Ben Frost Expands His Theory of Machines
With 'A U R O R A,' the composer finds the post-noise black hole lurking under the rave dancefloor.
Image: Borkur Sigthorsson
Theory of Machines is/was a record released by the composer Ben Frost in 2007. There are no words on the album itself, but Machines nonetheless bears out its title's promise, as have the two subsequent Ben Frost releases, By the Throat and just a couple of weeks ago, A U R O R A, in their own unique ways. That idea has to do with what happens at a certain theoretical point in a vast mechanical system, when the system becomes capable of a sort of emergence, when the potential of a machine to do unforeseen things becomes rising pressure. It's what you would see in an ocean of gears, and what you might also see in an ocean of computer instructions: the potential for eruption, rising like a deep-sea upwelling and promising nothing.
All of Frost's albums and soundtracks are on Spotify and at least some large part of them are on YouTube. Listen and you'll feel it, even if the theory is never explained explicitly. The Theory of Machines Bandcamp page gives us this: "throbbing guitar-based textures emerge from nothing and slowly coalesce into huge, forbidding forms that often eschew conventional structures in favor of the inevitable unfoldings of vast mechanical systems."
A U R O R A's most overt obsession is with '90s rave culture or, more specifically, with its absolute sonic destruction. In a recent FACT interview, Frost explains how he became obsessed with the ATLAS experiments at the Large Hadron Collider:
I found myself sitting on YouTube watching footage from terrible rave parties with insane Las Vegas-style light shows. It had nothing to do with the music, I’d just mute it – it was just about the image, it was really overwhelming. And I saw Ryoji Ikeda pieces that were mindblowing. I became completely fascinated with everything that was going on in the ATLAS project in the Large Hadron Collider. Have you seen the output images from ATLAS? They’re basically trying create black holes, very small ones, and the datasets that come out of these things – I don’t know who the fuck decided on that colour palette, because at some point somebody has to design a system that will synthesise that into an image. It’s completely neon. And also there’s this idea of the single point expanding into something much larger, infinite… Very small objects containing massively compressed amounts of potential or power or energy.
So, we're back to the beginning, in a sense: the rising pressure of potential energy, realized as a black hole or obliterated glow sticks. On A U R O R A, find the dance floor itself opening up to the black hole, that wholly destructive yet infinitesimal singularity of infinite space and time: the ultimate emergence. All of that cosmic junk, planets and stars and dust, realized as the dark interstellar rip of infinity.
In the months leading up to the new album's release, Frost put out a series of three videos, the work of filmmakers Trevor Tweeten and Richard Mosse. (Mosse and Frost worked together on the multi-channel video installation Enclave, an experimental documentary focusing on the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.) They're a good introduction to an artist worth studying.