A piano, a synthesizer, and a laptop. This is the normal stage set-up for German pianist and composer Nils Frahm. For the past decade he has been mixing electronic and classical music and awing audiences around the world with his improvisational live shows. After feeling the constraints of his classical piano training, Frahm started seeking broader ways of expression, experimenting with jazz and eventually turning to electronic music and production. Now 33 years old and with ten records on his C.V., Frahm is a welcome guest both at academic venues like the Sydney Opera House as well as at sessions for Boiler Room and Resident Advisor.
Frahm describes his latest release, Spaces (Erased Tapes, 2013), as an “experimental-electro-acoustic work.” But if that sounds overwhelming, fear not: he seems to be one of those hosts-with-the-mosts who will make sure every guest has fun at his party. As he starts his North American tour, including a stop at the Imperial on November 7, he talks to Vancouver Weekly about an artist’s responsibility before listeners as well as conquering the New World and the challenges of classical piano school.
Vancouver Weekly: How are you feeling on the eve of the big tour?
Nils Frahm: I’m having a certain pride going back to the U.S. and being able to meet the standards that I’ve been fighting for in Europe for so long. We went to North America eight or nine times before and started off very punk-rock in a time when we were already doing well in Europe. We spent days on the road, slept inside the venues and on promoters’ couches, and played for audiences of 15 people… We had a choice after a couple of visits whether to give up or to go and try harder. But we decided to come back and come back again – and only then it worked.
This time we are coming to reap what we sowed. It might be a while before I get another chance to return, so I want to make this tour the most spectacular in terms of my program and also memorable for myself and my team. I’m finally bringing the whole team, including my light designer and the sound engineer. For the first time we have all the things we need to make the show complete.
VW: Your last album, Spaces, is a compilation of live recordings, and now you are going live again to promote it. How do you keep it fresh?
NF: To be very humble, I think I have never played a show that felt like this was THE show, and we should release that concert on a record. Also, on many occasions, artists don’t have anything else to release, so they decide to throw out the live album. That’s not my reasoning. I wrote and refined most of the material during live performances. So then I decided to record all the songs I’d written throughout the last couple of years onstage. I felt weird about going into the studio with that material, where there are no people and no spark of a live show. So I figured out that the best way to capture the energy would be to record them live.
Of course, live shows are never smooth from start to finish, so we decided to record different shows with different ambient sounds, pianos, and acoustics – and then pick all the highlights. I also liked the idea of making a record while traveling from space to space. It feels like a cohesive concert. You think it’s a single show, but in fact, you jump between different times and spaces.