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Nils Frahm on Touring and Quitting Social Media

Feeling the Music

Apr 15, 2019 Web Exclusive
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In total, Nils Oliver Frahm says that he has spent one year on American soil across his entire life. Gearing up for a concert in Seattle one day after starting his 2019 North American Tour in Vancouver, the unconventional, German piano composer is feeling jet-lagged. He felt out of his mind, and less controlled than normal for his Vancouver tour unveil, but says that the show was nice fun.

One year ago, Frahm toured America with a similar live production, but that was 120 shows in the past, he says. A lot has changed. Frahm’s ability, arrangement, and tones are completely different. He carries a desire to re-invent certain moments.

Sure, every tour has a similar uniformgoing back to the same cities, traveling on a bus, the backstage door, managementbut each concert can have a different energy. In Frahm’s specific case, he has to improvise during live play; he says that there is no other way.

“There’s too many notes; I don’t want to play the same notes over and over,” says Frahm; his latest work is Encores 2, which was released in January. “If I played the same way through 10 to 15 shows, it would fall apart, and I wouldn’t feel it. I’m looking to create original moments for the first time, a certain attention or focus…excitement that is contagious.”

Trying to be seamless during his transition between songs “#2” and “Hammers” at his Vancouver performance, Frahm says that he failed, more or less. “I was trying to not stop at all, but it was too heady, and wasn’t felt,” he admits. “But I give myself tasks, take risks, and look for solutions to sound better. It is a journey of ironing out what is not smooth.”

However, maybe Frahm is too hard on himself. Any fan of Frahm’s compositions must know the consistent fluidity of his work. From his Erased Tapes debut, Wintermusik (2009), through his glorious live experimentation document, Spaces (2013), to the epic accomplishment of All Melody (2018), Frahm probably has one of the most flawless discographies in modern music. And that is not counting his deep batch of collaborations with other artists, where he might be ad-libbing more than he does solo.

“Basically, I fight for my notes, playing as well as I can,” says Frahm. “I fight against myself, trying to find agreement in liking something. The piano helps me get in sync to where I can appreciate the music and sink in.”

Frahm built his personal studio in Berlin from scratch, and plays more than the piano. From stage left to stage right, here is what he is working with on his current tour: Roland Juno-6 synthesizer; small, upright piano with a harmonium on top; Mellotron; self-made organ; another Juno-6 synth; Fender Rhodes piano; Roland Space Echo mixing desk; 20-channel mixer with drum machines; and a Grand Piano. Plenty of equipment to improvise with.

A piano is a character that has a soul, Frahm says. “There are days when they are nice, and days when they have a cough. They drift in and out of tune, depending on temperature. Just like a synth, you have to treat it like it is alive.”

Frahm composes differently for album recording and live performance, but learns from both. He says that he might feel pressure to live up to his studio recordings in a live setting; his music is serious theater. “I want to become the music,” he says. “If you fail, nothing happened. If I fail, I die. Imagine trying to climb up a wall with no wireI miss a note, I am dead. I’m releasing the last bit of my brain [when I play] and I don’t know what I think or feel. My body goes into a different mode.”

He’s played at least 1,000 shows, and Frahm has finished each one despite moments of technical or instrumental error. “The musician is fighting against himself,” he says. “I want to show something that was decidedI am the show. Me, myself, playing my heart out; I make the best show that I can. It’s real wizardry, and I can’t confuse that. As a musician, you’re always seen as one with your music.”

The 10-person crew that tours with Frahm gave up part of their lives to support his experimental music, he says. The crew records every show, and the crowd pushes Frahm to new heights. He will try to release another live album in the future.

“The more muscles that I work in my fingers, the better pianist I become,” Frahm says. “There is always a reason to record. There are sonic details and depths that I would hate not to use.”

Frahm says that he did his homework for All Melody, his 2018 masterwork, aiming to not piss his fans off. His future concerts were already beginning to sell out, but he was not trying to grow bigger; he wanted to grow internally. “I wanted better soundscapes that were more personal,” he says. “It was almost like slowing down and starting fresh, making the instruments feel like they are mine. People can see the show and feel my growth.”

Before Frahm left for his new expedition, he canceled his Facebook account, along with Instagram (although his Twitter is still searchable). He says that social media is an unwanted companion, making him feel like a hostage. But, will the spread of his music suffer?

“It might, but I am not concerned with that now,” he responds. “Let’s see how the music reaches without social media; art speaks for itself. Hopefully, it inspires a lot of people. Ten years ago, social media was more democratic. Now, there’s been too much change, and I cannot justify the use.”

Public relations existed before social media. PR is supposed to be a backbone for an artist. Frahm believes that the work separation might be wronged.

“The artist should do the art, not social media,” says Frahm. “The art will suffer if the artist sells it themselvesthey need a spokesman. For example, does Banksy say how much his art costs? It makes no sense.”

What about certain professionals that need social media for their work? What advantages would they get from quitting social media? Frahm suggests asking colleagues about their opinion of the situation.

“Everyone has social media, and it is the same with smartphones and any technology,” he says. “But I am looking for a different inspiration, a new strategy. Myspace, Facebookit is all a cycle. We need a new generation that has ideas outside of a new app.”

As far as ticket sales, Frahm says he might sell 30 to 40 percent less tickets without social media. But Frahm continuously sells out some of the most amazing venues throughout the world, coursing his piano feels through the veins of people looking for something else.

“The more I am away from mobile devices, the better it is for my health,” Frahm concludes.

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