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Chosen One: Nils Frahm

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Interview with Nils Frahm.

“And this is just the start of new concepts and new conceptions of what I could do as a performer.”

—Nils Frahm

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry


I first heard the music of Nils Frahm sometime during 2010. Even though the precise time is unclear; the source of this special musical discovery remains entrusted in my memory. Portland, Oregon’s Peter Broderick helped craft Nils’ solo album ‘The Bells’ – a spellbinding collection of recordings that served my starting point to the vital works of the gifted German composer – and it was through Peter that stunningly beautiful sonic creations such as ‘Said and Done’ and  ‘Small Me’ came into my life. The pair rented a beautiful, old church in Berlin for two nights which would provide the magical setting for ‘The Bells’ (an album originally recorded as ‘Solo Piano Series – Vol. 2’ for Kning Disk, Sweden and later released by Erased Tapes in 2009).

On the liner notes, Peter recounts first listening to Frahm’s piano recordings: “It was absolutely breathtaking…I remember thinking to myself as I lay there stunned, that I could spend ten years trying to write an amazing piece of piano music, and still it would never be half as good as these improvisations.” Tracks such as ‘Said And Done’ and ‘Over There, It’s Raining’ would later be captured live and documented on 2013’s utterly transcendent full-length release, ‘Spaces’. The live recordings captured on ‘Spaces’ were culled from over thirty shows that feels closer to a vast treasure of field recordings from a future we have not yet arrived upon. The ‘Spaces’ tour has continued throughout 2014, playing sold-out venues across Europe, the U.S, Japan and Australia. Listening to ‘Spaces’ or any array of Frahm’s singular works, the impossible becomes attainable as a deeply moving, cognitive experience unfolds between the remarkable artist and his awe-struck audience.

For any artist, his or her personality can’t help but shine through on their resultant works (of art) and this is certainly the case for the Berlin-based composer. It’s the vast seas of sincerity, determination, curiosity, and enthusiasm that becomes immediately apparent when I’ve been fortunate enough to be in Nils’ company, with which ceaselessly radiates from the mesmerising waves of sound of the composer’s compelling compositions. I recall a sound-check in Dublin’s Unitarian church on an early winter’s evening in 2012. As the faded sun-light shone through the glass windows, Nils raced up and down the narrow aisle, pin-pointing the tone and identifying the acoustics of the surrounding space as the glorious piano notes filled the sacred space. As I stood dumbfounded in the background, the piano’s unique tone and touch effectively traversed the human space that felt nothing short of staggering. I feel this very same reaction when the vinyl of ‘Felt’ or ‘Screws’ comes on: the sound waves inscribed in the grooves of these records (or any of Frahm’s works) truly heightens all that surrounds you.

New tracks have been performed live throughout the year, including the monumental tour-de-force, ‘All Melody/#2’ which feels like the natural progression (and a distant companion) to the similarly captivating ‘Says’. The transcendent opus sees Frahm continue to push the sonic envelope as new and exciting possibilities of sound is forged. ‘All Melody’ is based on a gorgeous ambient synth loop that gradually fades in and out of focus. Moments later, electronic glitches and percussive tones of the piano serves the perfect counterpoint. It’s the sum of these parts that form a deeply affecting spectrum of human emotion through sound. As Nils mentioned in a previous interview, his ongoing mission to “translate music into psychology” is reaching new heights. The unreleased track ‘#2’ is closer to the ‘Juno’ synthesizer-based works where anything feels possible. The wide dynamic range makes for an astonishing experience as the crescendo of towering synthesizer harmonies ascend like ripples of ocean waves. Gentle and heartfelt pulses permeate throughout the softer sections resulting in a soulful and deeply human exploration in electronic sound.

The electronic-oriented sounds brings the German sound sculptor closer to fellow-luminaries, Jon Hopkins and Clark et al, as a resolutely unique path is forged. As the striking narrative continues, the spirit of invention forever lies at the heart of Frahm’s indispensable art. What comes next is a prospect to savour with each anticipated breath of air.




‘Spaces’ is available now on all formats via Erased Tapes. For more information on Nils Frahm’s new projects and upcoming concert dates please visit:



Interview with Nils Frahm.

Hi Nils, it’s great to talk to you again.

Nils Frahm: It’s my pleasure.


How has the tour been going for you?

NF: It’s been really fantastic. We just played the Barbican [last night], sold out and everything. Wow, it was absolutely gorgeous.


I love the new music, Nils. ‘All Melody/#2’ is really amazing.

NF: Thank you. I’m happy you like it.


I love how you are always developing in the sense that the ‘All Melody’ track in particular, how there is this gorgeous ambient synth loop running throughout but then there is a contrast with the electronic elements and the piano that comes in later. It’s amazing how there are all these layers happening.

NF: Cool, I’m happy you like it. I mean for people who only know my piano stuff and for the older people who like the ‘Wintermusik’ and things like that, it can be a little shocking but it’s so much fun I need to do something like that.


I imagine too Nils in the way you’ve been touring so much this year – it’s obvious I suppose – but with the live performance; it must really filter into your writing when you’re recording your own music at home?

NF: Yeah, exactly. At the moment I am going to the rehearsal room a lot and the rehearsal room looks a lot like a stage, basically and it’s really great to have the possibility to rehearse things before I go onstage. Earlier I just basically improvised more; now I’m taking the chance and all that to shape new ideas and maybe make the songs first and later go to record them, you know. Before I was always going to the studio and making a new track and then maybe playing it live. But now I’m not recording much of these new things because first I want to make good live versions so I can have something to develop on tour.


Another cool thing too, your recent hometown show with Jon Hopkins. Even that in itself, you know in a way looking at your music, there are more parallels with someone like Jon Hopkins and all these producers in the sense of what you’re doing. As you say, if you only look at your solo piano, that’s only one aspect.

NF: Exactly, exactly. This is so true. I like the more colour it gives me and that really drives my boat.


The Una Corda which is the new instrument that has recently been unveiled, I can imagine for a musician it must be this whole new gateway in the sense that it is this new instrument for you. What is it like to be composing and performing on it?

NF: I feel like I am a trained pianist but I also have so much expertise with studio work; there’s cables and there’s all these details of making electronics work as musical instruments and so I realize, actually I know my Juno synthesizer almost as good as I know the piano. I’ve had it since I was thirteen or fourteen, I used it for almost twenty years now. And it’s very intuitive for me; I can play in the dark, you know.

I think it’s really nice to make use of that because not so many people really know how to use all these old and classic machines which sound so musically and all of them act like musical instruments because they have this soul, you know it’s not like a plug-in that is the same every night. They always feed back something into your performance which is so exciting; it’s like taming the beast. You got to be really fast and be trained and skilled to synchronize all these machines in a way, and you have to have the nerve to do that in front of two thousand people.

I think that’s what impresses people also is that there’s a sense of intuition to it like the sense of, you have to set the delay to the tempo of the modulator at the beginning for maybe two or three things where you have to make times and then all the settings and remember all the knobs you have to change and there are no pre-sets – it’s not like you know the session and everything is set – but with the Juno synthesizer, you’ve got to do this, this, this, this… like fifteen, sixteen, seventeen little changes before the song is there. This is really thrilling you know, it’s so much fun and the rewarding bit of it when it all works, it sounds like real electronica; it sounds like something people don’t really hear so much these days. When they listen to electronic music it’s mostly coming from the computer or pre-recorded material; it can feel a little static at times.

But when people watch the electronica I am doing, even if they’re not really super into the details of how it works, they understand what they hear is what I’m doing in the moment. There’s all this movement I’m doing and they’re totally connected with the sounds which happen so everybody understands, oh Nils live. People come and talk to me like, oh it’s like Jean Michelle Jarre or Tangerine Dream or Klaus Schulze because that was the last time when people really had to do it that way. They had to bring all these big crazy machines onstage and pray that they would work and I think you have the right to think that because it’s not really common anymore that people play analogue synthesizer onstage.

I think that all analogue synthesizers; the sounds they produce are so nice that I want to explore it more and also use it as a contrast to the really quiet piano moments and have this bigger sound and alien kind of sounds and then contrast it with really mellow piano tones and all that. And it’s just becoming this wonderland of acoustics the show I am doing now and I’m so happy that people seem to just follow me; it’s like “Hey! That’s cool” and I’m really surprised that almost nobody complains about it, of course some people say, “Do like a nice solo piano record” and I will at some point. But now I think is the time to explore new territory and do something quite unique.

And this is just the start of new concepts and new conceptions of what I could do as a performer. It’s more about exploring what is Nils like as a live performer and not what Nils as a pianist is or as a studio producer but what is my speciality just as a real-time performing artist. And the shows I have played so far, I’ve really got a lot of experience I have to say and I have developed enough skill apart from composing and practising piano and improvisation that it is another skill to be able to make a complicated show happen in different venues, night by night and always make it as good as the night before; you’ve just got to learn how it works and it’s a really exciting time.


That sounds amazing. And it’s always about surprising yourself and I suppose this kind of approach you have; you keep on exploring new avenues.

NF: Yeah, exactly.


You said before how the music follows the story in the sense that you are always recording music but I wonder is the next narrative in the story so this whole concept of in the moment and live performance as opposed to, like you said with the studio?

NF: Yeah, I thought about it and I thought well I would like to not record my next album so much in my comfortable studio where I have my coffee machine and all my stuff you know where I usually work, like on ‘Felt’ and ‘Screws’ and stuff. But to work in a rehearsal room with all the things connected like I have onstage. It’s basically ‘Spaces’ without the audience. So I’m like in this mad professor/scientific room where all the instruments are connected as I have them onstage, I would just play live performances with all the sequencers and synthesizers because I feel like this is the way how electronic music makes so much fun; it’s so much fun to play that way. It’s not so much fun to program the snare drum and fiddle with the mouse and move objects from left to right and then group something. It can get kind of boring and this is how I was working when I was younger but now I am working in this more like, everything together and togetherness and how all these could be one.

It’s a really exciting limitation also. So I’m not using all these things, I’m processing and fiddling and all that. I think this is how a lot of bedroom producers work in electronic music but to just make it more like a performance and then there are all those little things that are not perfect but maybe they show some excitement or show some human touch in this electronic world and that I think is a good direction to explore.


That sounds wonderful. And I think as you say, if electronic music works or is successful, it’s because you feel that human emotion or touch in the music and that’s very true on ‘Spaces’ or indeed any of your electronic music.

NF: Exactly. And I felt like I was treating the piano at times like a synthesizer; I was processing the piano, I was hitting it like a drum machine, I was trying to treat the piano more like a synthesizer almost. Now, I’m playing the synthesizer almost like a piano. And I like this image that it’s basically the same curiosity that drives me which is just to explore interesting sounds or sounds which resonate and I think with the track ‘Says’ I started something with that song which now I have to start to tape. It was the first bite and now I’m starving for more. I’m curious what else can be achieved that way. ‘Says’ was basically a very simple idea based around an arpeggiator from a synthesizer – so minimal – and now it’s so natural to see what else is there if I would lift up that curtain more and more and see what is underneath.


‘Says’ really blows you away. Again it’s nearly like separate movements; it’s like one flow really and there are so many moments that happen within the piece. But another thing it’s amazing even listening to it now – and I’m sure it’s for you playing it too –you can always get something different or something new from the music each time you listen to it.

NF: Yeah, that’s I think the wonderful aspect of having analogue equipment because the track ‘Says’ is basically a loop but it’s a real loop – it’s not like a loop in the computer that’s exactly the same over and over again – but it’s like slightly different because the delay that’s connected to it is wobbling a little bit, it’s imperfect and all of these changes throughout the song. And everything is done manually and every change in the song is done with your hands and nothing is done by machine. The sounds come from the machines but the controlling the machines is still with my hands and it’s only what I can do with my ten fingers so it’s kind of the same approach as playing the piano because the natural limit of the piano with ten fingers is that you can only do things with ten fingers. And this is kind of the same thing I apply to the treatment of electronic things.


I think you said this before but it’s how you bend the possibilities of the instrument in the sense that is this unconventional way and how you are on your own path really.

NF: Yes and for me it’s exciting to use generic machines – what I mean is that it’s nothing very special and it’s basically a very common instrument – so trying to find your own language by using very common tools is actually very liberating. And to kind of make them your own and not just use them for things you may not intended to but in a way that if you like, oh I made these things; I made them and I think this is a concept which could take me to interesting places.


It was very exciting to read the news about your mobile pipe organ and that you’re designing and building it at the moment. That sounds very special.

NF: It is, it is. I’m so curious and the pipe organ again is really like a very traditional instrument, it’s around for many many hundreds of years and I can’t wait to see what the organ could do when I control it. Just because it’s another interface – I know it’s a keyboard interfaced instrument – so I have the keyboard interface which I know but the sounds that come out of it is not a piano and basically I’m interested in different sounds so I’m excited to have the organ sound but controlled with my fingers. I don’t even know what exactly I should do with that but I will find out once it is done and I got pictures from the organ builder now and then and it’s progressing and I think that it will be done in January and then I can start composing and trying things and record some stuff. So I hope I will bring that thing on tour, it would be very exciting.


It’s amazing too to see not only the quantity of projects you are doing but how varied they are and you have so many going on at the one time; it’s inspiring in itself.

NF: Yeah it’s because I can do this for a living and my fans have enabled me to make music and when you can do it every day then the consequence is a lot of things happen. This is wonderful.


It’s wonderful to think – and it’s something I only found out recently – how your father designed a lot of the covers for ECM records?

NF: Yeah that’s true. He did that in the early 80’s.


You’re obviously someone who started playing music so young, this idea of creating art and things must have been everywhere when you were growing up at home?

NF: Yeah. For me it’s just like a path and it’s so long that I don’t know where it actually started. I think it was around all the time and will be also around for a long time and I am really curious what will happen in the next ten, twenty, thirty years, you know just thinking longer term and you possibly have so much time to explore these things. And so the future is very exciting and I am curious what will happen.


It’s exciting to look ahead and as you say if ‘Says’ is like the starting point, it’s very exciting to see what will follow.

NF: [laughs] Yeah for me too, for me too. You’re imagining certain things and in the end it will be replaced by the reality and this is the most fun thing about making records like imagining what they could be like and then in the end, see what they actually are like. So, this by itself is always thrilling.


One last thing Nils, have you been listening to any good records lately?

NF: I just bought the new Aphex Twin album which I think is fantastic and really exciting. And I bought the Simeon ten Holt record that’s just out on vinyl, called ‘Canto Ostinato’ and that’s a really special piece of music for me that I just re-discovered, it’s just wonderful.






‘Spaces’ is available now on all formats via Erased Tapes. For more information on Nils Frahm’s new projects and upcoming concert dates please visit:


Written by markcarry

December 9, 2014 at 12:33 pm

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