11/23/14 – Brighton Music Hall

On the questionably grubby floor of Brighton Music Hall stood music-induced meditators; atop the illuminated stage stood the maestro, transfixing his audience with unclassifiable sound. The somber venue seemed to juxtapose Nils Frahm, a Berlin-based classically trained pianist who could no doubt fill posh concert halls with the sounds of Schubert, Bach, and Brahms. But Frahm resonates at his own frequency.

Crammed inside with necks craned, the audience had come to see Frahm perform in promotion of his 2013 release Spacesa testament to his innovation and idiosyncrasy. The evening’s performance required not only a grand piano that occupied nearly a third of the stage, but also a contraption interwoven via circuits, made up of an upright piano, a Fender Rhodes with delay pedals, a Roland Juno 60 with analogue synth, a tape delay, and a Moog Taurus. (Music jargon aside, sound checking the apparatus must have necessitated as much mental fortitude as learning to master it.)

Throughout the night, Frahm used these instruments—these machines—to produce improvisational, fluttering, layered, and immensely powerful tracks. Reminiscent of classical technique and Miles Davis in the 60’s, it was at worst intricate white noise and at best a sonorous soup of melodic sound manipulation. 

“Says,” one of three tracks released on the album sampler, came early in the evening. Its rhythmic regularity and melancholic yet pleasant harmonies lulled the audience until midway through, when fierce pitch modulation and blurriness disrupted the dream-like clarity. At the crescendo of the piece, Frahm moved from his contraption—where he had sculpted the song and from which an overwhelming volume of sound emanated—to the grand piano. The song plateaued with Frahm hammering, shaking, and sweating on this impressive instrument, a moment cathartic and genre-less.

Then, abruptly, as if vanishing, everything stopped. Silence.

There was emphatic applause following each of Frahm’s performances. As if on cue, Frahm would then turn to the audience with a goofy grin, bow slightly, and grab the mic. He initiated friendly banter between most songs and seemed gracious, personable, and funny. The air of awe was accompanied by a sense of community.

The setlist included a tasteful variety of electronic songs and less intricate compositions (though often just as intense and spontaneous) played on the grand piano alone. “Hammers” was one such track and a highlight. “Said and Done” was another.

Nils Frahm does not need to be classified; his soundscapes transcend simple characterization. Explore the sounds, the landscapes, the memories, the melancholy, and the beauty for yourself; what you find will not be what the label conveyed.

Engineering Beauty: Nils Frahm
  • Spectacular display of craftsmanship
  • Healthy doses of thrill and beauty
  • Friendly atmosphere
  • Boring if you're not into soundscapes
9.2Overall Score

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