Nils Frahm interview, part 2 — Latter i Mørket (Laughter in the Dark)

30 maj 2014 by Søren Lund Korsgaard, No Comments »

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Her føl­ger anden del af mit inter­view med Nils Fra­hm i for­bin­del­se med hans invol­ve­ring i Hotel Pro For­mas tea­ter­for­stil­ling Lat­ter i Mør­ket, der kør­te fra den 3.–24. maj. Nils Fra­hm kom­po­ne­re­de musik­ken og spil­le­de live til samt­li­ge fore­stil­lin­ger.

I den­ne anden del kan du bl.a. fin­de ud af, hvad det er ved gam­le musikin­stru­men­ter Nils Fra­hm godt kan lide, hvor­dan han kom­po­ne­re­de musik­ken til fore­stil­lin­gen,  hvor­for han godt kan lide at musik ikke er “per­fekt”, og om han kun­ne fin­de på at bru­ge en san­ger eller san­ge­r­in­de i sin musik? Og så kan du bli­ve klo­ge­re på hvad Nils Fra­hm har af frem­tids­pla­ner!

Jeg har pla­ce­ret nog­le num­re fra Nils Fra­hms sene­ste fan­ta­sti­ske album Spa­ces under­vejs i inter­viewet, som du kan lyt­te til, mens du læser.


Nils Frahm inter­view, part 2

(read part 1 of the inter­view here)

I know that you like old instruments. Can you elaborate on that? 

Yeah it’s almost cli­ché to like old stuff nowa­days. It’s part of the hip­ster cul­tu­re. But I’ve always been that way, even when I was very young. I didn’t feel that the new synt­he­sizers I could buy 10–15 years ago in a sto­re soun­ded good. But the synt­he­sizers they build in the 1970’s soun­ded real­ly ama­zing! I was lucky becau­se 15 years ago the old stuff was real­ly che­ap sin­ce peop­le always wan­ted the new stuff. So that was gre­at! I could have the che­ap old “shit” they didn’t want any­mo­re! Now it is inver­ted. A high end Zoom recor­der doesn’t cost much whi­le you pay way more for an old recor­ding tape machine. So the­re has been an inver­sion of men­ta­li­ty.

The times were more nai­ve 40–60 years ago. The com­pa­nies actu­al­ly wan­ted to put out a pro­duct that was supe­ri­or, lasted long and made the cust­o­mers hap­py. The old stuff is sim­ply build bet­ter. Today they don’t care that peop­le get annoy­ed that it bre­aks after the war­ran­ty expi­res. And it’s the same with musi­cal instru­ments today. It’s che­aply made and it sounds bad to my ears. That’s why I’d rat­her buy the over­pri­ced Ebay item from the nine­te­en sixties.


So yeah I like old instru­ments! I get nostal­gic about that time. Not becau­se eve­ryt­hing was bet­ter back then. It wasn’t. The 50’s in Ame­ri­ca was hor­rib­le. The­re was racism and all kinds of bad thin­gs. But the instru­ments they made, for instan­ce the gui­tars, whe­re abso­lu­te­ly mind-blowing­ly good! And they last still. They’ll last 100–200 years.

It’s the same with old cars. You can always chan­ge a fuse on an old car becau­se it’s made of very simp­le mate­ri­als. You can always fix it. But a new car with all the com­pu­ter tech­no­lo­gy will never beco­me an old timer becau­se in 30 years all the electro­ni­cs will be fuck­ed and nobo­dy will know whe­re to get the parts for it. The old com­pu­ter chips is not build any­mo­re so you won’t be able to fix it and start it. That makes me sad! We are now at a point whe­re the­re won’t be old times like that any­mo­re.

I can’t imag­i­ne that my car, which is pret­ty new now, will look appe­a­ling in 30 years sin­ce it’s all made of pla­stic. By then it won’t dri­ve becau­se it’s bro­ken and nobo­dy wants to repair it. They would rat­her buy a new one.

So of cour­se that’s also my poli­ti­cal idea about my who­le live setup – that you can reu­se thin­gs. I also buy all my records on the flea mar­kets. The few new vinyls I buy from arti­sts I like…I feel almost bad. I’ll be like “oh new stuff..lots of waste pla­tic and so on”. But if you find a gre­at record on a flea mar­ket which was alre­a­dy pro­du­ced, which was alre­a­dy bought befo­re you had it… The­re is somet­hing beau­ti­ful about that, I think!


Let’s get back to talking about the music of the play. In the process of writing the music for Laughter in the Dark, what inspired you? If you are even aware of that?

I’m not real­ly sure. I think it’s the overall atmosp­he­re when you sit the­re on sta­ge and the actors act. Then it’s time for your musi­cal cue and you play somet­hing. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just a bel­ly fee­ling. The­re is on one hand the “Mick­ey Mou­se way”, you know? Whe­re you put eve­ryt­hing on the move­ment to under­li­ne it. And then the­re is more like the Stan­ley Kubri­ck way whe­re you use musi­cal con­trasts. I’m pro­bably somewhe­re in betwe­en that. The qua­li­ty of music for the­a­ter or film lies, I think, in sup­por­ting the emo­tion. And some­ti­mes the music should add somet­hing which is not the­re yet.


So you composed the music on stage?

Yeah, all on sta­ge. All on the same PA system. Always the same volu­me. All in one set­ting. That allowed me to real­ly figu­re out how to tune the details to the room and the sta­ge. I hel­ped me deci­de for instan­ce “okay, here I only need this bass note which makes the left cor­ner of the room ratt­le.” I would not have come up with that in the rehear­sal room becau­se I don’t have the sub­woo­fer set. Then I would have had dif­fe­rent ideas pro­bably. That’s why I think it’s good not to pre­pa­re some­ti­mes. Not make up your mind and have an idea when you arri­ve alre­a­dy. Then you want to hold on to the idea becau­se you put work into it even though you rea­lize it’s not the right direction. That way it might end up like a big waste of time. You have to start over and you are fru­stra­ted to start with.

I’m not sure it wor­ks for eve­ry­o­ne but for me it real­ly wor­ks to not wor­ry about the next tour in 6 mont­hs, to not wor­ry about the next big col­la­bo­ra­tion and so on. I start to wor­ry about it when I’m the­re. Then I have time for it and I dedi­ca­te myself only for that. It helps me to stay focu­sed and eve­ry­bo­dy I’m wor­king with can be sure that I’m ful­ly with them.


Human imperfections seem to play a big part in the story of Laughter in the Dark. And I know you like imperfections in music as well as in your own. What is it about imperfections that attract you?

When you don’t use play­ba­cks and when you do eve­ryt­hing at once the­re will always be certain thin­gs whe­re you think “okay, on the gran­der sche­me it was good but the­re were 3–4 notes which I didn’t hit right. They rang out too short or too long or were too loud or too qui­et. Or they were not the­re at all. But overall it was a good atmosp­he­re.”

This is what musi­ci­ans had to accept for so long. Espe­ci­al­ly when they recor­ded on expen­si­ve tape back in the days. On a big roll of tape you can’t cut a litt­le hole here and the­re. You can only cut the who­le thing! So if the trum­pet was real­ly good but only the drum­mer mes­sed up, then the drum­mer would say “cut it” and the trum­pet play­er would say “I want it!” and the band would agree “let’s keep it”.

They play­ed a 10 minu­te song and then the drum­mer mes­sed up one fill in the mid­dle and for the rest of his life he would need to listen to that mes­sed up fill becau­se it was sim­ply not pos­sib­le to chan­ge it. Peop­le got tired of that under­stan­dably. Becau­se they didn’t have a choi­ce.

Today we have the choi­ce. We can chan­ge it. We can record it digi­tal­ly tra­ck by tra­ck. So wit­hout chan­ging tra­ck 1 we can chan­ge tra­ck 2 anyway. We can lea­ve it in or lea­ve it out. That gives us lots of respon­si­bi­li­ty and peop­le are not real­ly awa­re of that, I think. I don’t want to bla­me eve­ry­bo­dy but I think peop­le should try to be more awa­re that it is some­ti­mes good to lea­ve it (an error) in and that it didn’t destroy music cul­tu­re in the last cen­tury.

The­re is a good Fle­etwood Mac song whe­re the gui­tar play­er is a litt­le bit off. But would it make the song bet­ter if it was per­fect? That’s the question. It might be good for the song! Some­ti­mes we are very dog­ma­tic and rea­ct to a fail­u­re with a desi­re to fix it. But we are dea­ling with art and we have to ask our­sel­ves “why do I want to fix it?” Is it real­ly a good idea to fix it? It’s often real­ly hard to answer the­se questions so it’s some­ti­mes easi­er to not have the choi­ce at all.

This is in live con­certs very easy. I can’t turn back the time. If I mess it up I mess it up. It’s not that bad, the wor­ld keeps spin­ning! In that way I feel like all the human imper­fections on recor­ded music didn’t do any harm to the music. They are good actu­al­ly! Isn’t it much more inte­r­e­sting if peop­le get used to certain imper­fections? Then the more often you listen to this song the more you noti­ce the­se litt­le thin­gs and you come to like them becau­se you feel they add cha­ra­cter. It’s like some actors put on a bir­th mark on their face to add somet­hing to a per­fect face. It’s a bit like that.


There is a strong sense of some sort of narrative in your music in general; it has a very cinematic quality I think. Is this more in focus when you are scoring for a piece where there is already a story line?

Pro­bably. I have much more the fee­ling of somet­hing fragi­le going on (in the sce­ne) that I should not destroy. Whi­le when I’m alo­ne on sta­ge I’m often like a bul­l­dozer: “Yes! It’s my sta­ge, I do what I want!” I’m trying to find my pla­ce here and not overta­ke anyt­hing sin­ce I’m used to entertai­ning the who­le crowd myself. But I should not do that here. I should only add whe­re it’s nee­ded and take out what’s too much.


Is this the first time that you composed for somebody else or have you scored for theater or film before?

I’ve done low bud­get thin­gs. Film, docu­men­tary, the­a­ter plays, dan­ce per­for­man­ces, etc.


But it hasn’t been published, right?

Nope! I’ve never put out a sco­re or somet­hing like that. If I would put out eve­ry litt­le side pro­ject I’m doing, it would be like 3 or 4 records a year. It would be too much. When I put out a record the music on it has to be inte­r­e­sting of cour­se but also the who­le story behind the record needs to be somet­hing I want to tell! It’s almost like put­ting out a book. Spa­ces has a story; recor­ding all the­se shows on dif­fe­rent pla­ces. Screws has a story; it’s a record about a bro­ken thumb. Felt is a record about pre­pa­ring your pia­no and playing the quie­test pos­sib­le music ever.

So eve­ry album kind of has this litt­le nar­ra­ti­ve aro­und it. And I only feel like “this is a relea­se” if I see the story which con­nects the music. I wri­te a lot of music but for me to be hap­py about a relea­se it needs to have a litt­le more focus than just like “10 more pia­no pie­ces”.


So there is no plan of putting out the music you play here (Laughter in the Dark)?

No, but I’m alre­a­dy thin­king for myself it would be nice to put out an album with some of my favo­ri­te com­mis­sio­ned wor­ks. It would be nice to go back in my archi­ve and remix or rework some of the­se ideas. Say like, “okay this is music for somet­hing else”.


That could be the title…

Yeah! (both laug­hing)

I feel like this could be beau­ti­ful. This is a nice litt­le idea. If I have an easy time wri­ting the A4 page of liner notes for it then I would put it out. But I’m not sure yet. I do record all the music here (for Laugh­ter in the Dark), that’s for sure! I make recor­dings of the pie­ces and put them in the archi­ve.


Have you ever considered working with a vocalist like your buddy Ólafur Arnalds has been doing recently with Arnór Dan (listen to an example  here) or do you prefer to let the piano and the instruments speak for themselves?

I think I would work with a voca­list but I would not work under my name. I would work under the vocalist’s name to help the voca­list make their music. If let’s say St. Vin­cent asked me to pro­du­ce her new album I would be like “yeah, I like your music a lot. Let’s wri­te music for it. Let’s play the pia­no.”

But I think it shouldn’t be my album then. It should be hers. I would just help.

The vocal is so strong. Sin­ging is so strong. It has to be the “head­li­ne”. I think with Óla­fur, it’s inte­r­e­sting becau­se he still puts his name on the record and have a fea­tu­red artist sing on it. It’s not the first time it ever hap­pe­ned but it’s not somet­hing I would do.

How do you like it? Do you think it wor­ks (with the vocals on the Óla­fur Arnalds songs)?


I’m not sure actually. In the beginning it felt cheesy somehow. I’m not sure why but I wanted the vocals to be gone so I could just listen to the instrumental version. But I don’t know, it has grown on me. Yeah, I think it works better now, but I’m not sure why. I think it needed some time to grow on me.

Yeah, I think I know what you mean.

It’s such a power­ful thing to inclu­de a voca­list. I would have a hard time fin­ding the right sin­ger, I think. The sin­ger would pro­bably be so famous and well known alre­a­dy that it would make more sen­se to put the record out under her or his name.

I think for me — with the music I’m cre­at­ing, my big­gest chal­len­ge is to cre­a­te a movie wit­hout showing the movie and cre­a­te a nar­ra­ti­ve wit­hout giving away the nar­ra­ti­ve. So when you listen to Fami­li­ar (tra­ck from Felt) today your mind will wan­der into certain directions. You will have a certain asso­ci­a­tion. But in 20 years you will listen to that tra­ck. And you alre­a­dy chan­ged so then you will put some other nar­ra­ti­ve into the same tra­ck. It gives more spa­ce and it makes a tra­ck time­less.

 Nils Fra­hm — Fami­li­ar

This is why I Iove old jazz recor­dings. You know, some old Miles Davis bal­lads. Kind Of Blue for examp­le. It would be bad if the­re were all the­se vocals on. It’s sim­ply beau­ti­ful with just the trum­pet tel­ling the story. No mat­ter when I listen to that album I always have dif­fe­rent ideas. It’s more libe­rat­ing and more cre­a­ti­ve that way for the liste­ner to find its own pla­ce in the music and not be told like “this is the story of the song”.

And if you want that, then listen to Bob Dylan becau­se that’s real­ly good stuff. Or Neil young. Then it’s about the words, it’s about the mes­sa­ge and so on. It’s real­ly important that the­re is sin­ging in some music. But if it’s just like this tech­no DJ who has some fea­tu­red vocalist…just to go into pop music ter­ri­tory, you know. Why? Like all the­se fea­tu­red voca­lists on the 90’s jazz sce­ne with sub­gen­res like dub, chill out and electro­nic loud stuff. They had 5 dif­fe­rent sin­gers on one album. They all sing qui­te well but it’s not par­ti­cu­lar­ly inte­r­e­sting. It’s just vocals for the sake of vocals – for the sound of vocals.

Jean Michel Jar­re got away with no doing that. He just always play­ed synt­he­sizer music and he’s one of the big­gest French natio­nal her­o­es of all time! So I think you can reach a bro­a­der audi­en­ce with just instru­men­tal music.

To use vocals is kind of like the last big thing you can do to try to beco­me a big­ger artist. I’m not saying Óla­fur did it only to sell more records but of cour­se he wants to deve­l­op and grow as an artist. And he felt at that point it would be a good idea to put some vocals on. But I would per­so­nal­ly have said “try wit­hout that. Keep that thing for later. Try to make somet­hing cat­chy, appe­a­ling and beau­ti­ful with just the ele­ments you alre­a­dy use and deve­l­op them furt­her! You are not at the point whe­re you need to put vocals on”.

Nils Fra­hm — Ham­mers


What are your plans after Laughter in the Dark?

I’m going on tour. I’m having so many con­certs this year. This year Spa­ces still needs to be per­for­med.


And after that? An EP or album or an album of commissioned work, maybe?

I have a coup­le of albums alre­a­dy in archi­ve. So if I can’t think of anyt­hing new, I know alre­a­dy what I wan­na put out (laug­hing)! No real­ly, I told eve­ry­bo­dy that the next thing is that I’m just gon­na be in the stu­dio and be doing many albums and then afterwards deci­de what I wan­na put out. I just wan­na make eve­ry­bo­dy certain that I’m serious about hiding away in the stu­dio at home – may­be for a who­le year or somet­hing. I wan­na go back to that pla­ce whe­re you just only make music becau­se you want to. That’s how I star­ted making music and it would be good to back to that pla­ce.

Now I’m wor­king a litt­le bit too much. It’s good work, you know, it’s fun work but what I sacri­fi­ce is the­se 3 or 4 days in the week whe­re I don’t need to wor­ry about anyt­hing else but just play with my own ideas. So I think after this year – next year I will start cut­ting down on con­certs – and just expl­o­re!


Nils Fra­hm kan næste gang — og for­ment­lig sid­ste gang i et godt styk­ke tid, ople­ves i for­bin­del­se med Distor­tion Festi­vals nye sats­ning på klas­sisk musik (ja, du læste rig­tigt!).

I sam­ar­bej­de med Wil­helm Han­sen Fon­den præ­sen­te­rer Distor­tion Wil­helms Sce­nen — en gra­tis 6 timers lang uden­dørs, klas­sisk kon­cert i Eng­ha­ve­par­ken den 5. juni. Nils Fra­hm spil­ler til sidst kl. 21.30 i et pro­gram der også byder på bl.a. Nigh­tin­ga­le String Quar­tet, Chri­sti­na Åstrand, Ars Nova, Juli­a­na Hod­kin­son og Mes­ser­kvar­tet­ten

Face­book event

Her er en trai­ler for even­tet:


Og så slut­ter vi lige af med den­ne magi­ske live-opvis­ning fra Nils Fra­hm, der i den grad demon­stre­rer hans ene­stå­en­de til­ste­de­væ­rel­se på sce­nen!

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