Sweet sounds for the small hours
Pianist and composer Nils Frahm’s new album is a triumph of after-hours atmospherics and texture. Jim Carroll gets a late-night minimal message
You recorded Felt in your apartment at night with the strings on the piano muffled with a piece of felt to placate your neighbours. It sounds like a cycle of sounds for the small hours. Do you think the process was as important for creating that atmosphere as the compositions? I always try to think of music more in colours, atmospheres and textures. Sound and notes and dynamics are all equally important. Some sounds couldn’t even be composed, they just appear, like the hiss of an old compressor, the saturation of a tape machine. I believe it is important to be always open for all those “contributors”, it can make your music better when you invite in all the accidents and not-planned phenomena. You recommend that people listen to Felt on headphones. What are your favourite headphone albums? I think my favourite headphone music comes from David Darling. His cello recordings are disturbingly beautiful and the recording and the spacing of all the sounds is insane. How important is the room in dictating the atmosphere of a show and your playing? I believe it is important to always approach a situation quite globally. You can’t extract a piano from its room. You would rather include all circumstances in your concert and not try to ignore certain aspects. When I play piano at a rock’n’roll festival, I play a different show than in a quiet church. It’s something I understood quite early – to be open to what surrounds you and get in a dialogue with it. You’re a frequent collaborator, working with everyone from Peter Broderick to Olafar Arnalds. What do you look for in a fellow musician before working with them? I look for courage and boldness in my contributors. I like playing with people who have a strong personality and musical identity, who let themselves be guided by intuition and their hearts. There is a long list of people I would like to work with, but I believe it would be a bad omen to state them all here right now. You have a real fondess for the ECM label I think ECM did so much for acoustic music in the last decades. It managed to melt all forms of instrumental music with each other and create its own sound and it brought recording music forward so much. I love all Steve Reich releases, Eberhard Weber, Walter Fähn-drich, Arvo Pärt, Valentin Silvestrov and many more. Why do you think modern classical composers and players like yourself have been getting so much attention of late? To be honest, I try to not notice the buzz too much. Of course, I notice that the following for the music is getting bigger and bigger, but I am not always sure why that is, I only know that we deserve it. Everyone I work with or collaborate with really works so hard, with so much love and dedication and I am happy that this is rewarded. It only seems fair.
On the other hand, we live in a time when-people are craving a quiet, calm place, where they can reflect, let their mind wander or just share some tears with the world. Things around us are getting much faster and more chaotic and instead of keeping up with all of it, people just want to hide from it sometimes. That is what I do when I play. I disappear from the world and live in a self-made universe, where my music is just waiting for me, like a good old friend you can always count on. What’s next on your agenda? More albums and collaborations? Always. There is no desire to stop playing and writing. I’m collecting material from live shows, I am about to release a mini-album called Screws, I’m working with Anne Müller on a new record, I work for dance and ballet production, I do production for musicians like Colin Stetson, Sarah Neufeld, Lubomyr Melnyk and Sleeping Dog, and I will start writing the follow up album to Felt this year. Also, I’m about to release another album with FS Blumm. Nils Frahm plays Dublin’s Unitarian Church tonight
Nils Frahm: ‘I try not to notice the buzz too much’