As a new Adelaide date is added to his upcoming Australian tour, Nils Frahm reflects on life on the road and his endless quest to capture a perfect, fleeting moment onstage.
Although a prolific recording artist, it is Frahm’s mesmerising, improvisational live shows that have cemented his international profile. Each night the 36-year-old composer sets his mind to disassembling and rebuilding his work anew using an array of pianos and digital and analogue equipment piled high around him.
“Usually I try to keep the songs fresh by changing them around,” he tells The Adelaide Review. Speaking from his home in Berlin, Beethoven plays gently in the background as Frahm sips his morning coffee and explains his current live set, which he has kept simmering over two years of near-constant touring. “I had a lot of new ideas from the All Melody record which I was adapting for live concerts, it seems like I’m still making changes to it. It’s a fun quest to find the right version, the right night.
“You know right on the night, basically, what makes you feel excited about the song,” he explains. “Then the problem is if you do it five, ten times it might not make sense anymore! It’s just started to make sense and then before you get your head around it, it all falls apart.
“I’m improvising, but I’m also structuring while I’m improvising, I’m constantly looking for new possibilities in the music, sometimes it’s like, ‘cool, I’ve found a little gem in the woods’, and sometimes it’s nothing.”
In September Frahm released Encores 3, an EP of unreleased material and live favourites that could not find a place on last year’s All Melody. “All good things are in threes,” he says of the EP. “It includes the song All Armed which I already played on my 2015 tour Nils has lost this mind. That was a song I liked and my fans liked a lot – they constantly wondered if I would ever bring it out. I knew when I started recording All Melody I wanted to give that song a try, but it didn’t end up on the album – it’s a very long one at 14 minutes, so it just didn’t fit, really. Some of these songs were important to me but couldn’t be on the album, so we invented the encore – just like a concert, I just keep on playing.”
These periods of touring, Frahm explains, keep his musical synapses firing in a unique way that more concerted bouts of writing cannot replicate. Additionally, each set is recorded, with a plan to revisit the tracks to mine for further inspiration once the tour concludes.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to just play live so much, and under really difficult circumstances sometimes, because it makes me a better performer each time. Without the live concerts, without the tour, I wouldn’t really be that musician. Starting all these live quests and live tours has completely changed me as a performer, my adrenaline level and all that – it’s quite integral to my writing and musicianship in general.”
Announced today, Frahm will perform at Dunstan Playhouse on Tuesday 3 December. While Frahm has not performed in Adelaide since 2014, his music could be heard on that same stage as part of the score to the State Theatre Company’s 2016 play Things I Know To Be True. With the upcoming tour set to include shows in Hobart and at the Sydney Opera House, Frahm looks forward to returning to the southern hemisphere.
“Europeans have a strange unexplainable love for that side of the world, and vice versa – it feels like it’s really fuelling for us to be in Australia, and for you guys to come to Europe,” he says, noting the glut of creative expats who also call Berlin home. “That change is so fantastic; Australia is honestly one of the nicest markets to work in because of the incredible conditions – even taking a flight in Australia feels like a holiday. In Europe it’s war, people hate each other. In Australia everyone’s super lovely, there’s space and light and sunlight and smiles on people’s faces.”
Nils Frahm 2019 Australian tour dates
Monday 25 November
Thursday 28 November
Saturday 30 November
Sunday 1 December
Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre
Tuesday 3 December
Sydney Opera House
Thursday 5 December