Tag Archives: instrumental music

Nils Frahm, Epic Studios, Norwich, Norfolk, 26th October 2014

Nils Frahm (piano, synthesizers, electronics)

Epic Studios
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.

nilsfrahmepic2610140003acopyrightTo 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.

nilsfrahmepic2610140007acopyrightFrom 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.

nilsfrahmepic2610140008acopyrightAnd 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):
Nils Frahm

Awakenings “Dutch Night”, Paget High School, Branston, Staffordshire, 13th September 2014

Ron Boots and Friends:
Ron Boots (synthesizers, sequencers)
Eric Van Der Heijden (synthesizers, electronic woodwind)
Harold Van der Heijden (drums)
Frank Dorritke (guitar)

Rene Splinter

Beyond Berlin:
Martin Peters (synthesizers, sequencers)
Rene de Bakker (synthesizers, sequencers)

Paget High School Business & Enterprise College
Burton Road
Burton on Trent
DE14 3DR

The Awakenings Evening of Ambient and Electronic Music is held four to five times a year and is a series of live ambient, electronic and experimental performances that showcase both new and establish artists in these fields. These performance are frequented by fans and electronic music artists alike, they are expertly organised by electronic music artists, namely Phil Booth, Martin Greenwood and Jez Creek.

This particular Awakenings evening was quite special because the three acts on the bill hailed from the Netherlands and possibly represent the very best that country has to offer at this time. Walking into the auditorium was like walking into a synth-nerd’s wet dream – it was pure wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-ceiling synth porn.

bbawake139140005acopyrightFirst on the bill this evening were duo, Beyond Berlin, comprising Martin Peters and Rene de Bakker. As their name strongly suggests, their music is very much in the traditional Berlin School style of electronic music, featuring long repetitive sequences over-laid with electronic textures and synthesizer leads. Their set was a tour-de-force of analog sequencer-based music, going very much back to the basics pioneered by the likes of Tangerine Dream. Without doubt, it was the perfect start for the evening, as their excellent cosmic space music really set the mood for what lay ahead. And one thing that I must mention, purely because it reinforced the sense of it really being live was that they had to take a short break between the second and third tracks to re-patch their modular synthesizers – now THAT is live music and more power to them for it. As far as the set as a whole was concerned, a fine demonstration of quality sequencing, great textures and soaring leads making it a very enjoyable start to the proceedings.


renesplawake139140005acopyrightNext up was one artist that I personally was looking forward to – Rene Splinter. I had seen Rene perform live in 2013 at the E-Day Electronic Music Event in Holland (I was playing in the electronic rock group Code Indigo who performed immediately after Rene’s set on that day), and was blown away by his music. On this night, he did not disappoint, his set was simply stunning. Performing his brand new “Frames” album, which was released at this event, with assistance from Eric and Harold van der Heijden and Frank Dorritke on two tracks, Rene performed an incredibly powerful set that was strong on content with it’s high quality blend of melody, form and performance. With music and performance of this standard, it’s no exaggeration to state that Rene Splinter is now one of the best electronic music artists in the Netherlands at this time, something echoed by his contemporaries. A highly recommended act to catch live.


And so we came to our third and final treat for the night, Ron Boots and Friends. When one talks about the Dutch Masters, I no longer simply think of the likes of Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Frans Hals, and certainly not when you have Ron Boots about. Ron is a part of what you think of as a third generation of electronic music artists and has been making and performing since the mid-1980’s. A larger than life character, he brings bags of personality to the music as well as his talent, something which greatly enhances his live performances.


ronbooawake139140002acopyrightHis Awakenings set was no different and served as a most enjoyable reminder as to why Ron is as successful as he is and why he has the reputation he has. Joined by long-time partners in crime Eric van der Heijden on synths and electronic woodwind, Harold van der Heijden on drums (electronic of course!!!) and the outstanding German guitarist Frank Dorritke, Ron’s set was full on from start to finish and was a fine example of how modern Berlin School-style electronic music should sound, be presented and be performed – many of those in attendance felt that we should be seriously talking about Dutch School, such was the impact of tonight’s performance. Two tracks from Morpheusz (Ron’s side project with the van der Heijden brothers and Frank Dorritke) got things underway and met with considerable appreciation from the audience, and then we were given a 30 minute, full-on, in-yer-face, master class in live sequencing in which no prisoners were taken and Ron co totally ravished the ears of all present with a piece that, at one point, had Ron Boots running 13 (thirteen), yes I said 13 (thirteen) separate sequences at the same time, with the other three doing their bits as well. Take a look at the concert images using the link below to see the intense concentration on Ron’s face.

ronbooawake139140011acopyright ronbooawake139140020acopyright


All too soon, the set came to a close, but it wasn’t over. Coming back for another two encore tracks, all of this evening’s performers joined together to create a fantastic finish to what was a fantastic evening of the highest quality electronic music. And Ron’s reputation as a bona fide Dutch Master remains more than very intact.


As a side note, it was heartening to see this event so well supported and good see a number of veteran U.K. musicians in the audience including Michael Shipway, David Wright, Robert Fox and John Dyson as well as another leading Dutch synthesist, Michel Van Osenbruggen, aka Synth.nl.


Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
Awakenings “Dutch Night”