BEN FROST – Live at Rocca Brancaleone, Ravenna 29th June 2012
I recently made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t go to another concert to see a solo laptop artist.
Past experience has taught me that, however visceral/atmospheric/distinctive the recorded music is, the experience of watching someone staring at , and tweaking with, his/her computer for an hour or more is a visual spectacle I can happily live without.
The announcement of this concert by Ben Frost as part of the Ravenna Festival therefore presented a dilemma.
I am a big admirer of Frost’s albums Theory Of Machines and By The Throat but didn’t want to be disillusioned by a lacklustre ‘live’ show.
I decided to risk it because the billing promised that Frost was being backed by Shahzad Ismaily on percussion and Borgar Magnason on double bass. When there are ‘real’ instruments alongside a MacBook the dynamic changes. There is the sense that there is something more spontaneous going on than a mere playback of something prepared earlier.
The venue for the show was also a big selling point – outdoors in the remains of the city’s fortress (Rocca) was a cool place to be at the end of a sweltering day in which temperatures had soared above 30 degrees celcius.
The Frost trio played for a little over an hour creating an intense uninterrupted piece that shifted between pure noise and glitchy electronics with hints of piano melodies to soften the mood. The occasional bursts of dry ice combined with the muted lighting to give a vaguely satanic aspect to proceedings.
It was all a bit much for the numerous well-heeled festival goers who made an early exit. They were presumably expecting restful ambient textures instead of the heavier sounds inspired by industrial punk and Krautrock.
Frost specialises in creating some fairly creepy soundscapes so the growls and howls Magnason elicited from his double bass and the heavy bumps in the night from Ismaily’s synthesised drum kit helped create the kind of music that would fit well with nightmarish images from sci-fi or horror movies.
All in all, good enough to restore my faith in live electronica.