Getting to know Nils Frahm’s music. Inside and out.
When he was young, Frahm was taught by Nahum Brodski, a student of the last scholar of Tchaikovsky. However he diverted from this purely classical route because he wasn’t content with reading and reciting dead sheet music by past masters. Instead, he took inspiration from his parents jazz record collection.
“The thing I really liked about the jazz form, is starting from nowhere and going somewhere,” says Frahm “I’m really interested in sound as a phenomenon. Even listening to classical recordings, the thing that is most interesting to me is how people play rather than just what people play. There are so many different performances of classical music, so it matters who was playing it – the touch of the player but also where they played it. It’s a sound piece – the tone of the piano, the room they recorded in. It wasn’t just about the skill of the player but the quality of the music for me.”
Listening to Nils Frahm’s Felt album, what’s appealing is that you hear the entire piano: the squeaking of the pedals the noise of the keys being pressed, the felt hammers hitting the strings, the creaking and breathing of the beast. “Recording the piano in this way reminded of those old live jazz recordings,” agrees Frahm “I’d always been impressed by how intimate they felt. This set me on an interesting trail, I thought why not go all the way and push it to the extreme? Go inside the piano with your ears. It was not something I’d heard before.”
The new Frahm album Spaces (out November 18th) is a live album that has been kept alive. Compiled from over 60 hours of recordings, taken on a variety of different devices in many venues over two years, the filtration process meant finding the best sound recording of each partially improvised song. “The different recording manners certainly have a different atmosphere but each individual piece has its own demands in terms of tone and atmosphere. It’s really hard to perform that set in one go to my satisfaction. I thought it would be safer to record many shows and get some distance, select different parts and bits from different locations. It was also interesting to see how the pieces developed over time… It was good to have all the material to choose from and put it back together as one show.”
Frahm prefers to call these songs field recordings, the audience is present and included, especially on ‘Improvisation for Piano, Laughs, Coughs and A Cell Phone’ the final recording on one sweltering and epiphanic night in St John at Hackney.
“An improvisation changes with the people in the room. It’s important what they bring to the show. People trying to be quiet and coughing, the telephone ringing – it affects how I play. I mean, certain classical performers, run off stage when a mobile rings, but I think it’s good as it provides
an atmosphere that we’re all together, performance is made from audience… I don’t want to become isolated and don’t want to be a snob. I’m not some sort of genius on stage who thinks you need to respect the art.
“In the end, the concept of the performance is 90 minutes of atmosphere and mood. Music will be one part of the performance but so will my appearance and the atmosphere we make in that interaction is important. I often want my audience to express themselves, they can dance and whatever – but often they don’t do it! People are smart they know how to behave and I trust them. I’m thankful that they came and it should feel like they’re a part of this.
It may come as a surprise that Frahm’s late night performance at Village Underground won’t involve a grand piano but he hopes that this movement away from the big black tomb can bring new life to his set. “I want to experience different set up. The grand piano is such a big instrument and it tends to dominate, you have to form the whole room around the instrument, and set up with the piano in the centre. Hopefully at this performance people can chatter or dance. I also want to express my love for club driven music, after this performance I’m going to take time off to produce more dance music.”
Like other performances such as the renowned Boiler Room set, Frahm will take inspiration from DJ culture.“I got an idea from the tradition record deck DJ set up,” he says enthusiastically “I want to mirror my synths on the left and right and move between them like a cross fader. Then start a loop on one side and mix in other elements on the other. It’s going to be like the Boiler Room set-up but I will have more time than 30 minutes in my hotel room to prepare. The audience will be different,
the room will be different… and so will the temperature.”
Nils Frahm played a special Erased Tapes night alongside Kiasmos and Rival Consoles on 18th October.
Click the image Nils’ feet to see a Flickr set from the night.