Album of the week

A love letter to acoustics

Nils Frahm spent two years recording All Melody in the Saal 3 studio in Berlin.
Nils Frahm spent two years recording All Melody in the Saal 3 studio in Berlin.PHOTO: ERASED TAPES

Silences and pauses say as much as jazzy caresses across ivories in Nils Frahm's All Melody

MODERN CLASSICAL/AMBIENT

ALL MELODY

Nils Frahm

Erased Tapes

4 stars

To get a measure of Nils Frahm's musical standing, just gawk at how tickets for all four nights at London's Barbican Centre this month were swiftly snapped up before a single note from his seventh studio album, All Melody, was even heard.

And you hear the news here first: The 35-year-old German composer will make his eagerly awaited Singapore debut at the Esplanade on May 18.

Alongside Icelander pal Olafur Arnalds and Americans Peter Broderick and Nico Muhly - all born in the 1980s - Frahm is a leading light in a new generation of neo-classical artists bridging tradition and experimentation, working with one another and also producing work in the electronic/rock arena.

Last year, Muhly joined singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens and Bryce Dessner of the Grammy-winning Brooklyn rock band The National on an album inspired by the solar system, and Broderick once played in the Danish indie folk-rock collective Efterklang.

Frahm's All Melody exemplifies the traits of this resurgence: a deliciously geeky discipline; an open-ness to the possibilities of sound across surfaces and venues; and the way music is democratised, with the line between high and pop culture eviscerated.

The album was recorded in Saal 3, a studio space in the Funkhaus, a refurbished 1950s east Berlin broadcast centre, where he has sequestered himself for two years.

Nils Frahm spent two years recording All Melody in the Saal 3 studio in Berlin.
PHOTO: ERASED TAPES

Filtering sounds from retro synthesisers and equipment through reverb chambers and then back to the control room, the results are indeed all-encompassing, a 75-minute-long love letter to pure acoustics.

"In London, or New York, there's always a sound, wherever you are… That's a part of Germany: the desire for quietness," he said in a recent interview. "Why a lot of people like Berlin so much is that they love the acoustics of it."

Aptly said. Silences and pauses are as significant as jazzy caresses across ivories in deceptively placid tracks such as My Friend The Forest and Forever Changeless.

It's a gentle stirring of senses, a tactile awakening where everything old is new again.

The feeling is akin to watching Terence Davies' 1992 film The Long Day Closes, one of the greatest odes to memory and childhood, where scenes bleed into one another.

Likewise, one espies the shuffling of feet and the wordless vocalese of the choir Shards in the opening track, The Whole Universe Wants To Be Touched.

It's a cinema of the mind, where one fills in the plot and characters.

Sunson takes you from churchy organ to techno club, seamlessly melding the sacred and the secular.

It's shored up by a bass marimba with Andean pan pipes in the background.

The peripatetic spirit continues in the sci-fi-sounding theme #2, pivoted on an industrial chug, subterranean chimes burping onto the surface.

The magisterial Kaleidoscope does sound like it could have been on the soundtrack for the recent reboot of Blade Runner.

Channelling Vangelis and Hans Zimmer, it is an incremental wonder of oscillating organ and synth-blips as a choir rises over the horizon. What do you see? Are we back to the future? The answer is inside you.

• Nils Frahm performs at the Esplanade Concert Hall on May 18 at 7.30pm. Tickets from $45 (excluding Sistic booking fee) go on sale from Feb 12. Go to Esplanade.com and all Sistic authorised agents.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2018, with the headline 'A love letter to acoustics'. Print Edition | Subscribe