Nils Frahm is just a guy on stage fiddling with buttons, tinkering with futuristic glass harmonicas and thumping over keys with a penchant for building contemplative waves of sound. So you can put to music any stressful thoughts you may have brought with you on a Thursday night.
For the better part of a decade, the 39-year-old German composer and record producer was one of the Sydney Opera House’s constants, eternally welcomed into our city’s most prized echo chamber simply because the he man is a consistent hitter when it comes to sold-out crowds and great performances. He’s a showman, even if he doesn’t act like that.
Whether you’re paying attention to what’s happening in front of you or in your own world, Frahm has an uncanny ability to complement the mood you’re in with the sounds he chooses to produce at the time.
Following in the line of contemporary maestros who value ambiance and eclecticism, such as Max Richter and Ólafur Arnalds, Frahm hails from that school of post-modern composers perfectly content to leave tension unresolved, teasing you in a state of high euphoria before drifting off. , wirelessly, in the night sky.
It’s not Jamie XX or Squarepusher. Frahm’s wide, long, witty pieces look like they’re building towards something until they dissipate in an instant, fading into a steampunk setup of Daft Punk proportions. Two stations are set up on stage for the second of three concerts that Frahm is to give as part of Vivid Live. The affable musician jokes with the crowd between mixes, switching between the side with that laser-like glass harmonica and the one where he looks much more at home, surrounded by electronics and moog synths. In between, he’s just one guy creating these hugely satisfying ambient soundscapes that aren’t heading towards anything in particular, maintaining a light, barely-there tempo with plenty of space to fill.
It is sometimes frustrating. But in the right way. When the low end kicks in, a few scattered souls start to squirm in their seats while others wait for something sturdier to cling to. Most of us are swinging out of rhythm, I guess no one really knows how to ride those sonic waves that Frahm keeps throwing at us. He gets up from time to time to wipe the sweat from his face with a towel. The intensity in the creation of these dense and dark pieces is not to be taken lightly, even if it does not seem that the musician in sober attire does not do much physically on stage.
It seems that he is.
They are busy, meandering projects that are as long as anything he has done to date. The full set, including the encore, is only five songs long and yet it feels like we’re getting a lot from Frahm and his boundless creativity. The tracks are mostly taken from his new album, music for animals, which is due out later this year. All land well, ranging from delicate and soulful to electric jolts of noise specially designed to rid you of stress.
Frahm hasn’t performed in over two years. It’s also my first concert for so long. “The second will always be better than the first,” he jokes. And yet, I wonder how much better he could still get on that, or how bad the night before must have been. Fans of Frahm’s shapeless, modern classical music will leave more than satisfied with his new material, no doubt. However, it’s also painful to watch our evening with Frahm drag on for so long and yet feel like it’s over before it’s even begun.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Background photo by Prudence Upton.