Ben Frost at Lincoln Center Unnerves Members in Tuxedos

Last night marked the commencement of New York’s Unsound fest 2011, once again cooperatively executed by Polish Cultural Institute in New York and the Goethe-Institut New York. An important genre-defying event of modern composition, this year’s festival began with a Lincoln Center performance by Ben Frost in collaboration with prepared pianist Daniel Bjarnson, “We don’t need other worlds. We need mirrors” (originally performed at the same event in Poland last year). Frost had Sinfonietta Cracovia, the Royal Orchestra of Krakow, at his disposal and to many’s surprise didn’t lose himself in it, as everything was very contained, sustained, and minimal. A constant tension remained as the visuals supplied by Brian Eno (manipulated stills from the original Solaris film) were projected above the orchestra.

Below is the actual progression of the evening.

Keller and I find our seats and are amazed by their proximity to the stage. We sit, and I realize that my hands still smell like the pizza we ate. The audience abides by the light flash and shuts up, then the projector plays footage of a performance by Sinfonietta Cracovia of Fragment Koncertu (it is amazing). We applaud. “That sounded very fragmented,” says a woman seated behind me. The evening proceeds with members of the Krakow orchestra playing pieces by Penderecki and Reich. All are performed magnificently, sychronized bows violently pumping and at times softly swaying but always damn fine.

Intermission. I am asked not to take pictures. The woman seated behind me is told by her husband that two years ago Ben Frost was a nobody, had only put out two albums (one of which he owns and hates because it’s just noise), and look at him now, what a bunch of bullshit, he concludes.

Frost’s performance begins, and the audience isn’t sure if it has begun because it’s so goddamn quiet. There are no swells of black static, but Frost is just as unnervingly noisy with the quiet tension he creates, sustaining, at times even swelling with massive depth, but mostly just faintly churning, like 50 squeaky sets of teeth being brushed, decorated by the scattered prepared piano. The projector displays a blue square, which becomes more squares, then more complex arrangements of pixels until one sees the Kris character, elderly-looking, fromSolaris, age in reverse, then age back, then pixelate until just a square again.

I clap as solidly as I can, surprised it’s already over. The woman seated behind me says, “It’s pretty droney,” as her husband murmurs swears under his breath, displeased with the evening’s performance. His New York accent is thick, like someone at a Mets game. Keller and I take sometime to come out of the state we were put in and then get some donuts.

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