Patricia Johnson

Music News, Reviews, and Interviews

Nils Frahm: Neo-Classical Electronic Fusion By Way of Berlin

It takes a uniquely talented musician to find fresh sounds within one of the most ubiquitous musical instruments of our time. Berlin-based pianist Nils Frahm has achieved just this, experimenting with his craft unlike any before him to unite neo-classical, jazz, and electronic music.

Frahm joined a distinguished legacy through his classical piano training as a child: his teacher, Nahum Brodski, was a former student of Tchaikovsky’s last protégé. Though Brodski instilled a deep respect for the timelessness of classical music, Frahm grew disinterested in memorizing and recreating pieces made by those before him.

Instead, Frahm prefers to improvise. He allows his physical environment, his audience, and his internal emotions to guide his compositions on the fly. As an advocate of an open and honest production process, Frahm appreciates the unique moments that shape his improvised compositions. He sees mistakes and unexpected interruptions, such as a ringing cellphone and an audience member’s cough, not as blemishes but as happy accidents that give his work unique context.

As a result, Frahm’s pieces are intimate and emotional. Not one of his ten solo releases sounds like the typical studio album because he has avoided overproducing to the point of artificial perfection. Rather, listening to one of his albums is almost voyeuristic; it is as though you are sitting with him at his piano, the sole witness to an intensely personal process.

His latest album, Spaces, provides a glimpse of Frahm as a live performer. Recorded over the course of thirty concerts, he selected segments from each show and pieced them together to form a career-spanning live album. Spaces also highlights Frahm’s recent explorations with electronic instruments. His stage setup includes a grand piano, several synthesizers, analog delay, and a laptop, and he jumps between each with a frenetic energy as his delicate, sublime sounds unfold.

Frahm has found a new spotlight in the realm of electronic music with this incorporation of classic analog synths. After appearing in Four Tet’s DJ sets and performing at electronic music festivals including Mutek and Decibel, Frahm has attracted underground dance music fans who appreciate his unique cross-genre experimentation.

But Frahm does not sit comfortably in one single genre. His genius lies in his ability to reach across eras and genres to produce a timeless musical voice–one that unites listeners from diverse musical spectrums. Free of classification, he creates new sounds without restraint and delights in surprising his audience.


(Read original post – also appeared in print 3/19/14)