A measured blend of traditional classical with an embrace of dark digital instrumentation from Nils Frahm
It’s a mean feat trying to push and cross the genres of ambient and classical music in today’s world, but Nils Frahm
has managed it. Tonight, at the Albert Hall, Frahm shows the breadth of his musical ability and does so in surprisingly exciting style. As anyone who’s heard Frahm’s Late Night Tales
or appearances on NTS will tell you, this is not a composer who is afraid of electronics. Though on record he is more likely to drop hints of his interest, live he drives home how important the electronic influence is to him.
Tonight’s set is a measured blend of his traditional piano talent and an embrace of dark digital instrumentation. The German
marries the two musical styles of classical piano and techno that were at one time perfected in his country. He owes as much to Beethoven as he does to Berghain.
The stage set up symbolises Frahm’s take on traditional piano music. A stunning grand piano grandstands on one side, whilst a series of modulators, Moog synths and keyboards cluster together, stacked up like items in an episode of Storage Wars.
Frahm begins with light spells on two different pianos, before adding organ chords and some synth lines, manufacturing an atmospheric maze of noise that is both subtle and stunning. It builds and builds and builds, ready to move the room to tears, before the surprise of a kick drum cuts through, powerful as it is appropriate. Everyone erupts in applause and Frahm takes the approval as a cue to repeat this pattern several times more.
The handful of ‘songs’ Frahm plays are really just twenty-minute soundscape constructions, with the composer jumping between tools to add each part. Ideas from last year’s All Melody appear across the set-list, including the title track, as well as ‘Sunson’ and ‘Momentum’. For ‘My Friend the Forest’, Nils Frahm plays solo on a piano smaller in size and duller in tone than the others, having been customised to only have one string per key, his perfectionism making it sound even more melancholy and paying off.
Manchester’s Albert Hall, with it’s out of sight ceiling and gothic curves, gives the perfect acoustic company to Frahm’s playing. The venue seems to catch all sorts of sonic details and throws them around so nothing is lost, acting like another amplifier added to the impressive set of on-stage tech.
There’s attentive energy in the crowd that Nils Frahm clearly feeds off. No one knows where he’s going to go next and he is very happy holding the tension. Short loops of notes seem to last for hours, with layers and layers being added, before a heavy rolling kick drum arrives in the mix like a helicopter.
When breaks are taken between songs, the audience responds remarkably. Without a doubt the loudest cheers and applause these four chapel walls will feel all year come whenever Frahm plays a closing cadence or turns the sound down to silence. The roaring admiration of his fans can seem incongruous with the soft key-tapping taking place for much of each song. It’s a testament to how emotionally gripping these pieces are that they can enrapture a crowd to rock concert levels.
The personality of tonight’s sole performer adds to the adoration he gets. He engages the crowd with camp confidence and is witty enough to ward off any sense of self-importance. Not that Nils Frahm could be any more popular right now. The emotions he has evoked, the skill he’s displayed and the immersive impact of his performance have proven that this man can include ‘live act’, along with ambient production and techno dabbling, to the list of musical talents he’s learning to master.
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