Dark. Frost has developed a knack for the ability to paint worlds with sound. Often he leaves cryptic messages for the listener to collaborate with his rich and eerie imagination. His recent album, The Centre Cannot Hold, deals with fictitious counter-war-narratives.
A David-Lynchified Aircraft Carrier
Entering the opening track, «Threshold of Faith», I imagine Frost held captive aboard a David-Lynchified American aircraft carrier occupying the Persian Gulf: a drone-operated vessel that kills most organic life within the trajectory of its missiles without the slightest moral assemblage. As the track opens with violently oscillating synths and crashing sub-bass, I can see Frost bound at the bow of the ship, fighting for breath against the violent winds as the war machine shreds through the night in pursuit of its human prey. I sense a sort of face-off between the organic world and the inorganic, through hissing static that seems almost sentient, paired with the sonic boom of bass frequencies dropping like bombs, rhythmically and endlessly.
Escape Through Music
The track suggests that the only way to escape being at the center of this war-machine is to plunge the synthesizer into the open sea, sucking air from the drowning keys, where a musical instrument transforms into an oxygen regulator. Machines are both a lifeline and a death sentence. Whilst sinking, there is a «Sharp Blow in Passing», where his synth-tank and will for human survival allow Frost to key his way to the surface of an open, empty sea. In «Eurydice’s Heel», Frost’s synth-tank channels Orpheus to modulate the sea’s current as a means of revival. By the album’s end, in an «Entropy of Blue», it has become clear that Frost has swallowed millions of bioluminescent plankton that light up the Arabian Sea at night, only to emerge phosphoric and supernatural, with a borderline bionic disorder. Frost’s sonic landscape allegorizes the world in which we live – one where humanity dances on the fine line between the shadows and the light in a time when it is easier to have faith in the survival of machines than the people who created them.
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