Nils Frahm (b. 1982) is a young German pianist born in Hamburg and now based in Berlin. More than a classically trained musician and a modern classical composer, Nils Frahm is also a sound sculptor who thrives when experimenting with old instruments and working with analogue recording material.
Over the years, the musician has been using old ribbon microphones, valve amplifiers, historical compressors, preamps and tape machines to capture the sound of rare pianos and vintage keyboards. With their creaky and noisy imperfections, the instruments almost take centre stage in Nils Frahm’s creative process and become part of the musician’s unique soundscape.
Sometimes, the self-imposed constraint is not technical but physical. In 2012, the pianist composed and recorded the nine “piano miniatures” for his album Screws without the use of his left thumb due to an accidental fall. The end result is a little masterpiece of delicate and moving piano music.
The day I got rid of my cast I had recorded 9 little songs. They have helped me feel less annoyed about my accident and reminded me that I can only achieve something good, when I make the most of what I’ve got. Nils Frahm
Released two years earlier, the “minimalist” project Unter | Über comes as another example of constrained creative work. Following the suggestion by a friend to release new music in a 5’’ vinyl limited edition meant that the pieces could not be longer than three minutes on each side. Coming at under six minutes and including a remix by Machinefabriek, only 75 copies of Unter | Über were released but the music is still available to download.
In less than a minute and a half, “Unter” reaches for musical quintessence in a zen-like fashion where the bare sound of every keystroke prevails.
Because the actual tone of the piano is so quiet, I have to add a lot of gain on my preamps, which as a result also boosts all the mechanic sounds the piano produces due its design. Normally every engineer tries to get as less as possible of these “disturbing noises”, but I really love the chaos it adds to the music. It feels like an analogue glitch to me.
Two and a half questions with Nils Frahm – Headphone Commute