Nils Frahm (piano, synthesizers, electronics)
112-114 Magdalen Street
Now, this gig was something of a really cool departure from the previously experienced performances as Nils Frahms’ music is of an instrumental nature, combining classical and electronic music. He is noted for his unorthodox use of piano, because he mixes grand piano and upright piano with a Roland Juno 60 synthesizer, a Rhodes electric piano, a drum machine and Moog Taurus bass pedals, and he doesn’t use any kind of loop or pre-recorded playback.
I am very familiar with and quite partial to Nils’ work, so was delighted to have the opportunity to catch one of his live performances, of which I had read much about, at what has become my second home, Epic Studios in Norwich.
To give a little background, Nils Frahm is a 32 year old German musician, composer and producer, presently based in Berlin. And take it from me, he is annoyingly talented, as he ably demonstrated during this concert. He has a very relaxing, self-effacing demeanour, quietly spoken and of gentle but funny humour, also demonstrated during this concert. Alongside his solo work, he has also collaborated with performers such as Anne Müller, Ólafur Arnalds and F.S. Blumm.
So to the performance. There was no support act, no great fanfare prior to his entrance onto the gear-laden stage. Nils walks onto the stage dressed in striped t-shirt, rolled up jeans and trainers. You kind of get the notion that this wasn’t going to be your usual concert/recital. He picks up a mic and introduces himself and his gear (some of which apparently is almost “kaput”), then proceeds to start the evening with a piece called “Says”, possibly the most spell-binding music I’ve ever heard performed live, a weird fusion of electronics with electric piano and a gentle arpeggiated synth texture. You almost want to think that the music is too quiet, and I was very conscious of using my camera lest I break the spell that Frahm had quickly and masterfully cast. But it isn’t too quiet, it’s just right and any louder would not have been right. The repetitive arpeggiations of the Juno 6 synthesizer are quite hypnotic and Nils’ simple Rhodes melodies add to this seductive atmosphere. A gentle crescendo builds, Nils’ subtle abuses of the tape-based echo unit create a near dissonant far-away place, but nothing takes over or dominates before it all starts falling back into nothing. Nils Frahm has got us right where he wants us.
From here on, we are exposed to his more techno side (amazing), we get a piece that was written after he had fallen out of bed and broken a finger, so went onto write a piece of music for nine fingers (amazing), and we even get a piece called “For-Peter-Toilet Brushes-More” whereupon Nils starts to bash, brush and scrape the insides of the grand piano with a pair of toilet brushes (amazing – starting to really dislike him now). Virtuoso piano pieces follow dreamy, ambient, chillout, beat-driven pieces follow piano textured, near tone poems. The broad range of moods and styles creates a truly morphic performance, each piece easily blending into the next, segued with Nils’ brief but quirky narratives. The music goes from dark to euphoric, from thoughtful to demanding, from vague and almost atonal to grand and melodic. As a musician, I feel music as much as I hear it, and on several occasions throughout the performance I found myself riding crests of immense waves, then moved to the point of tears, such was the emotive scale, scope and beauty of what I was listening to and experiencing. For a part of the concert, I stood with one of the owners of the venue, and she was as drawn in and mesmerised as the rest of us.
And what of presentation and performance? Well, one man with a couple of pianos and several bits of gear can’t be that interesting. Ordinarily, that would be true, but again, Nils Frahm knows how to create the scene, paint the picture and visualise the music, and he does this like he does with most other things I have seen on this night, subtly, delicately and skilfully. A few white floods, occasionally dipped to conjure up the ambience of warmth, lighting that was as sparse as the music, yet equal in it’s beauty. Often swathed in nothing more than dry ice and white light, Nils Frahm played as a neo-classical virtuoso, his concentration completely unbreakable as he breathed each and every moment of this performance, and an intensity that you feel could snap at any given moment. This concert wasn’t just music, it was performance art and the rapturous applause that exploded at the end was a testament to this young man’s uncompromising talent.
Whatever way I put it, whatever way I express it, the basic premise will always come back to the fact that, quite simply, Nils Frahm is a must-see.
Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):