Experimental electronica, avant garde, instrumental composition, sound art… all these and more were at play when Canadian Tim Hecker and Australian native, now based in Iceland, Ben Frost brought their immersive and extreme synthetic music to the magnificent surrounds of the Sydney Opera House as part of the Sydney Festival.
Tim Hecker performed his set in near darkness, the only visible objects were two red guitar amp lights and two faint spotlights pointing upwards, intersecting in a swirl of fog high above the audience. The lack of lighting gave weight to Hecker’s collage of textures that were built on dense and grainy drones, swelling and retreating in his on-stage mix. The volume was possibly the loudest I’ve heard at the Opera House, another key factor in translating Hecker’s music from headphone listening to a primal and physical sensory experience where the actual shifting of air was important as the fragmented melodies and screes of interweaving digital noise. Over the space of an hour the impact of Hecker’s set became diluted by a lack of variation. There was little sense of narrative or journey and that combined with the darkness resulted in quite a claustrophobic mood.
Ben Frost’s career has seen him rise from independent releases to internationally acclaimed albums, soundtrack and theatre work in the space of a decade and it was that inter-medium experience that gave his performance such expansive and detailed qualities. Twin towers of guitar amps, one guitar and a table of laptops and other digital ephemera were Frost’s instruments as he set about creating a journey through sci-fi, cinematic composition. There were percussive explosions that rippled through the audience’s bodies, bass drones that blurred vision and layered on top of those weapons were sharp hi-res detailed snatches of sound, rippling keyboard notes, and genuinely disturbing snarling wolves. Frost’s use of sustained tension combined with hypnotic repetition made for a cerebral experience where the listener could be willingly disorientated by 60 minutes of strobe lighting or close their eyes and be transported elsewhere. Either way Frost’s was a majestic and magnetic display of sensory overload, right on the cusp of art, rock and futuristic experimentalism.
this review was first published in The Music