Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Tripping with Nils Frahm, Recorded Live

Musician Nils Frahm's photographer father Klaus Frahm produced covers for a handful of ECM jazz records, including one of their biggest hits, Pat Metheny’s As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, as well as the hidden gem, Tom van der Geld’s Path. Nils Frahm’s music could be described as a fusion of electronic-ambient and classical, so it could well appeal to a lot of ECM fans’ aesthetic sensibilities. Clearly, he has hooked plenty of others listeners too, because his concerts always become sold-out events. Benoit Toulemonde capture a particularly notable concert at the historically significant Funkhaus Berlin in Tripping with Nils Frahm, which premieres tomorrow on MUBI, with the accompanying live album releasing simultaneously.

There are no talking head soundbites in
Tripping—just Frahm’s music. Frankly, breaking away from what is clearly a carefully thought-out set list would be a terrible distraction. It is much wiser to let Frahm make his own case through his music. In addition to the piano, Frahm mixes in a number of keyboards and synthesizers (some of which could even be considered retro). Yet, the overall effect of his sonic layering feels fresher than a lot of ambient-techno music.

Frahm establishes the trance-like mood right from the start with the hypnotically catchy “Fundamental Values.” “My Friend the Forest” has an almost pastoral vibe, but the classical influences are even more pronounced in “All Melody,” especially in its synthesized chorale elements. A little later in the set, astute ears might recognize “Says” from executive producer Brad Pitt’s
Ad Astra, quite appropriately, given the space age vibe.

Throughout the evening, Frahm demonstrates impressive technique on the piano and assorted keyboards, as well as a shrewd conception of how to incorporate and “play over” multi-tracks and overdubs. He has a fine touch, but he can also power his way home with cascading runs that build towards the concluding climax of “More.” Frahm doesn’t merely wear a set of headphones and press a button—he really plays.

Frahm played a leading role in the renovation of the Bauhaus-designed Funkhaus, which was formerly the headquarters of GDR radio broadcasting. Ironically, Toulemonde and cinematographer Thomas Lallier give the severely modern space a warm, darkened church-like look. We can only imagine what the former owners would have made of his music—all those notes produced by one individualistic musician, instead of a proper collective ensemble, using all kinds of sophisticated gear that just screams “capitalism.”

Regardless, even for us acoustic die-hards, Frahm’s compositions sound quite distinctive. They are significantly more interesting, both rhythmically and melodically, than anything heard in the documentary,
Max Richter’s Sleep. You can hear why he has built such a large following. Recommended for fans and anyone open to electronic or contemporary classical music, Tripping with Nils Frahm starts streaming tomorrow (12/3) on MUBI.