Multifaceted composer Nils Frahm is an aberration. Amid the bustle and sprawl and perplexity of city life, Frahm’s music provides the comforting, convalescing embrace of an antidote to the relentless weight of modernity. The allure of his neoclassical-fusion compositions is in their latent restorative powers; like tranquil, delay-action sonic sedatives.
For the better part of two years, Frahm was holed up in a Berlin’s Funkhaus studio in a dwelling of his own creation, building and experimenting free of cumbersome externalities. In an interview with Exclaim last month he said “I didn’t Twitter, I didn’t use Facebook, I was just basically trying to make the best I could in that time. It’s a big luxury to have so much time and it’s a big luxury to not use Facebook and to not be distracted and to focus, really, on something really old school. I just like building things with my hands. My whole obsession with real instruments is also that I can open them and use mechanical techniques to change the sound.”
Now making the rounds promoting the fruits of this labor, his superbly evocative new record All Melody, Frahm finds himself in a position that few of his contemporaries could hope to aspire to. His genre-melding, borderless innovations and nuanced inflections have compelled a wider base of the music-consuming electorate to take heed of experimental, ambient compositions and given renewed impetus to the mainstream potential of such explorational auditory endeavors.
The boisterous, inebriated atmosphere wasn’t atypical of any other Friday night inside of Toronto’s de facto hip-urbanite coven, the Danforth Music Hall. But a deferential hush washed over the sold-out audience as the lights darkened and the cerebral Berliner sauntered out towards his battle stations. Two horseshoes of interweaving chords and knobs and dials and synthesizers gave the stage the air of some alien observation deck. Dim rudimentary spotlighting illuminated a billowing haze of dry ice as the cordial virtuoso positioned himself at the helm.
Mysteriously foreboding symbiotic synths build and intermingle over white noise harkening for a root note that always seems just beyond reach before collapsing into scratchy minimalist jungle percussion. Eerie conventional flute melodies dance between a Peruvian pan-flute organ in a complex and protracted instrumental crescendo. This was Sunson.
Frahm’s cavalier disregard for the sensitivities of his audience was axiomatic as his motifs seamlessly transitioned through a mélange of emotional polarities. Restless fans rumbled and mingled as he began meander through the somber My Friend The Forest. But a wave of shushes soon followed, met with the endorsing raised-eyebrow smirk of Frahm himself. A sporadic meterless sprinkling of piano keys evoked visions of raindrops landing in puddles surrounded by the life-breeding decay of some primordial, unperturbed forest floor. The audience’s reverence for his craft was palpable as he careened into the disquieting, turbulent melancholy of Human Range. Beguiling, dynamic discordance and pre-recorded droning chants gave rise to potent cathartic tension.
“I brought even more shizzle this time. I got carried away by instruments,” Frahm confessed as he stumbled endearingly through a sort of intermissionary comedy routine.
With that, his appendages became intertwined slipknots as he danced manically yet methodically between synths and mixing boards during the inseparable combo of All Melody and #2, constructing an intricate skyscraper of vengeful club-beats before reducing the latter song to a fissionary demolition; scattered remnants of its former self. This was the awe-inspiring manifestation of a prodigious, visionary artist perhaps just now arriving at primacy.
Then, seated at his grand piano, he veered into the sprinting hypnosis of Hammers replete with the intentionally incomprehensible vocal wails being picked up by distant overhead mics.
After sliding back into the music-nerd stand-up routine and outwardly contemplating the internal karmic struggles and general absurdity of encoring, Frahm joked “The last song before the encore is your favorite song. I know it’s your favorite song because we have computers and we observe your behavior.” What followed was the interlacing melodies of Says, equal parts distressing and caressing.
He topped off the set with a medley including Toilet Brushes during which he bashed the title objects on the grand piano’s strings and later scraped them on microphones creating synthetic firework crackling. The formidable dueling piano melodies of More from 2011’s Felt then closed out the set. The moment he jubilantly withdrew his hands from his piano, the audience, many with tearful eyes, clamored with enamored adulation.
As Frahm sidles the apex of his ingenuity, one is taken aback by his synthesis of seemingly disparate concepts and textures. His casual modal transitions between oblivion and bliss accentuate a singular acumen for connecting sound to the fringes of human experience. The profound subtleties of his creations unravel themselves in unique and idiosyncratic ways for each listener. The escapist can derive as much satisfaction out of his musings as the connoisseur. Spectacular.