Nils Frahm

by E. Ryan Ellis

Ground Control to Major Tomcat
You were at the mall a week before Christmas ’94. You were visiting your grandma and had to attend an Easter service at a stadium-sized church nicknamed the Baptidome. You were ailing from the extraction of four wisdom teeth high as a turn-of-the-century dentist on codeine and Koyaanisqatsi came on the television. You were studying for your must-pass economics test and had stumbled upon Jan Garbarek’s Officium featuring the Norwegian saxophonist waggling over waves of Gregorian chanting. You were stoned with the German exchange student Franz and realized Tangerine Dream did the soundtracks for Firestarter and Legend and contributed five songs to Risky Business. You were struck and rendered speechless by instrumentalism, ambience, minimal electronics, classical music, prog, and improvised jazz at some point in your life whether the sinews of your inner ear and fabric of your consciousness were aware or not.

Nils Frahm may not care about your ears in particular, he may not even care if you ever hear his work, he may not take notes or know how to read music but his ear is sharp and his mind is on the task of creating something beautiful and something challenging and at moments in his arrangements every part of your musical historical knowledge may tell you it’s against the grain. He does this with all the effortlessness of a light snow fall.

Frahm is living on the island of improvisatory, but his most recent release, Spaces—an accumulation of contrasted, various live recordings—has found a growing audience. This year has been a watershed period for the Berliner, not the least of which includes his first commissioned piano, constructed by master craftsman David Klavins. Named UNA CORDA, the instrument is an extension of Frahm’s simplicity—relying on a single string rather than the customary three.

Mr. Frahm was in the middle of an offline Eastern Hemisphere tour when we determined to speak with him, so perhaps that exchange is best slated for the next life.

Photographer: Robert Klebenow at klebenow.de.