Ben Frost @ the Sydney Opera House, 11/01/14 / Photo: Prudence Upton

Ben Frost, Tim Hecker – Sydney Opera House, 11/01/15

Every once in a while, you attend a gig that makes you think deeply about the very nature of music and performance. You might wonder, “What is the most artists can get away with if they still expect people to attend their shows?”

Tim Hecker was nowhere to be seen throughout his performance, since the only light in the whole theatre was the dim glow emitted by his gear as he faded in to a set that was in turns angelic then like a jackhammer smashing through the walls.

At first, the non-existent visual element was disappointing, but it soon became obvious that it was all part of creating an impenetrable noise cocoon that was the only perceivable thing in the room. The volume was, without a doubt, the loudest we have ever heard at a concert.

Hecker made it clear that what he does is as much about physical sensation as sound, using bass rumbles that shook you to the core, and playing with texture and rhythm, high-end frequencies and pulses. It was executed on such a scale that you could feel a tangible movement in shifting from low to high; from growl to birdsong. That’s not to say that all of Hecker’s set was entirely captivating. There were long periods of ambient minimalism that perhaps only the hardiest of fans in attendance could find thrilling.

Cue Australia’s Iceland-based worldwide music darling, Ben Frost. Frost’s performance began with him wielding a low-slung guitar and pounding out heavy distortion into amps for several minutes while painfully bright white lights flashed sporadically from the edges of the stage. The ensuing set was an unrelenting continuation of this assault on the senses.

Frost’s bass was like continents moving, and the ultra loud beats were sometimes so loud you felt like your head was caving in. There were small moments of reprieve, and cameos were made by imaginatively manipulated recordings, like a booming animal growl slowed down to great effect. There were some truly interesting noises, and some surprising, meaty sound combinations towards the end.

If only the whole set was as dynamic. Instead, it too often felt hostile and deliberately obtuse, disappointing characteristics from someone so lauded as an avant-garde artist. Maybe now, with some success to his name, it’s time for Ben Frost to reconsider which boundaries he is pushing.

Frost and Hecker performed as part of Sydney Festival 2015, which runs from 8-26 January. Find more Sydney Festival events on their website.

Review: Ben Frost, Tim Hecker @ Sydney Opera House 11/01/15

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