Brilliant and sterile
We all ache for the days that seemed so banal once before. Concert hall doors opened and people shuffled in, with the warm scent of foam stuffed leather wafting through the theatre and filling their nostrils. For these evenings, people were whisked away to a space beyond their experience. Today, those memories have taken on a profound importance that dwarfs the reality that they once were. The memories of these shows loom like a monolith, and the memories once anticipated to be made in 2020 sting with each and every recollection. In this strange and alien world, the live record has taken on a revitalized role. It has become a time capsule for a less dangerous and restrictive era— when the world was free from worry, or at least over-ridden by blissful ignorance such that most worries pale in comparison to people’s collective joy. But this increased importance has invited a harsher eye, a new angle of critique that, valid or not, has been impossibly interwoven with the perception of these shows. This brand new light, glaring and revealing, now casts its gaze on Nils Frahm.
When discussing Nils Frahm, it should be carefully noted that he is, and long has been, one of the most accomplished composers and live performers of the modern age. Being that he is someone who operates primarily in the classical and post-classical spaces, his popularity should stand as a testament to his wide appeal within and without those rather cramped musical spaces. But brilliance does not mean one is perfect, and for all the brilliance of Tripping with Nils Frahm, it too falls short of perfection.
Flickering with moments of brilliant creativity and technical excellence, it’s clear that the series of shows this record pulls from were each individually thrilling. But because the film that should accompany this recording is not present in the recording, and because it was pulled from more than one performance, it lacks the organic quality one craves from a live performance. In a way this is unexpected; Frahm has always excelled at making heady compositions feel lifelike and relatable, even to audiences that don’t carry reverence for classical music. The compositions, particularly the ethereal “Ode – Our Own Roof,” the knotty “All Melody,” and the eclectic “Sunson” all shine brilliantly. But the recording style, which makes the sounds so clear and compelling, also leaves it feeling stark and cold.
There are flashes of applause throughout the record, a mainstay of any live project, but even that carries a reserved enthusiasm in its sound. Perhaps seeing the concert film would make tracks like “My Friend The Forest” and “#2” feel freer and more emotionally engaging. As this record exists in its current form though, it might not be enough for the earphones and speakers of quarantined listeners. It rarely brings the warmth one craves so desperately in this moment. In a way, the word sterile is fitting. We live in a world on life support. The same world that classical music has found itself in for decades. While people all lament the deep tragedy that has affected their favorite touring bands, they often leave out the symphony players, the orchestra members and the opera singers when trying to save their venues.
Tripping with Nils Frahm cannot escape this hospice-like environment, but it does leave people with a compelling call to action. In the final minutes of the last song, “Ode – Our Own Roof,” Frahm’s composition taps into an intimate, touching space that drags the focus of the listener to a single, atomic point. Looking closely, the heart of the composition reveals itself. People feel something, for the first time on the record, and perhaps the first time in ages. The lack of applause at the closing of the record is not a comment on the quality of the music, but rather a harrowing prediction. In a world where there is no one to hear the beauty, the beauty simply stops.