Sounds, Silences, and the Spaces in Between: Nils Frahm Announces North American Tour
German composer-performer Nils Frahm has been creating genre-bending music that melds piano and electronic sounds since his earliest recordings. His latest LP, Spaces (2013, Erased Tapes), is a compilation of live performances recorded over the course of two years in which Frahm constructs songs that build–and break–expectations, moving through sounds and silences in pieces that push the boundaries of both classical and electronic music. Frahm begins his second-ever North American tour this November in support of the release.
Frahm’s pieces take advantage of the full potential of the piano, as well as the other instruments he uses, and there are plenty of them: 2 pianos–a grand and an upright, a Fender Rhodes piano, a Moog Taurus, a Juno 60 polyphonic synthesizer, a drum machine, and, on one song, toilet brushes. The first time I sat down to listen to Spaces, it managed to evoke a cascade of feelings within me, as the best classical music does.
Frahm moves between moodstates as varied as the winkingly anti-climactic “An Aborted Beginning”, which opens the album, to the melancholia of “Said and Done”, a hauntingly wistful tone poem, and the energetic dance of “Hammers”, presumably named after that essential part of the piano that strikes the strings and produces the volume and force that create the sound we hear. Frahm’s music is minimalistic, but exquisitely so. It evokes the spirit of John Cage’s In a Landscape, building equally on avant-garde and classical musical traditions to allow for their union into an unprecedented new whole. All the while, Frahm attends to simplicity. Even the messier sounds that open the cryptically named “For — Peter — Toilet Brushes — More” have clean edges that allow a listener to attend deeply to the precision and innovation behind what Frahm creates.
For the most part, songs move through one sound at a time. In many of the pieces Frahm is not so much interested in the cohesion created by harmonies, but in the meaningfulness of the single unadulterated sound – the delineation of one isolated moment that evolves organically into the next. But while stillness is one of the most resonant qualities of the album, motion is equally important. The second movement of “For — Peter — Toilet Brushes — More” evokes the twinkle of lights or the fall of rain rather than the silence after the storm. Frahm’s playfulness also shines through in songs like “Improvisation for Coughs and a Cell Phone” (I heard the coughs, but I’m still looking for the phone). Pieces also sometimes feel unfinished, purposely so.
Both the opening track and the final song on the album leave you straining for more. While the music ends abruptly in the case of “An Aborted Beginning,” it ripples outward into nothingness in “Ross’s Harmonium,” the final trace of a stone tossed into a deep pool. Despite the fact that these songs were all recorded live, many of them do not end in audience applause. Instead, the songs fade into silence and invite you to fall into the spaces Frahm has opened.
As Frahm’s recent session with Resident Advisor attests (see below), watching Frahm perform and create in the moment is an experience of a lifetime. The tour takes Frahm (joined by Dawn of Midi) from the West Coast to the East. Check him out in a city near you.
Nils Frahm 2014 North American Tour Dates
Nov 6 – The Showbox [tickets] – Seattle, WA
Nov 7 – The Imperial [tickets] – Vancouver, BC
Nov 9 – Mississippi Studios [tickets] – Portland, OR
Nov 11 – Great American Music Hall [tickets] – San Francisco, CA
Nov 13 – El Rey Theatre [tickets] – Los Angeles, CA
Nov 15 – Amsterdam Hall – Saint Paul, MN
Nov 16 – Thalia Hall [tickets] – Chicago, IL
Nov 17 – Contemporary Art Centre [tickets] – Cincinnati, OH
Nov 18 – Wexner Center for the Arts [tickets] – Columbus, OH
Nov 19 – Adelaide Hall [tickets] – Toronto, ON
Nov 21 – St. Paul & St. Andrew Church [tickets] – New York, NY
Nov 22 – Metropolis [tickets] – Montreal, QC
Nov 23 – Brighton Music Hall [tickets] – Boston, MA