Nils Frahm has just played the first 20 minutes of his concert when something remarkable happens. For the duration of one album page he built sound structures, tenderly played his new glass harmonica, let loops and echo effects play with and against each other and added choirs. He married loops from electronic sources with analogue keyboard instruments, allowing fragile compositions to rise and fall again. And received the first frenetic applause.
The Berlin composer asks his moved audience for what was once the starting point of all music, the origin of caressing sounds when people discovered sound worlds for themselves. “I thought maybe we’d all make animal noises,” he suggests over the mic. And the listeners are fully involved, not loud and effervescent, but just as subtle as Frahm’s sounds. Blackbirds can be heard, frogs, in between a cuckoo. After a few minutes it’s over. The artist thanks.
Frahm’s recently released album “Music for Animals” stretches over three hours, the pieces are up to 27 minutes long. It evokes the feelings of staying in the environment. The exercise in mimesis, i.e. imitating what we experience in nature, with the audience fits the conception of these recordings. The electro musician and pianist allows small motifs to develop over minutes, superimposed layers of warm sounds almost imperceptibly. Sometimes only the pulse and a few spherical sounds remain, sometimes silence reigns for a long time. “Stepping Stone” and “Do Dream” with their extensive use of the harmonium are such tracks that explore what happens when very little is happening formally. The eight hours of Max Richter’s “Sleep” are not far away.
The audience accepts the invitation
The broadcasting center in Berlin’s Treptow district once housed GDR broadcasting. Frahm has his studio here. The interior design, socialist realism and wood paneling, in combination with warm, subtle lighting, makes the old broadcasting room and the foyer from the fifties appear like a dream place, an old organ remains. The audience accepts the offer of a nature trip, some lie down on the wooden floor, many close their eyes, in the corner a woman moves with an expressive dance.
The first concert is always a surprise, says Frahm. To be on the safe side, he announces his encore after the fourth of five pieces in the main part. “You just clap two seconds longer and I’ll come right back.” Another ambient piece that reminds of the early phase of the Berlin electronic pioneers Tangerine Dream follows. Then he follows his direction, brings a glass of wine and plays his biggest “hit”.
“Says” is a track that creates six minutes of high tension on the live record “Spaces” by delaying a much-anticipated chord change. The expectation constantly increases through sound effects, small elevations out of the pulsating monotony, only to indulge in a sound explosion for a few more minutes from the crucial moment. The audience listens to her as devoutly as a hymn and celebrates her with much applause.
His wife got him to omit sounds
His new album was created under the impression of Corona, he tried a lot in the studio. But unlike usual, his wife was at home this time, visited him from time to time and also tried out the glass harmonica. “When she tried to play it, it sounded amazing, and I recorded that first interaction,” Frahm says in the lyrics to the new record. She was not musically trained, but played with a lot of attention. “That’s very helpful, just playing the few notes you really feel and nothing else.” Appropriately, the next sentence references the late Talk-Talk founder Mark Hollis, a master of silence.
Frahm turned forty two days before the start of his world tour, which begins with five sold-out concerts at the Funkhaus. He is no longer a young savage. Appearances will take him to legendary concert halls such as Toronto’s Massey Hall, Brooklyn’s Kings Theater and Los Angeles’ Orpheum Theater for two shows, as well as sold-out evenings at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie and Paris’s Salle Pleyel.
BBC presenter Mary Anne Hobbs once described Nils Frahm as “one of the most important musicians in the world right now”. However, he is a secret world star, his last record “All Melody” is rightly labeled a masterpiece. But everything is very subtle and quiet. Overseas is enthusiastic. “He has become the face of a new breed of musicians who combine elements of electronic dance and classical music to create a new, more contemplative brand of pop,” wrote the New York Times after All Melody was released . A Guardian critic once remarked that the effect of Says was like Richard Clayderman playing in a 1993 club chill-out room. But he immediately qualified the joke to say that Frahm wins over his audience with virtuosity and attack. Four out of five stars for that performance.
The rating of the Berlin audience for the concert at the start of the tour is likely to be even higher. Almost two hours of one-man improvisational show on a piano with felt-tipped hammers, the legendary Fender Rhodes and eight other keyboard instruments, myriad knobs and controls, and that graceful new instrument, the glass harmonica, so fragile it seems Frahm wonders if taking her around the world is a good idea. When the performance is over, the audience flocks to his setup from all sides to take souvenir photos. As if it were the Eiffel Tower.