Ben Frost, a composer pushed to extremes

“We’re exposed to so much medium.” (Photo: Börkur Sigthorsson)

Much of Ben Frost’s forthcoming album was made inside a little computer, but it still evokes big terror. Seismic shudders, hissing electricity, boiling cauldrons of testosterone — it’s stunningly brutal stuff.

The 33-year-old composer plays well with others, through. In recent years, Frost has composed and designed sound for artist Richard Mosse’s acclaimed video installation, “The Enclave,” and scored music for choreographer Wayne McGregor’s “FAR,” which comes to the Kennedy Center from May 1 to 3.

Frost says the music for “FAR” was a continuation of the sonic ideas he was pursuing in 2009 with “By The Throat,” a riveting recording made partially from snarling violins and lupine growls.

His new album, “A U R O R A,” out May 27, is even more of a breath-stealer, crammed with rhythmic violence that Frost calls his “attempt at techno.” Claustrophobic and crushing, the album concludes with 10 seconds of contemplative silence.

I spoke with the Melbourne, Australia native from his home in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he’d recently — literally — hiked up a nearby mountain and experienced something important. Our chat has been edited.

With “FAR” and other collaborative performance projects, you’re introducing extreme sounds to stately environments. Is that purposeful?

No. I’m not purposefully trying to be divergent in making extremism the No. 1 thing on my list of things to accomplish. But at the same time, there’s no necessity in creating anything that already exists or is already prevalent in other people’s music. So I suppose that forces my hand to push toward the edges.

Many musicians seem to cultivate finesse over the course of a career, but your new album has an almost bludgeoning quality.

It was a really conscious choice to throw down these hard lines. No guitars. No strings. No piano. Just dispense with all the things that defined [“By The Throat”] and start somewhere uncomfortable. How do you make a record feel physical when you’re making it inside a box?

Do you ever worry that using today’s technology will eventually make your music sound dated?

That is definitely a fear. My answer to that has been to subvert the use of technology and never use it the way it was intended. The way to avoid pitfalls is to ignore the prescribed dosage.

At its most visceral, I hear your music as something cleaving through our collective overstimulation. Is that a goal? To blast through the noise with a bigger noise?

What I’m most concerned with is overwhelming myself — and I think my threshold is much higher than most people’s. But it goes both ways. There’s fragility in music and I feel like we’re leveling out. There’s so much mediocrity in everything. And I mean that in the widest sense. We’re exposed to so much medium. I miss the crushing lows as much as I miss the dizzying highs.

I went hiking yesterday an hour from my house, and I walked to the top of this mountain, and there was no wind, no birds. It was about as close to a naturally occurring silence as you could ever find. Where else do you get that if you can’t get that inside music?

That’s the kind of question I wish more people thought about.

The music industry is such an anomaly. Look at any other industry — they sell their differences. “Our product is not like that thing.” But walk into a record store and, especially with Western music, you can find facsimiles of the same thing over and over again.

Those stickers that say, “Recommended if you like . . .”

Right. “If you like this, you’ll love this, because it sounds exactly the f—– same!” What’s the point? [Laughs.] Like I said before, it’s about necessity. I have no motivation to make something that someone else can make.

Chris Richards has been the Post's pop music critic since 2009. He's recently written about summer songs, festival fatigue, metal drumming and D.C. rap star Shy Glizzy.



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Emily Yahr · April 25, 2014