NILS FRAHM and the Act of Setting Intentions, Live in Vancouver

If the act of setting an intention is to focus, and purposely commit to a more positive outcome, then German composer Nils Frahm, and those who gathered to see him in Vancouver on Easter Sunday, set equal intentions to be fully present. And the outcome was joy.

You could literally hear a pin – or an accidentally knocked-over can, or a cough, or the shutter of my camera – drop in the sold-out Vogue Theatre for the duration of the two hours Frahm was on stage.

Nils Frahm, photo Mikala Folb/backstagerider.comNever have I been at a performance with an audience so committed to being there, to actively listen, and to revel in the moments unearthed in the precious notes of Frahm’s ambient landscapes. The silence was golden, and the layers that were added were technicolour.

In return for this attention, Frahm also committed to being fully there, from the very second he stepped out. Beaming, waving, looking at us all, from the balcony to the wings, he smiled then settled in between one of two instrument pods. On stage, there were upright and grand pianos, Rhodes and Roland keyboards, Moogs and maybe a Mellotron, drum machines, limiters, mixers, faders and more on the stage. No knob went unfiddled, no pedal went unpedalled. For the sound engineers, gearheads, pianists, synth players and music nerds in the room – of which there were many – it was Gear Nirvana. And yet, with so much on stage, it was the simple and perfectly formed “The Whole World Wants to be Touched” that started the show on an electric upright – the audience holding its collective breath through its small, delicate piano moments. Upon its conclusion, you could literally hear the room exhale. There were also tears. Maximum impact from minimalist music.

Gradually it all swelled  – “Sunson”, “My Friend the Forest”, “#2”, “All Melody” (from the new album of the same name), “Says” and “Fundamental Values” built up like a mille-feuille. For 2 hours, Frahm held us captivated. He was there for every note he played – leaning in, eyes closed, juggling between all buttons, pedals and keys with precision, hands on different keyboards, mixing arrangements in real time.

He also made us laugh. And laugh some more. Of course, it could have gone differently – we’ve all see the solo pianist at the symphony look up, tight-lipped, to occasionally acknowledge the room on cue – but it was Frahm’s warmth and humour that charmed and surprised. Spinning hilarious, yet very soft-spoken, yarns (the room hung on his very word), Frahm was relaxed and happy, praising the audience for its restraint (we got “5 out of 5 stars” for being quiet, because, as he said “all it takes is one crazy bastard, and believe me, I know”).

He also regaled us with a story about his (probable) imaginary, giant organ that he said was sitting backstage, next to a shower, which was responsible for some “terrible, awkward” noises, like (shudder) the piccolo. “Or it could be a sound on a sample, you know, but whatever.” *The room erupts* Continuing, he began noodling with the organ sounds. “…And then a really cool gentleman sound comes around the corner,” he said, prodding a key here, then another. “Did you notice? The organ sounds is not so horrible and awkward anymore against the other sound. It only gets cooler because the other sound is there. So….[perfectly timed beat]…this is what composing is.”  The room swelled.

Brazillian artist and photographer Vik Muñiz once said: “The really magical things are the ones that happen right in front of you. A lot of the time you keep looking for beauty, but it is already there. And if you look with a bit more intention, you see it.” Imagine what’s possible if both the artist and the audience fully commit? I don’t have to; I’ve recently seen it. And it was remarkable. \m/

Nils Frahm, photo Mikala Folb/

Nils Frahm, photo Mikala Folb/

Nils Frahm, photo Mikala Folb/

Nils Frahm, photo Mikala Folb/

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