Nils Frahm – Spaces

Nils Frahm is single-handedly responsible for my new-found passion and respect for the piano.

I’ve never been one to proclaim extended knowledge on classical, modern-classical or contemporary music. I’ve always lived on the edge, never quite diving in to something to its fullest and often glancing over reviews, albums or such which covered the genre. I am a big fan of soundtracks for example, but I can never quite imagine the type of person, how many takes, or indeed how many people it took to make such monstrous scores filled with elaborate piano or instrumental pieces. Was it one man? One take? The most talented of the bunch, maybe yes. I don’t know.

I’m also sure there’s many of you out there can point me in the direction of a classical piano genius. From years gone by perhaps. But again, i’ll probably never have the patience to dig through an archive without seeing the substance of the material. It seems that when it comes to this type of music, it’s an experience that I need to live outside of my earphones. I didn’t know this until I went to the Erased Tapes 5th Anniversary show last year, and the likes of Ólafur Arnalds, A Winged Victory For The Sullen and Nils Frahm absolutely blew me away. It was a experience I wouldn’t forget and one that epitomised live performances, especially for this type of music. Nils has it spot on.

“What I love most about playing in front of people has something to do with a certain kind of energy exchange. The attention and appreciation of my audience feeds back into my playing. It really seems as if there is a true and equal give and take between performer and listener, making me aware of how much I depend on my audience. And since the audience is different every night, the music being played will differ too. Every space I performed in has its own magic and spirit.” – Nils Frahm

Two-years in the making, across various performances and using a multitude of recording devices including old portable reel-to-reel recorders and cassette tape decks, we have ‘Spaces’ – an ode to the live performance. An album that sits halfway in-between a non-stop live recording and a studio produced record, Nils has decided to piece together several live performances which he had referred to as ‘field recordings’, mastered by Mandy Parnell to form a beautiful insight into the world of improvisation and the talent that Nils adorns, and has grown upon these past few years.

So how do you translate experiences into a recorded piece? Nils and Mandy have kept this record as it should be, relatively untouched from the original recordings. Whilst sounding polished, they’ve decided to keep in many of the surprise moments that were captured during the performances including the toilet brush incident – a moment I remember, where Nils began to bang the brush against the piano strings. And as one track details, some accompanying laughs, coughs and a cell phone. But this audible distraction just adds to the pleasurable contradiction in sound; rumbling piano tones backed by subtle ambience transports you to the moment.

‘An Aborted Beginning’ grabs your attention and settles you in for the ride. It’s an apt title for a track which is probably a misguided direction for the remainder of the album. Heavy echoing percussion is quickly followed by the familiar gentle, progressive stance of ‘Says’ – an outer-space experience that gently meanders, changing in tone across an epic seven minutes until pounding keys destroy every sensory experience for the final minute.

I’ll never forget watching Nils at the beginning of ‘Said and Done’ – wondering how he kept that consistent, heavy piano chord rolling throughout the track. Not a single slipped note or timing adjustment. Like a performance split straight down the middle, ‘Said and Done’ could be misconstrued as two people playing against each other. On one side, drama, on the other a floating melody. In any other recording I would’ve imagined two people playing this, but it was just the one… at 5.41 my mind was blown i didn’t know where else this could possibly go or how much energy Nils had left. But the track still had more.

‘Went Missing’ is the deserved shuffle back into your seat. The love-story, the soundtrack and the peaceful relinquish from ‘Said and Done’ and the mid-ground before the more evocative ‘Familiar’. By now, Nils’ has paced himself well and you’re truly addicted to the developing story-line. And like all good tales, the unexpected keeps you hooked.

The ‘Improvisation For Coughs And A Cell Phone’ does just that. Making sense of the grand-piano and warming the notes for the crescendo in ‘Hammers’. Nils’ head is down and beads of sweat struggle to hang on to a forehead and body pulled apart by hands of their own stretched out across two pianos. Again, Nils has managed to transform into a machine; an emphatic, relentless machine that is somehow producing a dream-state for every single person in the room, ended deservedly by a raucous applause.

Return of the synths and the familiar ‘For‘; a favourite of mine, I cannot express how good this sounds rattling around a performance space. Easing into ‘Peter’, the toilet brush incident and ‘More’, if you’ve watched any performances of Nils on Youtube or similar then you’ll recognise much of this. Again, a sight to behold as Nils is split in two, in a world of his own yet reflecting against an audience waiting with baited breath for any give on this relentless piano assault.


And then the most beautiful yet; ‘Over There, It’s Raining’. I’m pretty speechless at this point – just an absolutely stunning piece of music that melts every single part of you. Continuing this theme is ‘Unter—Tristana—Ambre’ with it’s reflective soundtrack moments in ‘Tristana’, the more sincere ‘Unter’ and a perfect, complimentary ending in ‘Ambre’.

The end of the record, and you’d be expecting either a majestic sign-off or a heart-wrenching melody but instead Nils opts for a contemplative and unique piece in ‘Ross’s Harmonium’. Perhaps to keep the audience guessing, maybe a nod towards more of what’s to come. I feel like Nils has opened up his world only to leave the door slightly ajar, with a glimmer of light creeping through from a low sunset, and the camera backing slowly into the dark.

This album wasn’t recorded as one, and is made-up of many different experiences and interpretations over many months. But you feel like you’ve been there with him. The roller-coaster of emotion this album invokes is like no other, and luckily for me, I now have the perfect memento to that very special night last October I watched Nils play, control and orchestrate his way into hundred’s of peoples musical minds and memories.

‘Spaces’ will be released in the form of a CD, 2xLP and Download on November 18, 2013 via Erased Tapes. Nils will also be performing at Decibel Festival next week as part of the Optical Showcase where i’m due to ask him a few question so please comment below if you have anything you’d like answered from the maestro himself.

‘Spaces’ tracklist:
1. An Aborted Beginning
2. Says
3. Said And Done
4. Went Missing
5. Familiar
6. Improvisation For Coughs And A Cell Phone
7. Hammers
8. For—Peter—Toilet Brushes—More
9. Over There, It’s Raining
10. Unter—Tristana—Ambre
11. Ross’s Harmonium