The universe is making music all the time

Posts Tagged ‘Anne Müller

Chosen One: Nils Frahm

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“It is something of a knowing that I should not ask more from the universe than this, it’s a little bit of a humbleness to see when something was really good and you shouldn’t ask for more.”

—Nils Frahm 

Words: Mark Carry


The first day in July 2016 marked a significant moment in Nils Frahm’s storied career. Accurately billed as “a most ambitious concert”, the peerless German composer performed an enthralling three-hour set in London’s Barbican (as part of Frahm’s curated festival “Possibly Colliding”). Not only was this a celebration of the Berlin-based musician’s cherished songbook – and the boundless, magical force of music as a whole – but a beautiful glimpse into the slipstream of music that would soon surface. Forward eighteen months to the eagerly awaited seventh studio album “All Melody”, which undoubtedly marks Frahm’s most ambitious and captivating work to date. A further evolution of “Spaces” (its predecessor) whose twelve sublime compositions – meticulously crafted by this singular sound sculptor – unfolds a musical experience of remarkable depth and magnitude.

The immense beauty – and immensity – of the far-reaching soundscapes dotted across “All Melody”s musical landscape is a joy to savour. A myriad of sacred tones are effortlessly spliced together like that of the double helix pattern of each DNA molecule found inside our cells. It is as if a towering composition like “Sunson” unfolds, mutates, and transforms before your very eyes: the soaring juno synthesizer is melded gorgeously with the otherworldly sounds of the handmade pipe organ. The seamless array of colours and textures creates an empowering ripple flow of emotions. Choral odysseys dissolve into this vast sea of forgotten dreams. As the piece continually builds, the interlinked rhythms are forever over-lapping; magical moments within moments are captured at each and every pulse.

Modern-classical, dub and avant pop spheres are masterfully blended together on “A Place”. The inner dialogue between the components (choir, strings, percussion, synthesizer, and rhodes) creates a deeply bewitching symphony of celestial sounds. How the female voice is mixed with the luminescent juno synthesizer provides a significant milestone in “All Melody’s mind-bending oeuvre. Gripping dub beats awash with soul-stirring strings. The sonic terrain has expanded, almost exponentially. It feels as if a deep symbiosis exists between all of its vital elements; each one inter-dependent of one another, reacting, breathing and growing as the loop drifts forever into the ether of unknown dimensions.

More breathtaking synthesizer loops fills the human space of “All Melody”, not least the album’s glorious title-track. Thinking back to “Spaces” and the timeless voyage of “Says” felt a vital – almost ground-breaking – moment in Frahm’s ever searching mind. In similar fashion to “Says”, the synthesizer loop of “All Melody” feels as if it could go on forever: letting it live and breathe as long as it needs to. A windswept beauty and total radiance is somehow enclosed within the series of oscillations and hypnotic pulses. The concept of infinity becomes embedded deep within the composition’s framework as the bass marimba and piano swirls into the stratosphere.

The possibilities are endless. “#2” fades in – almost subliminally – as the embers of “All Melody” gradually dissolve. Techno bliss is masterfully etched across the sprawling canvas of synthesizer arrangements, creating, in turn, psychedelic dreams orbiting the furthest reaches of one’s inner consciousness. The seductive techno pattern serves the rhythmic pulse – or vital heart beat – supplying the flow of ambient-embedded rapture to the precious energy flow.

The album’s penultimate track “Kaleidoscope” conveys the visionary nature of Frahm’s music: the pattern of the interwoven elements (choir, organ and synthesizer) is constantly changing; forever in motion and altering in sequence (in turn, generating endless possibilities). The immaculate exploration feels at once ancient and utterly contemporary; a joyously uplifting creation with its dazzling ebb and flow akin to a river finding its sea.

Fundamental Values” shares the rich musical timbre of Frahm’s stunning “Victoria” soundtrack, mapping Victoria’s next steps, as she walks down the Berlin streets to freedom. The pristine instrumentation of cello and trumpet melts alongside Frahm’s angelic piano tones. How the introspective moments of “Human Range” continually blossoms – with ethereal jazz inflections – and continually evolves demonstrates once again the transformative power of the German musician’s divine soundscapes.

All Melody” is a defining record for the ages. This is a journey into sound.

‘All Melody’ is out now on Erased Tapes.

For Nils Frahm’s upcoming shows visit HERE.

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Interview with Nils Frahm.

Congratulations Nils on the latest album ‘All Melody’, which is an utter masterpiece. One of my first thoughts of the album was how it reflects that special “Possibly Colliding” festival in London last year and the album almost epitomizes that entire night with the endless magical moments captured during that particular live performance. And just how the live energy and performances captured in these new recordings too, so it feels like an evolution of ‘Spaces’?

Nils Frahm: Basically yeah, it is a little bit of a more controlled version of the live take and the idea was to just make the music together in a live setting and not just record everything one after the other. In my other studio at home, I was recording more like piano (and next thing, next thing) so it was like all the other records that I’ve done: they were pretty limited in the possibilities of doing it at once. And now with the Funkhaus I had the space to set everything up and just do it (like you’ve seen tonight) and basically just record that and do it every day and just try out things and that was the process: hands on, all the equipment ready basically and then just go with whatever is fun. That was important to me because I knew I would not only like get material for an album out of this but I knew I would also already know my workstation for the shows, which would come later. So, I was basically spending two years within the two U-shaped keyboard towers, practicing; that was the aim behind it.

As a listener, it’s fascinating to think of the sum of the hours and the vast sea of ideas that must have been circulating in your mind over these years. The fact that you’re continually almost going back and refining your ideas where you very much had time on your side, was it a sense that you felt you were re-discovering elements of ideas and then gradually over time it’s almost like a metamorphosis in the sense it’s still ongoing in your head, almost like an infinite process?

NF: Well, the songs I don’t play live: they are done but the songs that I play live will keep on developing and the songs I decide to not play live they are left alone; they’re like what they are. When I bring my studio on tour, I’m doing it on purpose; I have to make it happen every night again as if it was the recording session for the album. So you have the chance to re-do it, re-think it and change it every day and so it does happen: this metamorphosis, it’s mutating basically over every single gig, it’s fun. And after one or two years, the song turns into something finished yet again. This happened with the ‘Spaces’ versions of the songs I had on old albums and they turned into other versions and so on. So, I think I’m not really a composer, I’m more like a musical landscaper and it’s a little bit like a gardener: you just set up a garden and then after one year it looks completely different and then you can just do something else with it. it’s not really the point to finish a song; the point is to show that the song needs the heart and the soul and that it usually the same for the person playing and I think this is what I want to transport in a song, is exactly that essence, it needs a host – every song needs a host, otherwise it’s not a human transmission.

I love the idea that you suddenly have all these new colours you’re working with, it’s immediately apparent – even on the first listen of the album – it’s almost like you have found your voice in one way. For example, the addition of the voices and choral element in particular but in general, it’s more the extremes of the album: the intensity and noise and electronics and like a deafening pitch in contrast to the really quiet, sparse and beautiful piano; you’ve got this spectrum fully there on this record.

NF: Everything I was trying in the last ten years I could do in a much easier and better way in that new building and that new environment and obviously I was basically waiting for that moment to do it just right. I knew that before I didn’t have the possibilities to do that record so I never tried it but I was not able to hide from it any longer because I was at the position where I could afford a studio, where I could afford all these things and so basically it felt like I had no excuse to sit in my bedroom anymore – I’m not playing in front of thirty people, I’m having a thing going here – and now when I don’t go into the studio and make it like really, really good (as good as you can) then I’m hiding from the challenge so I felt like I have to do it, I have to go into the perfect studio and do the perfect sounding album somehow; that’s what I felt like, I have to do it now. That’s the only way I thought about it was just to get all the dynamics in there, get all the ideas recorded in the right way so the sounds and timbres really come out and all of the things I really feel like it’s important for the music also to appear in the music and so that was the idea behind it.

A piece that epitomizes just that is ‘Sunson’. It is these elements of the female voice, electronics, pipe organ and the woodwind and just how such a hypnotic spell is created but it’s more a feeling that the piece could go on forever; it might be eight or nine minutes long but you want it to go on and on as there is so much detail embedded deep within the piece itself.

NF: Thank you, I like that piece a lot because there is so many rhythms inter-linking and depending on each other that all sound weird and funny if they don’t come together and that makes it so interesting. The interplay between the funny sounding little objects flying around just in its combination; they form a whole, they find ground and the chaos forms into a steady flow. I think that it’s not boring to listen to because there’s always something that’s changing because the pieces are like my live shows, I use the filters so there is no loops and there is no chopped parts of anything: everything is a performance. The repetitions don’t feel like staggering repetitions but it feels like an ongoing flow. The first thing that I look out for is like: Is it boring after thirty minutes? Is it boring after one hour? Or can I just go on and on and on? And I’m looking for the things which never go out of juice, like ‘All Melody’ and ‘Says’, these are all basically loops which feel like they could just be there forever and then so not every loop can do that, certain loops don’t have that potential. So, I’m a little bit like a detective for these repetitions which don’t really feel like it’s repeating in a bad way.


That’s exactly as a listener you feel listening to ‘All Melody’ it’s like everything rests on your deft hands and everything is happening in real-time or in the moment. So, you’re waiting for all these moments to come in but I love just how all these many elements dissolve or melt together. And in your head, I can imagine it’s like a symphony and that you’re almost like the conductor in the sense that you have all these different sounds and elements but you have to know when to add, when to leave out, and so on. For instance, the electronics and when some of those low bass registers come in – during a piece – it’s that feeling when it suddenly comes in. In a way, it’s more like the work of an electronic producer that it’s the art of sound is like the bottom line of everything really?

NF: Basically for me I feel like that’s what drives my boat, it’s just to make my speakers in the studio dense with whatever I’m trying there to just get a beautiful sound. I mean I don’t like too pretty and too sweet things, it just needs to have the right balance so I just feel like it’s something that makes you feel addicted. I think music for me has a very animalistic and almost like a tribal spell on me. When I’m deeply in the concert and in the music, I am turning into something that is not exactly civilized; I’m not that polite, well-risen gent who is just like behaving or anything, I’m just going for my tribal instincts basically. I think this is where my ideas come from: it’s from a very non-intellectual route, something which is very ancient which I like to get in touch with. And then afterwards, I think intellectually about what I’m doing and out of the process of reflecting upon it, I also get ideas but what is really important for me is to get into the trance of making music and it happens when I play piano, it happens when I play synthesizers. It’s all the same thing for me because it creates the same family of emotions but obviously it’s a different essential experience for me to play a quiet piano piece and then banging with toilet brushes on the piano, it’s exactly the spectrum between the two which makes it tactile.

I just want to experience physics in all its ways, like from the very tiny wave to the very big wave and everything in between. I think exposing yourself to that for me is where all my next ideas for the next note is coming from. I have to resonate with my instruments, I must have a certain quality of sound, I need a certain tone to get inspired; otherwise I cannot fall into the music. When I’m making music I’m just finding the jump of point from the sound to start my real ideas. It’s a little bit like I cannot work when there is not a certain set of tools is there and then I’m just like no, this is not for me. When a certain thing works (like an instrument is nicely tuned or prepared or sounds really nice) then I get all these ideas but I cannot start with a digital piano and somebody tells me “now compose” then nothing inspires me. So everything that inspires me is purely tone and they almost numb my intellect and activate the animal in me almost.

A beautiful story within this narrative of ‘All Melody’ is how you discovered this little Danish piano. Like you say, I’m sure it must have spoken to you so strongly that you suddenly found inspiration from this instrument, almost like a gateway or a doorway that it suddenly launches all of these ideas and sounds?

NF: It is very important for me to have it with me, to play the sounds exactly on the same instrument I played it for the record. I tried it on other pianos which were a little bit easier to travel with and more stable (and this is a little complicated to tune or they are really hard to tune). But in the end we went for the Danish one because the sounds didn’t sound right on any other instrument, it didn’t feel like I should play these songs on another instrument – on another instrument I should play other songs; songs I write for that instrument. So I think this is the complicated side of my work is that I really dedicate my ideas to a physical set of things (which can be an instrument), I try to understand it, I try to build a relationship and I try to have so much empathy with it (which not always works) but when it works I just get under the skin of the instrument and get inside it and tickle it in a way, which is the only way and I strongly think like that and then I just make that piece and then I decide this is it. Of course there’s many other things I could have done but for me, then playing the piece on another instrument is not always working because I fine-tuned my interaction with it almost to a fair balance that the instrument does a lot of things by itself – I just activate it and I try to open the instrument basically.

And that usually is a different approach to other composers; they basically think of a melody, they write the melody down and somebody has to play the melody. It would be really difficult for me to write a melody and then somebody just plays it in their way because how you play the melody and exactly how is the only thing I care about. It needs to fit the melody, otherwise I don’t care about the melody itself; it just needs to harmonize with how the melody is played and it’s all about how it is played. And so composing for other musicians is a little bit of a bad process for me because I will always try to explain to other musicians how they should play it and I will always feel like, if I could only do it myself. And so you are right, I am a little bit like a conductor and I try to work with sounds I get into and once I feel like I activated the sounds, I am inside the instrument basically; this is the moment where I hit record. And with the other musicians in the session it was interesting because a lot of the things they played was not what I felt I wanted to hear but they played much, much more than I used. So I let them play, I let them play, I let them play and then out of sixty minutes these thirty seconds are just pure magic. I feel like it was still my process to decide for that thing and use it and then to put it there and then so I still had the feeling to get into the skin even of what the other people play. For me it is very important to have control over the sounds otherwise I’m lost basically.

All these elements that are contributed by your friends and this idea that it’s this thirty seconds of magic, I just love this minimal aspect to the music and how it’s almost spliced together. But the subtle detail  inside it all; it’s never like A, B, C but it’s more after repeated listening, there are gorgeous shades of all these different colours (like the bass marimba for example) it feels like a ripple.

NF: The sequencing was very important and I feel only if that is flawless. I’ll give you an image: only if all the ripples on top of the lake disappear you can see the surface of the lake and even if the tiniest ripples are there you can see only the surface of the water. And so for me it needed to come to a point of perfection, otherwise these compositions would not work, they would fall apart: they are only tied together by the marriage of vision of tone, timbre, how it’s played and everything in a wishful way which I cannot explain. But I can only intuitively get there and then I can say, oh this is it, this is what I wanted to do; I had no idea before – I never know what I want to do next – but I get naturally attracted just by accident, by the framework of my tools I set around me basically. Everything which is annoying me like synthesizers which make sounds that are horrible for me, I never use them. I only use instruments which always sound charming no matter what you do with them, anything which can sound like a pain in the ass flies out. And so I have some very funny rules to set up the framework for myself so I know what to do next because I never think of it.


Ancient is a word that epitomizes the song ‘Kaleidoscope’. Again, the sequencing and how it’s there as the penultimate track. It’s the multitude of feelings and this sense of a journey that the listener goes on. The harmony aspect of ‘Kaleidoscope’ creates that hypnotic spell again, there’s almost a symbiosis between all your instruments and the rest of the instrumentation. You feel like there is an energy reacting off all these different layers of sounds and elements.

NF: I know what you mean, I just feel like it is all of these lucky moments and I’m just pretty relaxed when it comes to choosing the right moments. I’m messy basically because I record everything: I record every single show, I have terabytes of music flying around and listening through all of that again and just keeping your head clear and deciding out of forty takes, which take is the right one is the real challenge to be honest. So I basically keep recording and the most of the stuff that I am doing is not right and then all of a sudden – maybe by chance – something really works out well and then just being awake and seeing it happening and like ‘oh this is what I want’. I was trying eight hours and then in twelve minutes; I can use all these twelve minutes, that’s the core of my composition. I could have never planned it but I feel like this is the nice thing you can rely on having the feeling for the right moment in that sense and so I can delete everything else and you will never hear it again, this is it. And this was for ‘Spaces’ already, with Nonkeen and all these projects I had to go through hours and hours of music and deciding to delete all the rest takes a little bit of courage so to say. And I know a lot of musicians who really have a hard time deciding and they just rather keep three, four, five versions and until the end they go back and forth. And for me it’s very easy to know OK, this was a moment, it will be impossible for me to make a better version now that I have this version.

It is something of a knowing that I should not ask more from the universe than this, it’s a little bit of a humbleness to see when something was really good and you shouldn’t ask for more. This is where I have to say that I am not a perfectionist because a perfectionism is only about creating the framework. But when I see like by accident that something just magically worked out and then I try to be humble and be like OK don’t fight with the gods up there and try to do it better because when too perfect lieber Gott böse or the god is angry. So, this is my philosophy. ‘Kaleidoscope’ is a jam – completely a jam – and I felt like ‘Ahh what if I do it again?’ but I knew I could never create that energy or that sound again so I mixed just that improvisation basically. I never tried to recreate the patch because it was a complete, complicated, one-in-a-lifetime situation where all the things were doing something crazy. And then you should not waste your time by trying to do it again, it would just be an unpleasant experience. I feel like I know how to keep my workflow joyful that way, I just don’t go down these roads where there’s like sweat and fight and fight and fight. I try to keep myself in a happy place because this is only where I can worship the gods when I am happy with myself or when I am at peace with myself or I make an acceptance at least, I make the better work as if I’m trying to be better, you know that is not a good emotion.

It is that intuitive quality to the music that’s so apparent. I just love how there is this flow of energy within the songs, like the first notes of choir and the silence and sound of people almost coming together. And how ‘All Melody’ and ‘#2’ is like the beginning of the second half, it’s almost like the ultimate DJ mix in some ways.

NF: It’s like this legendary mixtape that somebody put together and found all these moments somewhere and blended them in this magical way and it’s like this tape that somebody has made and you’re just wondering ‘how cool is that?’ And I feel like I have a lot of these tapes at home, made by friends which became legendary mixtapes which I distributed and got an mp3 and all of my friends know them. It’s like these random cassettes, some of them were in my father’s car; just weird mixes, blend of jazz tunes and I just like that idea of hearing many different things interconnecting basically. Or seeing that everything is context when you just put a track after that track, the tracks change basically their identity only because they are next to each other. And when you think that further and think about the playlists on spotify and all the algorithms that are creating music, I mean exactly what is happening there is changing the identity and the core of each track which is inside that playlist. And I think all these things are so important to me and I want to have more control over music. This is why I am just saying this is the album and everyone talks about the album now and I love this because no one talks about one track; it is the album experience and we can look into a pretty deep landscape of music and just get all these ideas from.

This is exactly my point to do something which is in a broader sense inspiring and this is ‘All Melody’ for me, trying to encourage whatever is out there to be original or make the impossible blend. And to showcase that only because it’s different it doesn’t need to hurt your ears; that is also important, it can sound tactile and interesting and delightful even if the music is pretty abstract somehow. And I feel like this is also a challenge for me to make that work, just to make it so attractive even if what I’m making musically there is thinking around the corner a little bit rather than just make it attractive enough so you always want to know it more or something. This is what I associate with my favourite albums of all time: Radiohead, Portishead, Massive Attack; when these albums came out they didn’t only sound like weird, abstract hard to get stuff, it was different, completely new and in some way what they did there was – and also Air – it was different and like ‘I know it somehow but I don’t know it’, it was familiar in a weird way but totally new and it sounds great. These are the records that I will never forget and there are loads of other great and interesting music and charming music – and I’m like a geek like you of course – not only because a record is recorded bad I dismiss it, that’s totally bullshit, when a performance is great you just deal with whatever recording and so on. When you choose whatever you want to do I felt like let’s try to just get everything a little better on this record, let everything be a tiny bit better, that was my dream.


Another special moment on the album is ‘Human Range’. Again as a listener, it’s full of that surprise element in the best possible way, this idea that you never know exactly what is coming at you (and that’s what defines all these great records). Suddenly there is a jazz and ethereal dimension like an ECM catalogue, but it all makes complete sense. How this track rises and is always building throughout.

NF: That was not a complicated composition because that was a track where I started basically with a piano and I had these chords [mimicking the piano line] and I liked the two chords. And on the piano I didn’t feel like I could make that piece, it felt like it was not necessarily a piano piece. So I thought I would programme a bass – and I programmed it very low and short  [mimicing bassline] – and I liked that, I was sitting in my room and I could hear the reverb of these short bass notes and I felt like, oh this is much more interesting. So basically I sequenced a little bit with the organ and the bass and I only recorded the little percussive sounds of the bass and kept it like that. And then whenever another musician came, I said ‘Let’s improvise something on that’ and so when the choir came, I just composed these chords (like start really quiet and then go loud and so I kept that) and the percussion player and the cello came and the trumpet player came and so on. We talked about the progression each time again and then the last forty seconds I just let them play improvised basically and it all creates this funny little ending.

And every musician played at least twenty/thirty takes before I felt like ‘now I feel it’ because they all played too much, I left these little drops and then somebody leaves a drop here and there but no one should really be in the forefront. So in the end it is all evenly dropping and so everybody felt they should finish the song with their part and they were trying to finish it off. And the last overdub that I have done was trumpet player and I told the trumpet player, ‘Look, you have to finish it off’ it was like we left this carpet, this fluffy nice little sound carpet for you and now tie this red thread in there. And he went into the recording room and played the first take of the day – I may have cut out twenty/thirty percent and moved one or two bits but that was it – and I was so impressed because I had no idea how I should have made that melody with my instruments, I didn’t hear it but he, with his trumpet, could find that spot where he was really leading the whole ensemble and all of a sudden it was like yeah, this is what I was waiting for. So it was one of those happy-go-lucky things that you can’t plan.

The challenge of inter-connecting each piece on the album and piecing together the many sections within a piece, was it a case that a lot was unlocked by improvisation?

NF: I think that’s the more composing part is to leave out what you don’t want to use and what comes before is just some way of improvising or meditating over an idea. It’s a little bit like fishing for the right moment, my philosophy is that a lot of things could come together in a positive way and that is they’re interlinked and then I see it as like these clay with four leaves and you see a lot with three leaves and there’s one with four. And basically I try to realize that in my music is that I just feel like it was the right sound, it was the right moment, the right touch, the right whatever and then maybe there was even a creak in the right moment. Sometimes you have these moments where you feel like ‘Aah! This is it’ and then I can feel like it’s a little bit like a false belief obviously but I feel like these birds are with me, I got a message, I like this and then I feel like I am having a relationship with that idea and with that moment. And then I treasure it and it’s like what I said before, I’m pretty stubborn believing like this is the moment, this is my big fortune just to have that decisiveness. It means that I have to numb myself and to blind myself over other possibilities but on the other hand the essence of why I am so progressive – like always doing, doing, doing – because if I would be hesitant and indecisive about if I should use this or not then I think nothing would get ready and nothing would ever come out. It is fortunately not leaving me and it didn’t leave me on this record like the intuition that I have that material and I’ve worked a long time on it and now it’s time to just go with the best you’ve done. And not thinking like ‘No, I wanted something else, throw everything away’ I think that would have done the material injustice.

Of course, I can say now that the record is completely something else than I expected and on the other hand what did I expect? I expected to hear some tracks that I couldn’t have planned, I expected to hear some tracks that I wanted to record (‘All Melody’ and ‘#2’) and I expected to hear some choir on there because I planned to record choir and so on. So basically it is the record I wanted to make and now in many ways when I play the tracks live, I play them all the time, they become a little bit of a closed body, all of a sudden you really make memories with that song and then the song develops an even broader identity because you feel like you are on the road with it and it’s always there and it’s always a little different (like everybody) and the song becomes a person and even the listeners – after a couple of years when you play the song a lot of times – you play a song and then they clap; it became something, the song has character and so what I really like is just to see how ‘All Melody’ out of this, I really enjoy like knowing when it’s released, it’s there now and then seeing OK it’s two hours ago, by now people have heard it once, let’s see what they say. And already people after thirty minutes are like posting things saying it’s great and I feel like I have listened to it for one and a half years basically and I’m pretty tired of it to be honest and now people hear it for the first time and it’s interesting to see people’s opinions after hearing it one time and how the opinion in maybe five, six, seven, fifteen or twenty years might be completely different. It’s basically like modelling a wine and putting it somewhere and seeing what happens to it. On that level I have a very good feeling with the record because I feel it is absolutely my identity; I can find myself in there. It’s almost like no other record that I have put out, I’m pretty strongly behind this one because I also think that it has humour and it is in a way also sad and melancholic. And in other ways it is exactly these little moments where people walk in and somebody is late and then the choir starts, like all these things I love.

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‘A Place’ has a playful and inventive quality to it where there’s a real bright pop element shining throughout and especially how the female voice is blended so masterfully with the electronic elements. Even if you isolated just that…

NF: I love this. This is what I was hoping for, I wanted to mix natural vocalists with juno sounds basically for that record and this was my moment where I felt like I can only hear synthesizer and them and it was just a beautiful and joyful experience. It feels like the synthesizer changes the voice and the voices changes the synthesizer to a strange degree where it becomes this phenomenon almost. And that was the core of the song and the rest was woven around numberless overdubs and compositional ideas. I had the kick drum in there, I had this going on, I had that going on. That was the song that always got re-shaped and in the end it magically fell into place in its most complex form as it is in the record now because as a composition and as a second song, it has a weird ending and this and that happening and exotic moments with exotic instruments playing exotic things. But I felt like this is something that has to be exactly like that and then it works.

And I tried to play it for the live show but it doesn’t work, it just easily falls apart. It’s not a stable song. Certain musical experiences can be pretty stable and they even sound good from a little radio in a distance and other musical experiences are more unstable and just need to be experienced in a certain way and it plays with something which has to be experienced in the right way then it only reveals something, which I like a lot. If it’s not exactly experienced like it is on the record then it falls easily apart. It’s an unstable, exotic piece which I feel like would stay exactly like that because any other version wouldn’t work. And then there’s other pieces of mine where I feel like yeah this is a good version but I think I could even play a better one someday but I don’t know why and then I keep on playing it. So I basically have two sets of ideas: certain things are basically more constructed and then they are just conserved in this one documented version and that is the piece and other ideas are transformative ideas which I basically meditate over and I feel like I grow on them when I keep playing them.

That must be the joy of playing the live shows when you suddenly have these new songs but also how you incorporate the older songs with the new ones. It must give you a new perspective even on the older songs you play?

NF: You heard ‘Familiar’ tonight, I changed ‘Familiar’ a bit; it was a different sound, I can’t even play it like on ‘Spaces’. I also don’t try, I always feel like I should play it in that moment and don’t try to play it as I remember as I played it.

‘Fundamental Values’ feels like it blossoms gradually as you listen to it. The piano melody feels like it’s a continuation from the ‘Victoria’ soundtrack, almost mapping her next footsteps as she walks outside the hotel and starting her new life. It definitely feels like this piece is related in some way?

NF: It was funny because it was basically this one solo piano recording I had from the ‘Victoria’ soundtrack and I kept it as an idea because we didn’t use it for the film and I kept it as an idea for the album process. And so I tried to replay it and I felt like no I can’t get that thing in there so I’d rather play a different piano on top and I played all the other instruments on top. The core of it is exactly the recording session of the ‘Victoria’ soundtrack and so very well heard.

Something that struck me from the liner notes of ‘All Melody’ was regarding the mixing of the album and how you described the need to preserve the essence of the music. I can imagine when you have spent all this time and with the knowledge you have all these magical moments captured, is there almost like a fear that you’re almost going to lose it in the sense that you grasped it one moment and will it be there again?

NF: Exactly. Certain pieces fall apart over time. Certain pieces feel great that night and the next day they already don’t feel that great anymore and you wonder like what did I do yesterday that it sounded different and so on. Other pieces stay only stable over a couple of weeks and then they start to annoy you in a certain way. So, giving me like a long time process was giving me enough time to listen to my own ideas and when I make an album I only listen to that (for that time) and not get confused. I don’t want to enjoy good music (which is other music) because I feel like I only deserve to enjoy when I do great music myself, just to fast basically. And when you lose the sketch or whatever you are working on there is also time to make it better, to mix it or to finish it or to change it and then sometimes you rescue it, you drag it back into a better direction and you make a better take and then you basically wrestle it or you just make it worse with whatever you try to change and you realize when you try it again and when you make it worse again then you know the song wins basically, it destroys you. And sometimes you just get the song in the right direction again and at some point it stabilizes again in a very good situation. When I listen to the album now I feel like I’m happy with everything. It changes for me you know, I’m still having more ideas and that I would like to change things but I know that everything is OK. And this is not always the case when I release an album. Sometimes, only two, three, four weeks later I regret certain things but now I’m really happy.

‘Harm Hymn’ is the perfect closing line for the album. Again, I love how there are these very sparse, introspective moments dotted across ‘All Melody’. Did you envision this harmonium piece to always close the album?

NF: I feel that it is a typical “Nils Frahm song” and I would have missed it if it wasn’t on the album. And if you can put it anywhere then it’s after ‘Kaleidoscope’ because it washes that high tension away and it connects with the last notes of ‘Kaleidoscope’, it has the same pace and breath and then it falls into that in a very good way. This is why I kept the piece, I have other good harmonium pieces I have recorded but it didn’t connect like that and so often when I have so many different songs I’ve done for an album, I still choose the ones that strengthen the neighbouring song, in a way which ends up then being more symphonic or a planned album listening experience. For me it’s very important to see an album as a continuous thing and it is OK to listen to certain songs just by themselves but if you listen to the whole thing it needs to make sense.

‘All Melody’ is out now on Erased Tapes.

For Nils Frahm’s upcoming shows visit HERE.






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March 7, 2018 at 12:03 pm

Chosen One: Nils Frahm

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Interview with Nils Frahm.

“In many ways I feel like I am slowly starting to realize why I am here and what my role is.”

—Nils Frahm

Words: Mark Carry

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In the Author’s Introduction to “Writings about Music” (1974), American composer Steve Reich wrote, “You want to hear music that moves you, and if you don’t, then you’re not really very curious to find out how it was put together. The truth is, musical intuition is at the rock bottom level of everything I’ve ever done.” Reading these inspired words from one of contemporary music’s true voices of wisdom, I felt this musical statement resonated powerfully for another vital voice in today’s musical landscape: namely Berlin-based pianist, composer and sound sculptor, Nils Frahm.

Across a rich body of work – ranging from delicately beautiful solo piano works and intricately layered ambient soundscapes to otherworldly synthesizer-based compositions where synthetic and organic worlds are often blurred and re-aligned – the German composer has continually pushed the sonic envelope that has served to, in turn, expand our own thoughts on the art of sound’s endless possibilities. From 2013’s live document ‘Spaces’ to this year’s infinitely beautiful and deeply personal solo piano work, ‘Solo’ and the soon-to-be-released debut film score, ‘Music For The Motion Score Victoria’ (directed by Sebastian Schipper), an unfolding aesthetic development shimmers majestically amidst the sound waves like a dazzling sunlit sea or the dawning day’s first pockets of light. Transcendence abounds and we, the devoted listener, are eternally grateful for this simple truth.

A piece of music such as ‘Them’ (taken from the score to ‘Victoria’) possesses the innate power to move you in a profound way. Frahm’s tender and exquisite piano patterns coalesce effortlessly with Anne Müller’s equally poignant and heart-wrenching strings to create a stunningly beautiful and enlightening musical journey.

Similarly, this year’s ‘Solo’ record carves a deeply affecting and captivating experience that ceaselessly traverses the human space. Recorded in four days, the Klavins M370 (the piano instrument spanning 3.7 metres in height that was built by Frahm’s close collaborator and friend, David Klavins) would serve the German composer’s sprawling canvas of enchanting sound. I feel the essence of ‘Solo’ becomes the sacred moment between Frahm and his trusted piano instrument; the 370 model providing an entirely new spectrum of colours and textures for the gifted composer to explore. Furthermore, a lyric penned by label-mate Peter Broderick – contained on the dazzling ‘Pockets Of Light’ piano-based composition by Lubomyr Melnyk – encapsulates the highly emotive and spiritual dimension that ‘Solo’ inhabits:

from the hammers to the ears
we invite our fears
to sing outside
little spaces turn wide

From the opening angelic tones of ‘Ode’ to the engulfing ripples of ‘Four Hands’ on the album’s fitting close, ‘Solo’ indeed invites our fears which ultimately invites the audience to bring their own emotional life to it. The album’s penultimate track – and longest cut – ‘Immerse!’ is a tour-de-force of striking intimacy that conjures up the mystical and sacred sounds cast by Keith Jarrett’s legendary 1975 Köln concert. A timeless sound is effortlessly unleashed by Frahm, when mere moments previously, the hypnotic, pulsating notes of ‘Wall’ radiates like pulses of the human heart.




‘Solo’ is available now on Erased Tapes Records while ‘Music For The Motion Score Victoria’ will be available on 15 June, also via Erased Tapes Records.

Interview with Nils Frahm.

Congratulations on the new ‘Solo’ album, Nils. It’s a really incredible album.

Nils Frahm: Thank you so much. I’m happy you like it; that means a lot.

You spent just four days recording ‘Solo’?

NF: Yes, we were recording for four days with the piano. It was one session and then I mixed and compiled everything. It was last summer I think, I had it finished for quite some time and waited a little bit to see if it stayed being good.

I love how there’s little traits inside the pieces of music that you feel some may belong to ‘Felt’, some feel more like ‘Screws’ where there are elements of certain pieces that go back to a certain time.

NF: Yeah, I revisited some of my ideas and made new ideas out of them and some songs were inspired by others which I hadn’t really put out yet and some are completely new songs. It was really about the sound of the piano and this kind of sacred moment with this instrument which is really special.

I’d love for you to discuss that particular instrument. I saw some lovely videos of the Klavins 370 model and the stairs you go up. It must have been wonderful to play it.

NF: Yeah [laughs]. It’s quite a way up! Once you are up, you just start to play it before you go down again. It’s different with a normal piano where you can just get up and walk away again. But when you walk up there, you are up and then you play and it already makes it special like that.

It was timed so well to release the new album with Piano Day and what a beautiful idea and concept this celebration is. It’s amazing that nobody has thought of it before.  

NF: Sometimes you are lucky when you have a little idea and then you know you can actually make it happen. And when I found out that there was no particular Piano Day declared at any point, I thought let’s give it a try. It’s almost not necessary because the piano is very popular in the moment but I simply wanted to make an occasion for people to finish their piano work, for example and share them and give people some kind of deadline to work on some of the piano projects and to share them with us. And I think it’s always helpful for people to have a certain goal and once we announced it people were getting creative and they shared all their songs with us and we had the soundcloud playlist, which was wonderful to listen to and it’s really exciting that some of these people who usually don’t get much attention and then all of a sudden get some attention and some new fans. I think it helps people who don’t have so much experience in trusting their work yet to get more profoundly enthusiastic and interested in their own work.

And for me, it was simply good to have an occasion where you could make a present because when you have a holiday it’s usually connected to the idea of making presents and I wanted to give the album away for free because that just works in general. I think it’s a good idea to make people download it from the source and if they want to donate they can. A lot of people just download the mp3 that’s inside the record anyway and come to the concerts. It was just like a silly little idea to give the present a specific reason and on the other hand I wanted to make people do the same; to share their own piano-based work with all of us and give it away for free and make it accessible. So in general, I like this project where there is a give and take and a nice trade of ideas and all that pays back on all kinds of other levels, I think.

Oh yes, of course. Like you say too Nils, I loved how during that week or two, there was so many wonderful new tracks surfacing. It made me think also how over the last ten years or so – and if you just think of this short space of time – there’s been so much amazing music, based on the piano and in this neo-classical realm. It’s been a wonderful few years for music.

NF: Oh yeah, of course, of course. We are familiar now with the whole thing. If I had done this earlier it would have been too early and maybe in the future, I’m interested in other things. So it was just the right moment to make this album accessible and also play a little bit with the whole conception of releasing albums like artists release albums every one or two years and there is a review and an add to cart button and then you feel like you should compare the record to some other record. Usually people do that very fast because their minds are conditioned in that kind of almost judgemental way. There is a Beatles discussion like ‘Oh which is your favourite album?’ and well you know I am happy that all of them are there and the same with other big bands and influential bands like let’s say ‘Oh what’s your favourite song of Radiohead?’ I never liked these questions; it’s almost like ‘What’s your favourite kind of wine?’ I love wine because there are so many different kinds and I love artists who start a little bit from scratch on each project they are doing and make it not just another record and another record in the same fashion so people feel very intrigued to compare them but to give each record a strong identity, a strong idea and of course from music which is most important in the end but also to make these records exist under their own standards. So I only heard one comment so far where somebody said ‘Oh I likeSpacesbetter’ and all the other comments were not about that which is so fantastic.

It’s really hard to compare ‘Solo’ with a record like ‘Spaces’, they were completely different musical projects for me and there were different parameters and I like how the people when I release a record like this with a story and with identity and a kind of conception then people start to see there is a new idea. And it’s almost unnecessary to give this record any rating because people can listen to it in five minutes and just press the download button, they listen to it themselves and since you’re not urged to buy it or not pushed to buy it you don’t really need people to review it. And it makes the buying decision easier because there is no buying decision. So on different levels we were trying to also play with the whole marketing concepts and the old path of music distribution and I really enjoy all these elements in the reviews and write-ups which is not so much about the music but it’s obviously a wonderful piano record which I agree, I like it myself otherwise I wouldn’t have released it but on the other hand, there is so much else to say and that is the stuff where it is good to write about it.

It’s really difficult to write about music sometimes and to describe every piece and to just describe a record in words which is really difficult but it’s quite nice to give to people who want to write about this some meaningful context to work with like Piano Day or the whole 450 Piano building idea. These are stories which are easy to write about and also good to write about and the actual music should just be listened to, it’s a very personal record and I would be very disappointed if people would rip it apart for any reason because for me it’s one of the most personal things I’ve ever done and the most radically me sounding thing, just a record that I did for myself and that’s also the reason why it had to be free because I don’t want to sell myself.

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I love how ‘Solo’ begins with the track ‘Ode’ and the slow, meditative chords that feels like the perfect opening piece.

NF: Yeah, this is more elegant and grown up sounding than some of my other stuff which is a little bit more romantic or harder to listen to or something.

With a song like ‘Immerse’ – the album’s wonderful penultimate track – I wonder did it blossom over a long period of time?  

NF: Yeah that’s the personal stuff that I was taking about. For me that song is a song which is just in me which I will play in different versions all my life. Sometimes you know this already and sometimes you just make different versions of one song and this is a very important song for me. This song is basically my dialogue with the world and living and the reflection – like the most broad reflection – of what resonates with me and this song had to be on there, this song is the centerpiece and it comes in the end because it sounds heavy and I want people to be relaxed when they experience this song.

And I love how ‘Wall’ comes just before it. There is a wonderfully cathartic feel to the piece and how it builds and builds and how it works and goes into a song like ‘Immerse’.

NF: Yeah, for me the playlist or sequencing of the record was where I spent most time with experimenting because it wasn’t really obvious which order was the best one and so I had a lot of versions – like eight different versions that I was listening to for some time and changing things – and in the end when I heard the version you know now this was really meaningful in some way, when you have to decide A of the vinyl being really quiet and B is overflowing and in many ways it was a lucky choice to make the sequencing like this. For instance even Robert [Rath] from Erased Tapes, he helped me with the last final tweaks and he said ‘Oh I think this song should be first’ and so he put ‘Ode’ in the very beginning which knocks on your door and says ‘Hello, here I am’ and so it’s beautiful in that kind of way.

It’s very interesting too what you say Nils about giving the music for free – and something similar to ‘Screws’ – but it works so well because the physical ownership of the album counts for so much too and to have the beautiful artwork so it only comes natural that fans would seek this out as it’s not enough to have it just as a download.

NF: Yeah I mean this is what we trust the fans in and this gives us an advantage because we don’t try to prevent crime like illegal downloading and all this energy that you would put into preventing leakage and having music being converted to bad mp3 quality and be put on a server or something. This you can only avoid if you just do it yourself with your way and of course we spend so much money on special paper artworks and all these things that people want to have one of my records and feel like ‘oh this is a collectible item’ and most of all I trust that this record – and I hope all my records – are records which you don’t want to sell after five or six or seven years. I mean there is a lot of music which you totally have to say goodbye to after a while because maybe they’re dated. I mean imagine if you’re a drum ‘n’ bass DJ and you have all these early kind of cheesy drum bass records and you really don’t have any parties to play at and what do you do with it? Maybe you have to throw them all away at some point and you feel like you shouldn’t buy that many vinyl records when I’m not sure I will spend time listening to them. But why I am confident that people will buy the record is that we are trying hard to make it a product which lasts, which is sustainable and which is also interesting after a couple of years and maybe even more interesting. So hopefully that makes sense in the conception of giving things away for free on one hand and on the other hand, trusting the people who actually want the physical item because they may want to give it to their kids at some point or something.

As time goes on and you pass the point when a particular record was released, memories and music are always intertwined as well and saying that, you can get new meaning and perspectives from any of your previous albums any time where there is always something new from an album like ‘The Bells’ for example even though it’s one of your early albums.

NF: Yeah exactly. Since ‘Wintermusik’ and ‘The Bells’ and my solo records, I imagine they will all age gracefully . . . hopefully [laughs].

I must ask you about the Klavins 450 instrument that is being made at the moment. It’s an amazing venture and creation in itself. I would love for you to discuss the collaboration between yourself and David Klavins?

NF: David is of course important in this whole release and the future, and the next couple of years. I just love him as a person and he is very, very wonderful and I would even say a wise man, fun to be with and really great to talk to and most importantly he’s a fantastic and talented engineer who is absolutely fearless of challenge and fearless of failure. He reminds me of myself in many ways, I think it’s a mutual thing and we fell in love with each other [laughs] in some way.

So he built this Una Corda piano for me – a small piano which I will be bringing on tour – which was the first project we worked on together. And since it was a full success I didn’t have any doubt that we should try a bigger project. And of course the 450 is almost too big of a project – and I would say it is too big of a project – and I think this is also why nobody would really invest in it or nobody had the balls to do it. Since I know the prototype, the 370 and love it to pieces and I imagine the recording of ‘Solo’ proved that it’s a wonderful sounding instrument with quality no other piano really has. I thought it would be a shame if we missed this opportunity to realize this piano because on the time there is a limit, David is already sixty-two and of course in ten years, he’s not sure if he could make a big project like this and for him time is running out as well and I felt like OK maybe I’m the crazy one who has to make it happen because I can’t imagine anyone else putting the money on the table and realizing it. So in the end I was the one who had the infrastructure to realize the project and do also certain part of marketing.

I always love to talk about things I really, really want to support and this is something I truly, fully believe in. The conceptualization of long, long piano strings is a very good idea and we’ll find a very beautiful and humble economical way of making this big piano happen and everything on the piano will be for the sake of sound. It won’t have any compromises that all other pianos will have and I feel like it’s striding for something like a completion in some way and I feel like if I want to take care of the piano while I’m here, it would be that one. I need to take responsibility for the financial part, I have two years now to make all the money for it and most of it I probably have to pay out of my own pocket but if it’s done I would really like to find a room for it and build a studio around it, to make wonderful recordings and have as many people get access to that and make it part of piano festivals so people can experience it and after I’m gone, I want to donate the piano to someone or some better cause like a wonderful institution maybe or museum or whatnot but it should definitely belong to the public and as long as I’m here, I will take care of it and make sure a lot of people will have fun with it.

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That’s the beautiful thing too Nils with a project like this and how it’s being promoted, it feels like all the fans have their own part in it too.

NF: Yeah this is my idea of group effort. Nobody has so much money to buy it themselves and if they have too much money, they should give it to people who don’t have so much. If I would be able to pay this right away with no questions asked out of my pocket, I would wonder that something is wrong because this is too big for one person and this is a shad effort. Basically something that is owned by humanity let’s say, I mean when people started building big bridges and they started building the Eiffel tower or let’s say they built a big planetarium with a monster telescope which are bigger than anything before; there always had to be one crazy person who had to believe in it so much to make it happen and I like that idea in that respect. In this project I’m the crazy one who tries to convince everyone else, let’s make it happen, let’s make it happen. So far, it looks like people get the point which is a big relief and also great to see.

It’s cool too Nils it reminds me of those stories of people with synthesizers some decades ago and how they would collect all these parts and how it would take up a huge room or even a house.

NF: Yeah, yeah and they were expensive already and of course someone had to believe in it so much to just reach out for something unknown and uncertain risking that it could be total failure or maybe actually totally amazing and I totally love that look to gamble in that way and just imagining something, believing in it, seeing that it’s purposeful and makes sense and then start to invest in it.

In many ways I feel like I am slowly starting to realize why I am here and what my role is. For others also, not just to play the piano, make concerts and make records but also to act in a way that people may imagine, Oh I would like to do something like this or I want to lose my mind as well [laughs]. I just want to work on something fun and crazy like this and just to inspire people who you just can’t lose, you just risk things and with a lot of risk there is a big reward waiting and with the whole campaign I feel once again, this is more than just making piano music at the moment and I really like the direction that it takes.

I also want to go in the direction where I think of more instruments that I want to build and find people who can help me do this. Starting from scratch and believe that even something like a Steinway could be different or beautiful or better. This is something where we as a society has lost a little bit of belief because at the moment we are thinking back too much, we are looking back to the old days, we all want to have an old record player, we want to have an old hi-fi system or an old lamp; mostly old because things back then were often better. It is no secret anymore and a lot of people know this already and we need to start to think about how we want to change this. And my little contribution is to make a piano that we believe is the best piano in the world and it doesn’t have to be old, it’s new. What we are doing now because we want to believe that we can make things better than they were and this is giving me a lot of hope and a lot of strength and I can only recommend believing and imagining that what we are doing now can be better than let’s say our father’s and mother’s and grandfather’s and grandmother’s.

Have you had any other breakthroughs or discoveries with any of the other concepts in your mind and working in your studio?

NF: The studio is a little bit abandoned because I am in the rehearsal room right now and my rehearsal room is full with my new instruments like this organ I was building and some mellotron. I don’t know if you know this instrument but it’s a tape for each note like thirty-five keys and each key activates a little tape running inside and I recorded my own sample banks for these three sounds, from Anne Müller on cello, Katinka Fogh Vindelev – the singer from Efterklang on the choir sound – and Ruth Velten on saxophone, so three wonderful girls played their beautiful instruments and I recorded them on tape and made a mellotron out of it. And then there’s the pipe organ which has fifty-six reed pipes like a proper church organ but mobile so you can bring it on tour and then there is a lot more new instruments that we are making new works and making new sounds.

I feel like I’m just starting now. I feel like I’m fully developed now [laughs] and now I really get the results I was always going for and looking for. It is a beautiful experience and 2015 is already a really good year and promising and I’m sure we’ll have a lot of fun.

It’s very exciting to hear of all these extra new instruments and sounds. It feels like you have this complete canvas to work from and no limit to the scope of your projects.

NF: Yeah there are totally different colours to work with, almost like you worked in black and white before and now you have blue, red and green and it gives you so many new pictures to paint with that, it’s fantastic. And I’m only just exploring and this also what I love about the tour is that it’s also crazy because you have all these old instruments which are old and fragile and could break on the tour so I have to bring technicians to repair them and we have to make a crazy production plan to make the show happen and this is already so demanding and a little too far. But on the other hand, I’m making music which is not released yet but I’m making the tour so I get better at these songs. I will start in Copenhagen with the first show, the first will be more like trying and looking and probably also making more failures but also really giving everything to make it work and to have a lot of charm and character. And in the end after six weeks of playing it every day, I will slowly refine my ideas and when I come home, I have the rest of the year off to make a record out of these new experiences and so I will have a lot of time to practice before I go to the studio and I think this way makes much more sense than making the record first and then going on tour.

It’s like that classic way of testing out new songs and the idea of road testing the new material.

NF: Exactly like you would make a small club tour first, then make the record and then you play the big rooms. [laughs] I wish I had a small club tour first but unfortunately I’m playing the big rooms [laughs] from the very beginning. So it will be an absolutely unpredictable experience and I’m very curious.

But I think that’s fundamentally the most inspiring part. As you mention the unpredictability, but for any live performance, I feel the audience reacts completely when you know it’s something that’s very much there in the moment as opposed to just someone going through the motions.

NF: Yes, I think that too.

I wonder if you had time to listen to any new records in the last while?

NF: Not really I must admit since I’m in this creative phase, I’ve stopped listening to music really. I just want to be in this bubble. In the car, I listen to talk radio and when I’m home I’m not listening to anything. It can be very irritating to be listening to too much music when you’re trying to hear your own songs but what I just got from a friend is ninety unreleased Boards of Canada tracks which I didn’t have. They don’t say if they really did it or not but you obviously hear it and I’m such a big fan of theirs. When I listen to something at the moment I’m listening to a big, big pool of great little songs.





‘Solo’ is available now on Erased Tapes Records while ‘Music For The Motion Score Victoria’ will be available on 15 June, also via Erased Tapes Records.


Label Of Love: Erased Tapes

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2013 marked the fifth anniversary of the London-based record label Erased Tapes. For the last five years the label have introduced to the world some of the most innovative and original artists making music today. To mark their fifth anniversary, the label released a very special limited edition vinyl box-set last year – the ‘Erased Tapes V Collection’ – which includes previously unreleased recordings by it’s extensive roster of musicians.

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
With contributions by: Ólafur Arnalds, Peter Broderick, Nils Frahm


Last year marked the fifth anniversary of the hugely influential record label Erased Tapes. It is amazing to think that in such a short space of time the label has released some of the most ground-breaking and vital music of recent times, with recordings by artists such as Peter Broderick, Nils Frahm, Ólafur Arnalds and A Winged Victory For The Sullen, amongst many others. Fittingly, on their anniversary year, the label released ‘Corollaries’, the new album by legendary pianist Lubomyr Melnyk, whose pioneering Continuous Music has inspired a generation of musicians. In the same year, Frahm’s highly-anticipated live record ‘Spaces’ documents and effectively captures the pulsating energy of the Berlin composer’s utterly transcendent live shows. 2013 also saw the release of London-based singer-songwriter Douglas Dare’s debut E.P. ‘Seven Hours’ and Peter Broderick’s ‘Float 2013’, newly remastered by Nils Frahm. The box set features exclusive, previously unreleased recordings made by the label’s incredible roster of artists. What makes it all the more exclusive is the fact that the compilation wouldn’t be digitally available until the end of the year (24th December, 2013 to be precise). A must have for music-lovers everywhere. The lovingly assembled and designed box-set (designed by Torsten Posselt at FELD Berlin) is dedicated to its beloved audience – the early Erased Tapes music explorer. I look forward immensely to the next five years as the roster of gifted talents continue to journey into new and unknown horizons of possibilities and wonderment.

The first 7″ contains the electronic wizardry of Rival Consoles (‘Daddy’ feat. Peter Broderick) and Kiasmos’ euphoric minimal techno soundscapes (‘Driven’). Ryan Lee West AKA Rival Consoles creates beguiling electronic creations that encloses an organic sound within the artist’s minimal analogue framework. ‘Daddy’ is a haven of electronic bleeps and glitches that conjures up the sound of German electronic music and the indie-electronic sounds of B. Fleichsmann’s Morr Music output. The opening notes of lazer-guided synths drives the moonlight ballad into a late-night tale of inner-contemplation and reflection. The addition of Broderick’s vocals heightens the track’s exploratory dimension. The vocal shifts in register and loops in layers across West’s similarly evolving synth melodies. Towards the song’s close, Broderick’s fragile voice asks “Daddy, can I call myself a man now?” where the organic and synthetic are combined that traverses directly into the human space.

Kiasmos is the brainchild of Ólafur Arnalds and Bloodgroup mastermind Janus Rasmussen from the Faroe Islands. The starting point usually is an electronic beat supplied by Rasmussen, that would, in turn be dissected by Arnalds and before long, a timeless melody is constructed that perfectly compliments the electronic voyage. ‘Driven’ is a killer-track that loops forever and is allowed to live and breathe, as the layers float majestically into the atmosphere. Think Holden’s ‘The Inheritors’ record as a reference point. The latest release, ‘Thrown’ E.P. contains the two stunning tracks ‘Thrown’ and ‘Wrecked’ with exclusive remixes by FaltyDL and 65daysofstatic.

Berlin composer and cellist Anne Müller’s enchanting ‘Walzer für Robert’ opens up a whole new world of joyous sound that is nothing short of captivating. The intricate arrangements of cello strings is blended effortlessly with Frahm’s healing piano notes. The dancing melodies is reminiscent of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Take This Waltz’ where the listener is taken to the streets of Vienna and left to “yield to the flood” of the composition’s beauty. This piece of music represents the first glimpses of sunlight as a new day slowly unfolds with the promises of hopes, dreams and happiness. An essential record to own (and one of Erased Tapes many hidden treasures) is ‘7 fingers’ – the collaboration between the like-minded souls of Nils Frahm and Anne Müller. Having seen both artists live in various incarnations – Müller’s central presence to singer-songwriter Agnes Obel’s deeply affecting songbook, and Frahm’s solo shows – I long to witness both artists on stage together. With a new record currently being worked on in the trusted surrounds of Frahm’s Durton Studios, a follow-up will soon see the light of day.

On the flip-side is new signing New World’s End Girlfriend. Hailing from Nagasaki, Kyushu, Japan, the Japanese composer creates music that seems to contain all myriads of samples and fascinating sounds. The cut ‘Bohemian Purgatory Part 2’ (N.S.K.G. version) moves between house, techno and mish-mash of doo-wop/funk, breakbeat free-jazz and classical. It’s unlike anything you have heard ever before. The Erased Tapes album ‘Seven Idiots’ represents a new and unique voice in avant-garde/contemporary music that defies categorization. World’s End Girlfriend further highlights the label’s continual strive to push the sonic envelope and explore vast plains of sound.

The third 7″ represents the centerpiece to the Erased Tapes V collection. An exclusive new track by Portland-Oregon born artist, songwriter and composer, Peter Broderick is a joy to behold. ‘Give Me A Smile In 5’ offers a snapshot of Broderick’s beguiling songbook that has graced us with its presence these past several years. The opening lyrics evokes a foreboding mood, sung beneath swirling piano notes: “A fight was fought off the battlefield / Oh where is my brother, where is my brother?” The poignancy of Broderick’s songcraft and sheer emotional depth thus created leaves me endlessly dumbfounded. ‘Give Me A Smile In 5’ evolves into a dub-infused odyssey of vintage Burning Spear that adds a new dimension to the Mark Hollis-esque soundscapes (affecting harmonies, layered strings and subtle electronics) that creates an utterly timeless artistic creation. A profound sadness and openness of honesty permeates throughout the achingly beautiful lament.

“But when I face my loving mother
I feel ashamed, I feel the shame
I think about the end of thinking
With a smile, with a smile”

The gorgeous piano music of Nils Frahm is next. The previously unreleased ‘Little Boy In A Space Suit’ is delicately beautiful like a flower blooming in spring. Listen closely and you hear many found sounds hidden deep beneath. The soft touch of fallen leaves, sunlight pouring through a forest of trees. I’m transported to Virgina Astley’s first studio album ‘In The Gardens Where We Feel Secure’ such is the composition’s powerful magic to seep into the pools of one’s mind, and linger there, now and forever-more. One of my favourite Erased Tapes release comes from Oliveray – the collaboration between Nils and Peter – with the appropriately titled, ‘Wonder’. Released in 2011, the record has become a trusted companion and daily soundtrack for me. A wonderful sense of magic fills the space as the instrumentation of piano, violin, celeste, pump organ, guitar, voice and whistles unleashes heart-warming emotion into the surrounding stratosphere. I remember Nils one time telling me how his favourite thing in the world is the Bill Wells and Tape 12″ collaboration, entitled ‘Fugue’ (that I think was introduced to him by Peter!) It’s clearly evident upon listening to ‘Wonder’ that a similarly breathtaking sense of journey is attained here. A couple of glorious cover versions are dotted across the album; an acoustic guitar-based version of Efterklang’s ‘Harmonics’, and the Tiny Vipers song ‘Dreamer’ (written by Jesy Fortino). ‘Wonder’ is a sonic marvel that ceaselessly reveals hidden details of divine beauty.

The fourth 7″ comprises ‘Hanau Bridge’ by Codes In The Clouds and The British Expeditionary Force’s ‘End Of The New End’. Hailing from Dartford, England, Codes In The Cloud create enthralling guitar-based post-rock creations, reminiscent of Scotland’s Mogwai and Texans Explosions In The Sky. The intensity of the band’s guitar instrumentals stops you immediately in your tracks. On the flip-side, The British Expeditionary Force’s ‘End Of The New End’ is a piano-based heartfelt pop voyage that recalls the experimental pop of Why? and Casiotone For The Painfully Alone. “I try to swim out the mess I’m in, I try to swim but I’m wading further in” is a lyric of the final verse that brings the indie-electronica infused ballad to a delicate close.

The closing 7″ is a timeless exploration into the heart of contemporary neoclassical music. Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds provides a formidable creation in the form of ‘Happiness Does Not Wait’. The piano-based melody forms the central theme that soon is joined by an uplifting string section that forms the ideal counterpoint. Having released a plethora of shape-shifting records on the London-based label (much like Peter Broderick), Arnalds represents one of the most compelling and distinctive voices in modern-classical music today. Arnalds’ debut album ‘Euology For Evolution’ was released back in 2007 and since then an array of indispensable efforts have seen the light of day, from ‘Found Songs’ and ‘Living Room Songs’ to 2010’s   ‘…And They Have Escaped The Weight Of Darkness’ and ‘Another Happy Day’ O.S.T.

The enriching Erased Tapes V collection culminates in a live performance of ‘String Quartet No. 2: III’ by A Winged Victory For The Sullen Chamber Orchestra. The Michael Nyman piece (originally taken from his recordings with The Balanescu Quartet) is wonderfully interpreted here as a gorgeous haven of windswept strings float to the surface. This performance was taken from the band’s concert in Brussels’ Ancienne Belgique as part of the label’s anniversary tour. Certainly, a piece of music as moving as this is a joyous celebration of the Erased Tapes journey so far. A Winged Victory For The Sullen is the stunning collaborative project between Stars Of The Lid founder Adam Wiltzie and L.A. composer Dustin O’Halloran. The band’s current self-titled album is one of the label’s crowning jewels and later this year will see the long-awaited follow-up.

The closing note on the inner sleeve of the ‘Erased Tapes V Collection’ reads: “At the end of all music happiness will be erased.” Over these past five years, the listener and early Erased Tapes music explorer alike, are blessed to have come across such a gifted family of music-makers that have served a trusted companion to each of our endless numbered days.


The limited edition box-set ‘Erased Tapes V Collection’ is available now on Erased Tapes.




“I can still remember the first song I ever wrote. My fingers were so small I could only do one chord on the guitar and I had to lay it on the floor to be able to play it because I couldn’t reach around it. I made a song out of that one chord and played it for hours on end, driving my whole family crazy. I guess from that point on I just kept exploring.”

—Ólafur Arnalds (taken from our interview in April 2013)


“In Continuous Music, the piano is your lover, the piano is your slave, the piano is your glorious friend, it is your angelic friend. The piano is sort of like your breathing and it is a beautiful thing. I want every pianist to know that every piano on the face of this earth is their friend, so they do not fear the piano, but come to it with joy and say: “My dear friend, let’s make this music.”

—Lubomyr Melnyk (taken from our interview in March 2013)


“That’s all I want to do, it’s not really about the musical concept but what it does to the listener. So throughout the album, it’s mostly about that, it’s a little bit like translating music into psychology and the other way around and to see how to structure that where people feel they can’t escape the experience, they want to be part of it and really want to know what’s coming next. They feel like anything’s possible. I’m working on that basically.”

—Nils Frahm (taken from our interview in January 2014)


“When me and Nils play music together something magical happens. There is this energy in the air … a kind of energy that makes you think that anything is possible.”

—Peter Broderick (taken from our interview in October 2012)



Five Questions with Ólafur Arnalds.

(i) Favourite moment from the last 5 years?
OA: It’s hard to pick one. But I think premiering ‘For Now I am Winter’ for a sold out Barbican Hall earlier this year was pretty close to the top! Not just because how great the show was for me but also because my family traveled to London for the show and it was an emotional moment for us.


(ii) Most proud work to date?
OA: Must not one always be proudest of his latest work? I am pretty proud of the new album anyway!


(iii) A dream collaboration for you?
OA: Jon Hopkins, Imogen Heap.


(iv) An ambition for next 5 years?
OA: Balance life and music. Or combine the two better in a way that can provide for a healthy lifestyle. And of course to make like 7 more albums and 10 more soundtracks!


(v) Five words to describe Erased Tapes?
OA: Love, compassion, ambition, selection and friends!


Five Questions with Peter Broderick.

(i) Favourite moment from the last 5 years?
PB: There are too many to pick one! My tour in europe with Nils Frahm in 2009 was a special one …


(ii) Most proud work to date?
PB: An unreleased collection of songs based on some very vivid dreams I had in 2009-2010.


(iii) A dream collaboration for you?
PB: Scoring Miranda July’s next film.


(iv) An ambition for next 5 years?
PB: Spreading the love through music! Practicing my instruments, working hard to become a better musician and person.


(v) Five words to describe Erased Tapes?
PB: dedicated, organized, visionary, passionate, loving.


Five Questions with Nils Frahm.

(i) Favourite moment from the last 5 years?
NF: My first big tour with Peter Broderick in 2009.


(ii) Most proud work to date?
NF: It is always an artists recent work, so: ‘Spaces’.


(iii) A dream collaboration for you?
NF: Put me in a room with these ladies:


(iv) An ambition for next 5 years?
NF: I will work hard on keep surprising myself.


(v) Five words to describe Erased Tapes?
NF: All tapes will be erased.


The limited edition box-set ‘Erased Tapes V Collection’ is available now on Erased Tapes.


Chosen One: Nils Frahm

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Interview with Nils Frahm.

“And what is the purpose of writing music? One is, of course, not dealing with purposes but dealing with sounds. Or the answer must take the form of a paradox: a purposeful purposeless or a purposeless play. This play, however, is an affirmation of life—not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.”

—John Cage (Taken from ‘Silence: Lectures and Writings’, 1968)

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry


Having had the good fortune of speaking to Ukrainian pianist Lubomyr Melnyk last Spring, much of the inspiring topics (Continuous Music, Eastern philosophy, the piano and sources of inspiration) he spoke of resonates powerfully for the latest Erased Tapes release by label-mate, Nils Frahm. ‘Spaces’ is a special document of the Berlin-based composer’s other-worldly live performance that feels closer to a vast treasure of field recordings than the typical live concert album. Frahm’s singular vision and immaculate craftsmanship is etched across the sonic canvas of these stunningly beautiful twelve live recordings – culled from over thirty concerts over the last two years – creating yet another work of indispensable art.

I recall Melnyk describing the art of his unique blend of ambient sound as he explained: “the space that as a musician, we go into a certain space where this music happens.” This becomes the essence of what ‘Spaces’ means for me, where Frahm’s piano and synthesizer-based compositions takes the listener on a wholly life-affirming voyage. With each delicate note of piano or ripple of synthesizer, time stands still as one feels beautifully lost in the sacred music. A moment in time is captured within the recordings of ‘Spaces’ that beautifully captures the energy and raw emotion of Frahm’s concerts. For those who have witnessed any of these remarkable shows, it is a universal fact that needs not be explained, for it is this unspoken connection between the performer and audience that permeates throughout the narrative of ‘Spaces’. Indeed, isn’t a concert a shared experience between the performer and his/her audience? As the ambient flourishes of the tour de force ‘Says’ and the utterly timeless and hypnotic ‘Said And Done’ effortlessly flow in and out of focus, the impossible becomes attainable that sees Frahm’s sonic creations effectively translated into the human space. The audience and performer become one.

A central question was posed from the outset: “Is it possible or not to isolate sound recording from live concerts, put it out of context, where it has happened, and then put it in a medium where people can listen to it.” Undeniably, ‘Spaces’ conveys Frahm’s fascination with sound and love for experimentation that truly reflects what audiences have witnessed during his resolutely unique concerts. Similar to his previous solo piano works from 2009’s ‘Wintermusik’ and ‘The Bells’ to 2011’s critically-acclaimed ‘Felt’ and last year’s opus ‘Screws’ – the aesthetics of ‘Spaces’ forms the expansive sonic terrain from which the layers of tracks are built from. The dynamic range of these live recordings is something to behold, as the short interlude of dub-based odyssey ‘An Aborted Beginning’ and pulsating ‘Hammers’ are interwoven with reflective pieces such as the fragile lament ‘Went Missing’ and the windswept beauty of ‘Over There, It’s Raining’.

The crowning jewel of ‘Spaces’ for me is ‘For Peter-Toilet Brushes-More’ – a gorgeous fusion of three of Frahm’s works – that are inspired by songs from ‘Juno’ and ‘Felt’. The opening section comprises a rich ebb and flow of brooding synthesizers, conjuring up the lost sounds of Laurie Spiegel, Mountains and Stars Of The Lid. The whole sense of the ambient flow of sound is distilled into the sixteen minutes of enchanting sounds. Seven minutes in, as the synths slowly drift away, the piano is utilized as a percussion instrument. African rhythms and an infectious groove is created (I fondly remember Nils opening one of his shows with this precise piece – immediately casting a spell upon his transfixed audience) forming the ideal backdrop for Frahm’s piano. The soft notes ascends into the atmosphere, building upon layers of breathtaking sounds where a beguiling tapestry is gradually constructed before your very eyes and ears. Thirteen minutes in, a crescendo is reached as the momentum of swirling piano notes reaches new summits, as something powerful and deeply profound is unleashed into the surrounding space.

Different recording mediums were employed by Frahm to capture his many live performances; old portable reel-to-reel recorders, some recorded on simple cassette tape decks, others roughy recorded on the house engineer’s mixing desks, and others with more advanced multi-tracking recordings. As the needle is spun and ‘Spaces’ is played, the listener is left to truly appreciate Frahm’s unconventional approach to an age-old instrument, as the liner notes of Frahm reads: “imagining you were in one room with me, where I play for you.”

In addition to extensive touring and the release of ‘Spaces’ – representing the latest chapter in Frahm’s treasured songbook – 2013 also saw the release of several records in which the German composer was responsible for producing in his trusted Durton home studio in Berlin. The first of these was Montreal-based composer and violinist Sarah Neufeld’s sprawling debut album, ‘Hero Brother’ released on Constellation Records. Next came the Dutch-born singer-songwriter Chantal Acda’s latest set of intimate torch-lit songs ‘Let Your Hands Be My Guide’ (Gizeh Records) and last but not least, the Bella Union release of Sumie’s self-titled debut album of (primarily) voice and acoustic guitar (to be released in January 2014). With all these records, a sacred dimension is tapped into, which could only be forged by Frahm’s deft touch of hand.

As ‘Says’ – the second track on ‘Spaces’ – culminates in a haven of sounds where piano, synths and electronics effortlessly coalesce together, I am reminded of of the album artwork of a certain pioneering composer, Laurie Spiegel. The album in question is her 1980 debut ‘The Expanding Universe’ (a title that perfectly embodies the interstellar journey of Frahm’s ‘Spaces’). On the front and back cover, an interview with Spiegel is printed where she discusses music. The following quote I feel mirrors perfectly the twelve sublime creations contained on ‘Spaces’:

“Every piece is different, and I suspect that every good piece has all the aspects of being human in it which are integrated into its creator, probably in the same balance.”


‘Spaces’ is available now on Erased Tapes.



Interview with Nils Frahm.

Welcome back home from your tour.


How was Japan? You were there recently.

Yeah, first New York and then Japan. And now we’re on our way to Copenhagen.

Congratulations on ‘Spaces’, it’s an amazing album. It’s a really special document of your concerts.

Thanks a lot. We were really happy with it.

The one thing that stands out first is how the original versions, how the songs live evolve and change from the actual versions on the albums itself. It’s lovely to hear how they must be changing over time.

Yeah, I think that’s the really, really interesting part to it actually.

Is there a particular song you included on the album that is the one you’re most proud of?

Well, I think we’re all really happy with how the second track turned out, ‘Says’. That’s a good take I think.

Yeah, it’s amazing. And I love how all the instruments that you have at your disposal – the syntheziser, the piano – it blends together so amazingly too. It develops so well.

Yeah, I think it’s a nice way to include some more electronics to the music and people really respond well to that.

You know the synthesizer itself, Nils, is that an instrument you got into after the piano?

I have that particular synthesizer since I was 14 years old so it’s always been in my collection. I made a lot of electronic music before I started working on the piano. I think I’ve been touring with the synth for 2 years now. Maybe sometimes when I was playing Ireland, I didn’t bring it because it was always too heavy but now I found a way how to bring that stuff on the plane so it became a part of the show.

My favourite at the moment is the eighth song, ‘For Peter-Toilet Brushes-More’. I suppose it’s a fusion of the three tracks and I love how it’s contained in the one flow of music. It works really amazingly.

Yeah, that’s an epic song for sure. That’s usually the song I’m closing the set with. Yeah, it’s kind of developed over time.

You know ‘Ross’s Harmonium’ as well, I love the liner notes with your essay on the sleeve of ‘Spaces’, where you outline all the variables – depending on the space, the environment you find yourself in on that day. For example, ‘Ross’s Harmonium’, I love how you mention it’s an artist who welcomed you to play on his harmonium. So I guess that was an improvisation?

Yeah, exactly. I try to include as many happy accidents as possible and record it on tape. That was my little piece, I thought it would be nice to add a bit of colour to the album.

And I love the dub song, the opener to the album.

That was more like a happy accident.

Is that something you might do more of?

I don’t know. It’s just a way to start the album, to confuse everyone a little bit. Also to make sure people set their volume right for the record because the second song starts at low volume because people would have to turn up their stereo too much. So I needed a very loud short bit to open the record with so people would have the record on with nice volume and that was the purpose of that song.

It was really interesting to read how there were different recording mediums you were using to capture all your concerts. The variation from the more professional set-up to a simple cassette deck. That must have been a nice process. I mean you had 30 or so shows, so it must have been quite a process to pick out the right ones from these sources?

Yeah, sometimes I recorded the shows with different recorders simultaneously and I choose the right tone or the right sound or the right medium for the take and it was hard to make a running order out of all the different media because sometimes when you have a tape recorder there is a lot of hiss without people noticing it cut, so the transition is something I had to work on a lot. It was a nice puzzle, for sure.

For any fan that has seen you live and for the people who have not had the fortune to see you in concert yet, it’s a lovely way to bring you back to one of your shows. You really feel that energy as you listen to the record itself.

Yeah, that was one of the hardest parts to translate the energy from a room where all the people are in the room – to record and capture something little more than just music where you feel you’re part of something. And yeah, it worked out, I’m happy. That’s good to hear.

Again, on your liner notes, it was cool to read how you see it more like a field recording. It’s obvious it’s not a typical live record, for example you know where 80% of the record is the new album. For this, it’s more an experiment than anything.

It was, definitely. I had the feeling I wanted to try to make something special out of this live set and then to not only record one show and go with that because I feel like if I had done it more like putting it online for free, you know like film one concert and label it as a feature or gimmick. In order to make it like a real album and to give it a feel of an album rather than just to record a concert. Because one recorded concert feels like we’re selling out already, like there is no more albums to come so put out the live record or something like that. The world’s not crazy about that but more about recording all these pieces live which I love to have part of the album. The concert is an ideal situation to record them, to include the audience energy you were talking about into the recording, something you can’t really create in a studio.


It’s interesting too, Nils, I had the pleasure to interview Lubomyr Melnyk earlier in the year and obviously you collaborated closely with him on his latest record. But you know, from what he was saying about the continuous music and I remember he was talking about music as much as Zen and philosophy in the sense of you know, being in that right moment. It’s obvious listening to your music, it must be the same situation?

Some people say it’s a little like taking drugs. Maybe they mean there’s a certain almost…maybe some people call it like a spiritual element to the music where people kind of get lost in it and think it’s something and they go on a journey while listening to it. And that’s why some of the pieces are sometimes really long, you have time to get into that certain state of mind where you can listen distantly you know, come from a different perspective.

I was reading recently a book you’re probably already familiar with, by John Cage. It’s a book on lectures and essays called ‘Silence’. He talks about music but also philosophy and the mental aspect of music and performance. But you know, after seeing you live it’s fascinating when I see how many dates – you’re playing so many concerts – the energy, both physical and mental – it must take a lot out of you.

Yeah, it’s a little bit like that but it also gives the energy in the same way, as much as it is exhausting, it is also something which you gain in the same time.

Another thing that’s fascinating is that for the performance itself, you use what you have at your disposal and it’s all in real time. It’s beautiful, you know like what you said that accidents can happen during the show itself as well. Can you recall a moment where you have created something new or an older song where you realize now it’s going in a new direction or following a new path?

Yeah, I mean I feel like there are so many different ideas. Some songs are connected – for example, the solo piano song – they follow a certain ideal and there are other songs, for example, the more synthesizer driven ones which go in a total different direction but I feel like they are still connected because they appear different when they, for example the piano songs are in contrast to the more loud songs of synthesizer. The contrast helps both to stand out more. The solo piano songs feel even quieter and the loud songs feel even louder or more powerful. I contrast them like that so it’s about pretty much creating a certain dynamic in my live set and it always maintains a certain energy where people feel they’re totally sucked into something and they can’t escape it. When there’s like ten minutes of really, really quietness, it’s good to play something really loud to refreshen your ears and brain. I mean I feel it even when I play certain times with a long beginning with one note repeating, it usually is a good way to make everyone really curious, like what the hell is going on – people who have heard the song don’t know what I’m doing there – and they get so maybe upset, annoyed or at least they wonder, you know. That’s all I want to do, it’s not really about the musical concept but what it does to the listener. So throughout the album, it’s mostly about that, it’s a little bit like translating music into psychology and the other way around and to see how to structure that where people feel they can’t escape the experience, they want to be part of it and really want to know what’s coming next. They feel like anything’s possible. I’m working on that basically.

That’s exactly how I’d describe it if I could. You do definitely get lost in the music like it’s very much a journey.

Yeah, that’s exactly what I want.

One other thing Nils that you were touching on earlier, the whole thing of releases. For yourself and any important artists, you know each release is a very special document as well. For example, to have it on vinyl and you know it’s going to be there for years to come, you know it’s not something you just throw out haphazardly. Even, you know having your essay inside and the artwork and photography, you know it’s very special, like a new chapter. I’m sure this aspect and seeing your music now – there’s a few great albums under your belt – it must be nice to think that you have a series of special records to your name.

I think that each record tells a little story beside the concert, they all document, they all have a narrative element to them. ‘Screws’ tells the story about an injury, ‘Felt’ tells the story about the recording process and chance, and my neighbours basically, ‘The Bells’ was a recording about two friends improvising two nights in a church, and ‘Wintermusik’ was a gift for my family.

I wonder Nils do you have any ideas or thoughts on the next chapters in terms of the narrative?

I’m working on all kinds of different ideas right now. I’m still recording solo piano material but I’m also working more with synthesizer and I’m also interested in doing something with a conductor named Andre De Ridder, that’s something I’m doing some sketches for now. Ideally, I work on three different albums at the same time and which one feels the strongest and which one is the most exciting. There are a lot of recordings in my hard drive which aren’t released and usually I feel they don’t really have strong enough of a story to it, you know the music is interesting. But usually when I’m working on a record there is a point where I feel like this is something I want to do now and until that point, I’m just working, working on the music, recording, recording more until I can see the bigger picture.


Even as you say, Nils, outside of your own releases this year alone, I love the albums that you were involved on the production. For example the Chantal Acda album ‘Let Your Hands Be My Guide’ was amazing.

Oh thank you, yeah that’s a great album.

I wonder is this in your Durton studio when you’re producing this music?

That was Durton studio, yeah. That was my place.

I love how this album and Sarah Neufeld and also the Sumie record, I love how it’s obviously their own sound but at the same time, there is a lovely kind of hidden dimension in all of them, there’s a similar ambience and intimacy, it’s really quite something.

Yeah, I think that’s my handwriting probably. It’s not to over do it because originality of the artist I’m working with should be in the focus but it’s just the way the sound turns out when I work on it.

Do you have any techniques you would use almost religiously, like that you would have some rules nearly that would guide you or does it not really work like that?

Well, usually I want to work in a certain tempo. The recordings you mentioned were done in not more than seven days. But I think a good album needs to be done rather fast. It needs to be prepared well. You shouldn’t be tired of the songs by the point when you’re finishing them. And I worked on other albums that took many more days to make them and then something gets lost – the exhausting process of fiddling too much – so I’d like to kind of work fast.

As you say, you always have multiple things going on at the same time, even as I read the track list to ‘Spaces’ it’s lovely to see how all the different projects feed into one other. It must be healthy to have all these projects on the go at the same time.

I mean at the end it’s all one. For me it’s quite connected but there could also be different elements joining in the future. For example, like I said that I want to work with other players to go away from just solo playing and share a stage and studio with other musicians and that could be a whole different chapter again. Now, there’s so many solo albums of mine and I would like to see what would happen if I played with other musicians, for example. That could be something.

That sounds amazing. Would you have people in mind?

I mean it’s weird if they read about it before I talk to them but I have a long list of musicians I’m listening to at the moment who I think could be interesting. But it could also more be people from the classical music world. Right now I’m really interested more in choir music and vocal music. So maybe I will work on something like that. But it’s too early to really say this is a plan, it’s just ideas floating around.

I loved your release a few years ago with Anne Müller.

Oh yeah, we’re working on a second album right now.

Oh wow, is that cello and piano being the main focus?

The main focus and added there is also some singing and more electronic elements to it. It’s really promising material. So I hope I can finish it in the next year sometime.

I remember you were telling me before about the new piano you got at the time, you were saying how you never came across one before like it.

Yeah, it’s fantastic, really fantastic. I just hadn’t much time to record on it but I’ve got a couple of pieces recorded on this which is beautiful, it’s more like sophisticated felt sound. It goes in a similar direction but it sounds almost more polished in a more interesting way. It sounds like a cross between a harp and a piano and the guitar sometimes. Yeah, it’s a fantastic instrument.


Well thanks so much for talking to me. Well done again on ‘Spaces’, it’s amazing to hear all your related releases from this year.

Oh thanks so much, it’s good to hear. That means a lot.

I hope to see you on tour next year.

Yeah, we definitely need to come to Ireland again.

It’s funny, I remember the Unitarian Church and being in the background for your soundcheck, it was really quite something.

We need to make a proper show because I haven’t really played a full set in Ireland yet and we’re definitely coming back with a full set-up.


‘Spaces’ is available now on Erased Tapes.


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January 2, 2014 at 11:44 am

Chosen One: Agnes Obel

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Interview with Agnes Obel.

Danish composer Agnes Obel returns this year with the sublime ‘Aventine’, three years on since her award-winning debut ‘Philharmonics’ propelled her to international recognition. Obel also makes her much-anticipated return to Irish shores when she performs at Dublin’s Vicar Street on Wednesday 23 October. 

“For example, on piano you can have the left hand as sort of the body and then the right hand is sort of telling a story. And you have a feeling that it’s sequenced like a beginning and an end.”

—Agnes Obel

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry


Three years have passed since the arrival of the universally acclaimed debut album ‘Philharmonics’ by Danish singer-songwriter Agnes Obel. The enchanting piano melodies of Obel conjured up a stirring beauty – that as the seasons since come and passed – has never ceased to fade from the embers of our existence. The central narrative to ‘Philharmonics’ were concerned with themes such as life’s fragility, hope, fear, loneliness and the record in turn, became a source of infinite solace. Songs such as ‘Riverside’, ‘Brother Sparrow’, ‘Close Watch’ and album closer ‘On Powdered Ground’ are each steeped in magical wonder and unknown dimensions – a reliable constant for any composition crafted by Obel – that are at the same time, calm and powerful, much like the piano works of Erik Satie. Music for deep reflections. Music to truly find yourself (as the layers of interwoven strings and captivating melodies awaken your senses and heightens all that surrounds you). Is it any wonder that Obel’s debut album – a life’s work – sold almost half a million copies to date, having gone quintuple platinum in her native Denmark? Sometimes, music as resolutely special, vividly real and deeply touching as ‘Philharmonics’, gets its deserved recognition and attention. It is no surprise then that the follow-up, ‘Aventine’, sees the musician, piano composer and songwriter achieve altogether new levels of sonic radiance on the gorgeously vast expanses of art’s endless possibilities.

‘Aventine’ was written, recorded, produced and arranged by Obel from early 2012 until late Spring 2013, at home in Berlin and in a rented drum studio. Songs such as ‘Fuel To Fire’ and ‘Smoke And Mirrors’ were performed by Obel and her live band, during the ‘Philharmonics’ tour that proved some of the many utterly transcendent moments of the breathtaking live performance. What strikes me immediately about ‘Aventine’ is the space and added dimensions that are beautifully embedded deep into the song’s core. As ever, Obel’s beguiling vocals and piano serves the blood flow to ‘Aventine’s timeless journey. The layers of strings (viola, cello, violin) provide the perfect counterpoint. A deep musical telepathy exists between Obel and her entrusted ensemble of musicians, not least Anne Müller’s intricate harmonies and illuminating cello, whose bowed strings penetrates magnificently through the abyss of darkness.

Similar to ‘Philharmonics’, a wonderful use of instrumental tracks are placed in the album, offering silences between the deeply affecting fables of ‘Fuel To Fire’, ‘The Curse’ and ‘Words Are Dead’. From the opening fragile piano notes of instrumental ‘Chord Left’, one immediately feels the closeness and intimacy of the artistic creations, for this is the crowning jewel of Obel’s work. The title-track ‘Aventine’ contains majestic pizzicato strings, looped over Obel’s voice and piano as she sings on the opening verse: “There is a grove, there is a plot / Deep in the snow, breaking your heart.” The songs come from somewhere deep and vividly real, as Obel’s artistry ceaselessly marries “the wave and the tide”. The impact of which is profound. An everlasting imprint is forged from the depths of the underground to the vast blue skies above.

‘Words Are Dead’ is perhaps my current favourite. For me, it’s the sound of spring; a new beginning, where the dawning of a new day is laid out before your very eyes. The refrain of “Oh, don’t cry for me” is one of the defining moments of ‘Aventine’. The harmonies and strings coalesce effortlessly forming a wholly shape-shifting soundscape. The light of hope shines forth from the pain and sadness, resulting in something astonishingly cathartic. ‘Dorian’ is an achingly beautiful lament as Obel sings “Dorian, carry on / Will you come along to the end” on the song’s chorus. The hunger to live permeates from the embers of an inner flame. The towering hills of Aventine is a sight to behold. ‘Aventine’ is one of those rare treasures to truly relinquish in. ‘Aventine’s riches of songwriting prowess and sweeping landscapes of soul-stirring sound represents another wave of a miracle.


Interview with Agnes Obel.

It’s lovely to talk to you because I’m a huge fan of your music. I’ve been listening to the new album ‘Aventine’ a lot lately and it’s even better again than the debut album ‘Philharmonics’. It’s really a wonderful achievement for yourself as a songwriter and musician.

Thank you very much. I am very happy to hear that.


I love the title. I suppose ‘Aventine’ is a reference to the hill in Ancient Rome, one of the seven hills?

Yeah, it’s actually just a song on the album, which I tried to describe how it is to work, sort of, intuitively, where you are left in the dark. You don’t have it formulated conceptually before you have started – like something you feel is an idea – and you just have to trust your intuition and see what comes out of it. And this way of working, I like very much, the idea that it grows in itself just like a creature. I wanted to describe that and then Aventine was a nice place [to] be the sort of place you were going to when you’re working like that.


In terms of the music too, Agnes, I love again how there is a big progression, where for example there are many more interludes and more, you know, dimensions in the songs. For example ‘Words Are Dead’ – it’s my favourite at the moment – I love how there is a short piano interlude on the outro. There’s a lot of new layers to your songs.

Yeah, I’m really happy that you feel like that. That’s exactly what I was thinking too. I wanted to continue what I started with ‘Philharmonics’ and the songs there, and I could explore a bit more. Although I’ve been playing a lot with Philharmonics live, and I really realized that it would be interesting. Some of the songs have other interesting aspects to them when they are played instrumental, those that are without singing. So, I wanted to combine the two worlds in a way.


I’ve seen you in concert a few times before in Ireland – in Galway and also supporting Fleet Foxes in Cork – it’s amazing just to witness the performance that’s happening before you. Obviously there is this deep connection between yourself and cellist Anne Müller. I would love for you to talk a bit about her and how you met and stuff, you’re obviously good friends for a long time.

Yeah, that’s correct. I got to know Anne four years ago because I was looking for a cellist who could sing, and a friend of mine was involved in another project. I had already recorded all of ‘Philharmonics’ and that was recorded with three different cello players, and they were all great. But it was very obvious as soon as Anne and I started to play together that we both liked each other personally, and we had very good chemistry going on, musically and personally, and it’s sort of grown, you know, because we’re traveling so much together. The more we play together, the more we travel together, the more we build this sort of symbiosis thing where we don’t really have to talk about things. It’s just obvious [laughs]. It’s just how it is and she’s really lovely and she’s really really interesting to work with. She’s like me, she’s also very interested in recording her instrument and we’re always trying to experiment a bit. And she’s very open to experimenting things in the music, but also with her instrument and how to use it. It’s really inspiring to know her.


As you say as well Agnes, I can imagine that recording must be a lovely process to be able to do, when you’re in your own space. I wonder for this album where there new techniques or new things, you know that you were doing differently, this time around to try out new things?

Well, first of all, I could afford to buy some new equipment, so I was using this, and I was also using the same equipment as ‘Philharmonics’, using new pre-amps and stuff like that. And then also, I’ve been playing around with using the cello, and also the piano, and also the wooden floor as the beat in the musical rhythm because I don’t really want to introduce drums to the songs. But I felt like the sound of wood, either instrument or in the room where everything has been recorded, sort of, work as well. So, this is very new for me to do that. I’ve been using a lot of close-miking; miking the cello up like it was a voice so it is getting this intensity and closeness and intimacy that I’m always trying to get with my own voice. And doing the same thing with the cello, putting it up there in the mix in front of everything. So, stuff like that I’ve been trying out. But there is also like, with the cello – it sounds like a theremin – and then, Col Legno – it’s like the back-side of the bow where you hit the strings – and lots of pizzicato on violin and viola mixed together. Stuff like that.


Oh yes. I suppose is one example the title-track? I just love the looping of the strings, it’s this swirling ambient piece.

Yeah, yeah. That was also tricky to make because it doesn’t sound so layered maybe but it’s really several layers of pizzicato which basically is playing what I’m playing with the left and right hand on my piano and then I use like a sample viola to hear how it sounds like with the strings – pizzicato viola – and then I re-recorded with cello pizzicato and violin pizzicato [laughs], sort of a long way to get there. I had to build it, sort of artificially, and re-record it and find a good way to record on the same wood, the same lightness as the piano would have.


I would love to know about your piano playing and I imagine you must have started from a young age?

Yes, I did. I started young but I was not very disciplined. I’ve never been good at rehearsing for the sake of rehearsing, but I was lucky to learn the instrument early. It’s sort of always been there – the piano – at least for me. So in that way, I don’t really think about it, it’s sort of an extension of me. When I have an idea, it’s the easiest way to get it out. But I don’t feel as a classical, solo instrumentalist, like I’ve been doing nothing else. I’ve been doing a lot of other things, mainly working in the sort of rhythmical, rock-pop area of music.


That sounds lovely as there is that intuitive sense in your music. Like any other good albums that I love, like Nils Frahm for example – obviously there’s so much out there – you just know it’s kind of, an effortless process, there’s no forcing it.

Yeah. I really believe in that. I think it’s very good when you don’t think about doing it but you’re following. It’s a very good place to be when you have a flow feeling, playing around and suddenly you have a song. I like this way, when it’s like that, and I think it becomes better like that. I’m not sure, maybe it’s all inconsequential really. Press the lemon as we say in Danish [laughs], if that makes sense.


I wonder, Agnes, do you have any favourite albums that you may have been listening to a lot in the last few months?

Well, we’ve been listening to so much Ennio Morricone lately. It’s a vinyl from a friend of ours so it doesn’t even exist, but now we’ve just recorded the vinyl over to digital so we could have it, listening to it on tour. It’s a soundtrack from an Italian film he made in the sixties. And then we’ve been listening to Eden Ahbez. Do you know him?

Oh, yes, it’s funny my brother introduced me to him. It’s a reissue, I think he only ever had one album?

Yeah, yeah exactly. ‘Eden’s Island’, he made that one, and I think that’s the only one he made, unfortunately.

I know. It’s a lovely album isn’t it. A really interesting story too.

Yeah, totally. He was like a psychedelic idealist who didn’t want to be part of society. Romantic or something. Do you know the story?

Yeah, I read it in the liner notes, I think that’s with the album. I couldn’t believe, it was like a Hollywood script.


Well, thanks very much for the interview. It was lovely to talk to you.

Yeah, it was lovely to talk to you too. See you in Dublin.


Agnes Obel performs at Vicar Street, Dublin on Wednesday 23 October. Tickets here.
‘Aventine’ is available now on PIAS Recordings.



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Written by admin

October 16, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Ten Mile Stereo

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Ryan Francesconi & Mirabai Peart ‘Road To Palios’ (Bella Union)
A collaboration between two gifted musicians; Francesconi’s immaculate acoustic guitar playing and his partner Peart’s beautiful violin. Francesconi is also a key member of Joanna Newsom’s band and his own solo LP ‘Parables’ is among the finest albums of recent years. ‘Road to Palios’ is a life-changing journey.

Oliveray ‘Wonders’ (Erased Tapes)
This gem was put out a few years back by Berlin-based label Erased Tapes and continues to reveal more with every single listen. A stunning collaboration between Nils Frahm and Peter Broderick (Olive and Ray are the authors’ middle names) includes two incredible covers, of Tiny Vipers (‘Dreamer’) and Efterklang (‘Harmonics’).

Cheval Sombre ‘Mad Love’ (Sonic Cathedral)
Cheval Sombre is the pseudonym for New York-based Christopher Porpora, a poet-turned-musician whose debut self-titled lp was released in 2009. Cheval Sombre’s ‘Mad Love’ album was one of the hidden gems of last year. A beautiful and rewarding collection on the Sonic Cathedral label.

Nat Birchall ‘Sacred Dimension’ (Gondwana Records)
Dubbed ‘Spiritual Jazz’, I picked up Birchall’s (a UK-based saxophonist)’Sacred Dimension’ lp somewhat by chance (via the always-trustworthy speakers of Plugd Records). ‘Sacred Dimension’ is an incredible odyssey of an album and provides a moving experience for the listener.

The Great Balloon Race ‘Cardboard’
‘Animals Burning’ is the album-opener from this very talented Cork-based band whose debut album ‘Cardboard’ was released at the end of last year. Ambitious and complex. A Band with a very bright future indeed.

The Dodos ‘No Color’ (Wichita)
I First discovered The Dodos by their ‘Visiter’ Album; a wonderful showcase of the talents of this American duo; Meric Long and Logan Kroeber. Now, on their fourth album – ‘No Color’ (Witchita Records) – the band will soon embark on a European tour supporting Tucson Arizona’s Calexico.

Broadcast ‘Berberian Sound Studio’ OST (Warp)
The stunning soundtrack by Warp’s Broadcast for the equally-stunning second film by British director Peter Strickland. Like all things Warp, the soundtrack should be purchased on vinyl to get the optimum benefit of the amazing sleeve.

Nils Frahm & Anne Müller 7fingers (Erased Tapes)
Collaboration between Berlin-based musicians and friends; Frahm and Müller. Anne Müller’s cello is breath-taking while Frahm’s immaculate attention to detail on production duties are on full display here. Electronica and cello combine to stunning effect.

Birds Of Passage ‘Highwaymen in Midnight Masks’ E.P.
Birds of Passage is multi-talented New Zealand-based artist Alicia Merz. Across all her LPs to date (‘Dear And Unfamiliar’, ‘Without The World’, and current ‘Winter Lady’) her music is simply breathtaking. Also, in her stunning back-catalogue is the ‘Highwaymen in Midnight Masks’ EP. Mastering duties by Nils Frahm.

Hidden Highways ‘Hidden Highways’ E.P. (Out On A Limb Records)
The stunning debut self-titled E.P. from Tim V. Smyth and Carol Anne McGowan recalls the magic chemistry of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood recordings, while equally reminiscient of the dark folk tales of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. The E.P. features the incredible cover of Jeff Alexander’s ‘Come Wander With Me.’ Hidden Highways’ debut album will be released in Spring 2013 and is sure to be one of the albums of the year.