Nils Frahm – An Appreciation

Forewarning: This post may get long and a bit fanboyish. Feel free to click play on the video above. It’s one of the more beautiful ways to spend an hour of your life, listening to Nils Frahm while I explain why I get a kick out of his music.

Nils Frahm. Where to start?

For me, it was an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit, the deepest rabbit hole this side of Wikipedia. My friends and I often play a game, they’ll say something like – “I wonder if there is a website for X” Let’s say, halal snack packs. The quickest and safest response to that is normally “probably at /r/snackpacks“. This logic has a shockingly high success rate, but I digress.

The location for the AMA was /r/postrock , which is an example of what I think the best aspects of Reddit are. No matter how small the community is, there will be some diehards in there who live and breath the topic.

The AMA was with Mike Vennart, a man who without personally knowing much about, I admire greatly. The frontman of now defunct Mancunian 5 piece – Oceansize. Their music shaped my musical tastes and showed just how far you can push the envelope while still remaining musical and lyrical. One day I will get around to writing a tome about how incredible and underrated Oceansize are. They wrote music for musicians, despite having an EP titled “Music for Nurses”.

The AMA question was innocuous enough:

And from that I had new music to check out. It remains my favourite way to find new music – recommendations from friends or artists who I already love. It’s worked pretty well for me a few times in the last few years. Thanks to an interview with British band Arcane Roots, I started on my love affair with the band Reuben.

The band have returned to Stakeout Studios, the very same studio that bore witness to the recording of their debut mini-album Left Fire, partly because it’s local and partly because, as Andrew enthuses “Reuben recorded Racecar is Racecar Backwards here!”

That sort of enthusiasm, to me, is how is how music is best discovered. It’s the same sort of enthusiasm that I am writing this post for. Hopefully my enthusiasm will inspire more people to go check out his music and to write about why they love the music they love.
When people rant and rave about something I’ve never heard of the fear of missing out kicks in. My inner explorer/hoarder/completionist kicks in and and then I’ll listen to their exhaustive discography.

“Oh, that song is cool – I wonder what their other 10 albums sound like? Maybe there’s another cracker in there”.

That’s how I roll.

Spotify > Nils Frahm > Most Popular. Let’s see what this guy does.

At this stage I know literally nothing, from the images he looks like he plays the piano. “Oh no, this had better not be some Jordan Rudess/Dream Theater explosion of solos and virtuosity at the expense of being listenable. No surely not. Mike Vennart wouldn’t be listening to that stuff and then making the music that he makes…. would he?”

First taste: “Ambre” from Wintermusik.

At this stage I’m hoping he’s from northern Europe and not just trying to be exotic. Good news. He’s German.

Ambre was a pleasant introduction, a delicate piece of music despite it being a constant flutter of notes. Melodic and deeply rooted in the traditional style of piano playing. Music that I would expect to be hearing from students preparing for their music exams.

Next, “Some”.

Three chords in and I’m hooked. This guy can music. The recording is beautiful, raw. There is a high noise floor but that doesn’t matter, once you get used to it you stop noticing. You can hear the room, the chair squeaks, the wood creaking as he moves his hands and body into position for the next chord. The piano sounds incredible, later a bit of research explained why, which I’ll go into more detail about later.

By this stage I’ve swapped over to YouTube, I want to see something from this guy. Does he have music videos? Is he already huge elsewhere in the world and news of him not trickled into my little circle?

Next stop on the Nils Frahm discovery tour, the video at the top of this post – Live at Montreux Jazz Festival 2015.

Research has identified the links between music and memories. A 2008 journal article by Lutz Jäncke suggests:

“music has been identified as important in the construction of autobiographical memories and thus for making judgments about oneself and others”.

Hanging a few hundred fairy lights for Christmas last year. That’s the memory I have linked to Nils Frahm – Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

10 minutes into hanging the lights I’m immersed in the concert.

For the next hour, Nils has my attention.

The discovery of the electronic side of Frahm was a revelation – add some effects pedals to almost anything and I’m intrigued.

Do it well and I’m hooked.

This 64 minute video covers the full range of Frahm’s quite ridiculous stage setup. Each viewing gives me sympathetic back pain for his road crew at the thought of his load in and load out.

For me, the biggest sign that a piece of music has triggered something in me is that I instantly begin researching everything I can about it.

Who recorded it? Where? The more information the better.

The more information I can gather the more patterns I can look for to emulate in my own music – that’s all music really is anyway right?

30 minutes into the video. The phone is out and Googling the costs of a piano on Gumtree, I already know someone selling a Rhodes organ and I’ve already got heaps of effects pedals. I can do this right?

There are two aspects of the Montreux concert that resonate with me. The incredibly diversity across the music, it transcends and blends varied styles into something new to my ears. Something fresh and exciting. Something which makes me want to dig deeper and find out more. The other, is the staggering musicianship of a man who has clearly devoted years to honing his craft.

The hour ends. My gear wishlist is now well into the thousands of dollars and probably a new house to store it all. Pianos aren’t forgiving when it comes to the family home.
As I alluded to earlier, Frahm has had the privilege of playing with some cool toys.

Piano Day 2015 saw Frahm recording on the worlds tallest piano, a Klavins M450, A piano 4.5m tall built specifically for the event. Frahm recorded an album consisting of mostly improvised music edited down into an album, “Some”.

At home in Berlin Frahm has a studio stocked with vintage recording gear, tape machines and microphones. German microphones of the 20th century remain unmatched for quality and desirability. Telefunken, Sennheiser and the granddaddy of them all Neumann.

It’s safe to say that roughly 7 months after first hearing his music, I find time to listen to it every week. Each time it might be a different song that sticks with me, or a newly discovered aspect of a song that I’ve heard dozens of times before. He’s prolific and seems to have many projects on the go. When he next tours Australia, I’ll be there, or when I have the opportunity to travel to Europe I’ll be sure to check out a gig or two.

To tide me over, gems like this will have to do.


– Murray