INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Beat JANUARY 14, 2015 - by Liza Dezfouli
"Last time I played in Sydney was in a bunker in Redfern and now I'm about to perform in the Sydney Opera House," says Melbourne-born producer and composer Ben Frost. "The gravitas of that is not lost on me." When Beat talks to Frost, he's at home in Reykjavik with half a metre of snow piled up outside his front door. It's still dark outside at 10AM and he's just returned from taking his kid to school on a sled. Given the weather we're enduring here at the time of writing, this all sounds unreal.
Frost is thrilled about his forthcoming trip to Australia: "I am excited about it; I've got lots of friends down there, my family , it kind of feels like it's been a long time since I've been in Australia. I've been away for a third of my life. I'm going to be performing music from the record at MOFO. I've taken it to sixty different countries over the last summer - it's about time I brought it home." The record in question is Aurora, from last year. Frost's musical adventures, mostly created in collaboration, are extremely varied, thus his work hard to describe in a few words: 'sound art, post-classical electronic, minimalist metal, sound scape, structured, shapeshifting' are some of the things said about it. Asked to describe his style Frost says "I, to quote, 'Really only focus style on the project at hand'."
Frost has had commissions from Melbourne's Chunky Move, Wayne McGregor/Random Dance and Akram Khan in the dance world and has collaborated with the likes of Brian Eno, who he came to know when Eno chose him for the Rolex Mentor and Protegé program which involved twelve months of working together. One of the results of this partnership was Solaris, a re-scoring of the Tarkovsky classic for Poland's Sinfonietta Cracovia. Eno and Frost have continued to work together on a range of projects. Frost has also made music for film and art installations as well as directing a work of musical theatre. "My music is not made in isolation," he says. "I'm an avid collaborator. I've worked with a range of different people. A lot of collaboration."
Frost moved to Iceland in 2005 and then set up The Bedroom, a record label/collective with close friends Valgeir Sigur&oeth;sson and Nico Muhly, although he insists he didn't move to Iceland for creative reasons. "The move to Reykjavik had nothing to do with music," he says. "Most people are privileged enough to be born into a place where they feel at home. A place chooses you. I came here to visit a friend. It's very quiet here. It's not Berlin - it's not convenient to be here - it's not the first place you'd choose. It was true then and true now."
Does Frost think living in the extraordinary natural environment of Iceland has influenced his music in any way? "It's hard for me to say," he answers. "I don't have a comparison. It's not like I knew who I was when I moved here. I Ieft Australia as a young man of twenty-three. The enduring myth of the tortured artist, the kind of travelling fucking wanderer absorbing the external world, that's not me. My spaces are internal ones; I can say that I've been everywhere and I'm still doing what I'm doing. I live here because it feels like home. I feel happy here. When people think about Iceland... it's all full of clichés. Some are accurate; it's like the thinking about Australia in that way. Not dissimilar. Here they think the beer in Australia all tastes like XXXX. Iceland is unique in what it exports yet there are exceptions to that rule - there is shit music here too."
In 2013 Frost directed an opera based on the famous book The Wasp Factory by the late UK author Iain Banks. "I'd only read it," says Frost about the beginnings of the project. "It's this visceral gothic horror novel that resonated with me at the time. It came about from a bizarre set of coincidences, the opera started as a kind of original conversation that sparked the entire project." Was Banks much involved in the work? "We exchanged a couple of emails. It was definitely a weird thing - he was very much alive and kicking when we put the project into gear. It definitely changed the temperature in the room when he was there. His widow was at the performance in London." Frost says he can now see how his work on The Wasp Factory informed Aurora. "Working with the idiosyncrasies of sound and image, the physical realisation of musical ideas; it was the beginnings of what became Aurora, musically, sonically, but with different ideas. I didn't see it at the time; I was too close to the work. It was nothing I planned - someone else pointed it out. Directing The Wasp Factory was a big step towards a bigger, more complex lexicon of exploration. The music is a kind of an excuse to get involved in other aspects of a project. I've had the privilege of working with some fine directorial forces. I've worked with the best there is on multiple occasions. " This list includes visual artist Richard Mosse, he and Frost made a journey deep into war-torn Eastern Congo, which resulted in The Enclave; a multi-channel video and sound installation that premiered at the Venice Biennale in 2013.
So how's his Icelandic? "I speak Icelandic," he answers. "I'd be a shit sort of immigrant if I couldn't speak the language. I could hold my own after three years. At this point I don't think of it as a language. It's just talking." A sign of fluency is when you dream in the language. Does Frost dream in Icelandic? "My dreams are pretty obtuse," he says. "There's not a lot of text going on."