‘Silence is the music that plays between the notes’…
Silence is a malnourished, underused element in music. You could say that silence is the most natural kind of music around. ‘Spaces’ is well aware of her power, something that is made even more interesting given its live status; the album consists solely of live recordings that have been taken over the last two years. It can be just as effective as a note; it’s all about the space, and the feeling inside the space. It isn’t just a gap or a sizable gulf in the sound, but the tip of a chasm where the listener is sometimes left to hang.
‘Spaces’ doesn’t open quietly – it kicks immediately with the fierce sound of a pounding beat. Percussive rhythms are another feature in Nils Frahm’s music, but his melodies birth their own tiny rhythms, too. Many a rhythm can appear as a restriction, the roadblock that stands obstinately in the way of melodic freedom. A vast, spacious setting in the sound seems all that more unobtainable when it is nailed to a strict beat. Alternatively, rhythmic improvisation can be thrilling to behold, living right on the tip of the music as it progresses towards an unknown fate.
There’s always a chance that the magic trick won’t quite work as well as a set of pre-recorded takes, but it never fails. Nils Frahm is in love with the soul of music, not only the piano as an instrument, but the infinite depth in her sound and spirit, in all forms and in all of her personalities. Frahm is the kind of musician who can make anything possible. The whole world is music, and the space – the silence – is his second instrument. His live performances are a thrill for the ears as well as the eyes. Frahm dives into the moment, going deep to find the magic and only resurfacing right at the last.
This isn’t a conventional recording of a one night concert. ‘Spaces’ was two years in the making, recorded in different locations and with varying equipment (including an old portable reel-to-reel recorder and a cassette tape deck). This is the art of live performance in all of its stunning splendor. Paradoxically, the copious amount of space in the music marries itself to the intimacy that Nils Frahm has with his audience. Because of the live setting, the music is allowed her true freedom, the confines of the studio and the added tracks are lost, creating a longer, more in-depth journey of discovery – for both artist and audience – as well as the opportunity for improvisation. In short, nothing beats the thrill of live music.
The music on ‘Spaces’ still, unbelievably, clings to an intimate sound, like a lover clasping closely to a special romance. Interestingly, Frahm calls ‘Spaces’ a collection of field recordings, rather than the classic ‘live’ album.
Frahm is a trend-setter, not just content with blurring the perceptive lines of a genre or two, but destroying them completely.
Take, for instance, the common field recording. There is no reason why a field recording should be pigeonholed into becoming the sound of birdsong, falling rain or the sound of a country park in the springtime. It can be one hundred percent musical, with all of the conventions of music by its side – rhythm and a melody for starters. It could be argued that every piece of music ever recorded classifies as a field recording. After all, an album cooked up in the studio could just be a ‘field recording’ of the music, reclining in a studio environment.
Every environment – every venue – has a different feel to it. Thus, ‘Spaces’ is much more than a live album. It draws on the deep bond that exists between Frahm and the audience, in a special, unique setting. Frahm never lets go of the close link he has with his audience – he is the lover clasping the special romance, fingers dancing in the space between the keys, in love not only with the art of performing but with the audience, too. Judging by the thunderous applause at the end of each piece, the feeling is mutual – no matter the venue, no matter the continent.
The audience is central to Frahm’s live performance – he chose to include pieces where the sound of a cough or a chirping cell phone is audibly heard, breaking through and becoming not just a part of the music, but of the experience itself. The raw energy of live performance is at its highest during ‘Says’, which, incidentally, begins on the verge of silence’s lair, but transforms itself into a stunning live piece that ends with its own music of applause. But softer pieces such as ‘Went Missing’ and ‘Familiar’ are intensely beautiful, too. Fittingly, the applause here has been erased and replaced by silence. It would seem out of place at the close of ‘Familiar’, so gorgeous, quiet and delicate; a shotgun of applause casting the still of the song into the past would seem out of place.
In the studio, Frahm is still very much aware of what the music needs, nurturing it like a caring father to his son of a song; a true musician in love with the act and the art. The use of dynamics, the touch, the feel, all coalesce into breathtaking music. These two pieces are the more traditional, interspersed between his more experimental improvisations. The aforementioned rhythms take control later on, with nothing less than a toilet brush stomping the piano’s strings. Yes, a toilet brush. Notes patter down, little, lovable sequences that have their own rhythmic values buried beneath the surface. On ‘Familiar’, the last note hangs, suspended, waiting for her resolution. The silence starts to slither in. And then, the release of relief. In the space between the notes, in the unfathomable length that feels like forever, the last, tender note finalises everything. Frahm’s enjoyment is there to be seen and heard.
The intensity with which Nils Frahm conjures up his music is exhilarating and refreshing. ‘Over There, It’s Raining’, one of the most beautiful piano pieces you’ll ever hear, is all the more powerful with the live, unedited sound of true love – that between Nils Frahm and his piano – ringing out like wedding bells. They literally make beautiful music together. Frahm has his playful side on display, too. ‘Spaces’ is a leap above and over the expectations of recorded, live music. The applause at the end may not be on the record – it may just echo through your space; your vicinity.