News Feature : Nils Frahm & The Turn of the Screw

Photo by Claudia Goedke
Photo by Claudia Goedke

Another release of music by German wunderkind Nils Frahm has been announced by his label Erased Tapes – except this time, it comes with a twist.  Entitled ‘Screws Reworked’, it is an ingenious compilation of reworked Frahm tracks from the 2012 original album , BUT (and here’s the twist) they have been made by musician-fans.

The backstory to ‘Screws’ is by now pretty well known, but to recap in brief.

Frahm made the album ‘Screws’ whilst recovering from a broken thumb.  Inspired by friends and fans, to whom he had turned for ideas during the creative process, Frahm returned the favour by way of gifting the album as a free download. This in turn led to so many fans sending Frahm their own versions of the tracks that he publicly called out for submissions to be sent to him, from which he has now picked nine reworked pieces to make up ‘Screws Reworked’.

Tracklist
01. Nils Frahm – You (Bug Lover Remix)
02. Nils Frahm – Do (Databoy78 Rework)
03. Nils Frahm – Re (Helios Rework)
04. Nils Frahm – Mi (Soul Channel Rework)
05. Nils Frahm – Fa (Fred Yaddaden Rework)
06. Nils Frahm – Sol (Ruhe Rework)
07. Nils Frahm – La (Sebastian Freij Rework)
08. Nils Frahm – Si (Plasma Rüby Rework)
09. Nils Frahm – Me (Analogue Dear Rework)

In case you can’t wait another three weeks to hear this fascinating muso-fan homage to the great man himself, you can listen to it here via SoundCloud.

‘Screws Reworked’ will come bundled with the original album, and goes on release via Erased Tapes on 11th December, 2015.

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Nils Frahm Announces New ‘Nonkeen’ Collaboration & Mary Anne Hobbs Scoops World Excl Preview

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In 1980s Hamburg, a trio of music loving primary school friends with a techie bent, decided to try their hand at making some electronic sounds.  Fast forward to 2016, and updated, enhanced and re-energised variations on the Hamburg theme, will debut in the form of, ‘The Gamble’, the ‘surprise’ album from the three former amigos, under the moniker, ‘nonkeen’.

Nonkeen, comprises Nils Frahm (whose collab with Olafur Arnalds was recently featured here @DervSwerve) and his fellow childhood music makers Sebastian ‘Sepp’ Singwald and Frederic Gmeiner.  The threesome have got back together to close out the sonic project they started so many years ago, and to which intermittent updates have been made over the past ten years.

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The three initially started recording music to complement a radio show that Gmeiner and Frahm were hosting back in the late 80s.  As their catalogue grew, they started doing live performances, but as is the case with so many childhood friendships, the three went their separate ways, only recently getting back together to tie up the loose musical ends that have now resulted in ‘The Gamble’

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Nonkeen debut, ‘The Gamble’, is set for release on February 5 via R&S records. Mixed and mastered by Frahm, it is available to pre-order on iTunes and Bandcamp.  Here is the 9 strong tracklist:

01. the invention mother
02. saddest continent on earth
03. ceramic people
04. animal farm
05. this beautiful mess
06. capstan
07. chasing god through palmyra
08. pink flirt
09. re: turn!

MaryAnne Hobbs, long time champion of Frahm’s music, scooped the world exclusive preview of track 7 from the album, entitled ‘Chasing God Through Palmyra’.  It was aired on her BBC6 Music programme, ‘Recommends Session’, and you can listen to it here (I have it set to start at the MaryAnne intro).

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‘The Gamble’ is out on 5th February 2016.  More details about the album and the ‘nonkeen’ biography can be found on the official website.  You can also check in via Facebook.

Collaborative Works – The Musical ‘Life Story’ of #ArnaldsFrahm

Press photo by Tonje Thilesen_WEB
Press photo by Tonje Thilesen_WEB

Some things are just meant to be: like strawberries & cream, Rogers & Hammerstein, Ernie & Bert … Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm!

Carlsberg don’t do musical collaborations, but if they did …

“ #ArnaldsFrahm … probably the best musical collaboration in the world.”

So far, 2015 has seen Nils Frahm release his album ‘Solo’ AND take the BBC Proms by storm.  Similarly back-to-back busy, Oli Arnalds has managed to work his way through not one but three projects, performing a fine balancing act between the highly acclaimed Chopin Project, the Trance Frendz collaboration with Frahm, and the Kiasmos project, on which he pairs up with Janus Rasmussen, of electro-pop outfit, Byrta.

#ArnaldsFrahm have just released ‘Collaborative Works’, a Double CD comprising of previously dropped EPs – ‘Loon’, ‘Stare’ and ‘Life Story Love and Glory’ (which always makes me think of Oasis – profound apologies for the insult!). Added into the mix, are seven newly recorded songs featured in the ‘Trance Frendz’ studio film – if you haven’t seen it, you must; it’s an absolutely fascinating, simply filmed, insight into how these two masters of improv and ingenuity work.

Coll Works

‘Stare’ is the starter for ten on here. Released in 2012, it was the very first collaborative recording between Arnalds and Frahm and features cellist Anne Muller.  It is electronic ambience with class.

‘A2’ exemplifies the vibe of ‘Stare’; a stark yet bold and brave piece. More electronic than classical, its malleability has allowed #ArnaldsFrahm to take the sounds they wanted to use and mould them in their own musical likeness. It’s subtly potent stuff, and a perfect introduction to those unfamiliar with the pairs work.

‘Life Story’ from the 2-track live improv, is as delicate as a butterfly flitting through a summer meadow, as soft as rain falling on lush green leaves, as clear as spring water flowing through a mountain. If it’s possible for music to be an emotion – ‘Life Story’ is it. Superficially simple, it is a masterfully blended synthesis of hypnotic piano sequences, quietly and intermittently interrupted by the sounds of the musicians moving as they play. There are moments when the chords sound almost as if they are being played on a harp. This is music for angels, spectacular in its simplicity, and as charming a musical fairy-tale as ever I’ve heard.

The other two parties to ‘Collaborative Works’ were recorded in 2015, and when heard, clearly show the changes three years of performing, composing and maturing, not to mention bonding, have brought to this friendship, for indeed that is what it now is.

The first new kid on the block in this compendium is ‘Loon’, which the duo recorded over five days in Frahm’s Berlin studio. Comprising of five synth-led pieces, this element of ‘Collaborative Works’ is essentially a series of live takes, performed on an Oberheim 4 Voice and a Korg PS3100, wired up to a mixing desk.

The lead track, ‘Four’ was released in September as a precursor to the release of ‘Loon’ .

Minimalist, but very much ‘alive’, ‘Four’ opens with electrical pulses of synth, reverberating across a stream of soft melodic chimes. This pivotal sound sequence, redolent of the anomalous scenario of electrical charges zig-zagging across a soft-flowing waterscape, provides an interesting contrast between raw voltage buzzing over a gently soothing underflow. As the track progresses, there is a shift in weight as the più forte ‘chiming’ briefly takes centre-stage until it softens into thoughtful, spacious, easy peals. Like the slow plink, plink, of the last raindrops falling, as a rain-shower comes to an end, they bring this sublime wonder to a close.

Let me momentarily digress. ‘Four’ was accompanied by the most exquisite video, filmed by German director, Misha Shyukin. It is ambient, dark, atmospheric, minimalist – replicating every fibre of the music. Together, like #ArnaldsFrahm, both music and film are sublime.

“…,instead of ending the (live recording) session after the first take we continued improvising throughout the night, ending up with several new pieces written and recorded in 8 hours with no overdubs and no edits. We felt there was something special in these songs as they arrived so quickly and unexpectedly, remembering that our friendship and collaboration originally started with live improvisation on stage. At the end of the night we had all this music that sounded unfamiliar even to us, loudly asking to be included in this collection.” (Ólafur Arnalds & Nils Frahm)

The track entitled ‘23:17’ is one of the uber newbies.

There are times when words fail me and trying to describe this is painfully hard. It is a musical reverie that momentarily loses itself in the dark, comes back out into the light, only to fall back into a murky musical tunnel once again. Gentle, repetitive piano chords loop around dirge-like “organ” sounds, yet there are sufficient spaces between the latter sequences so as not to smother the delicate sequences of the former. Music of the night meets Beauty and the Beast. This is a wonderfully clever composition and yet like so many of the other tracks on this compilation, its seeming is more simple than the complex reality.

‘Collaborative Works’ brings all of Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm’s recent works together; it is first class from end to end. Top notch ingenuity, musicianship, arrangement, and production.

It is indeed more than a collaborative work…it is a gift from #ArnaldsFrahm to the music-verse, and one for which we should be truly grateful to have received.

‘Collaborative Works’ is available now via Erased Tapes and contains two CDs comprising of 17 tracks. Enjoy.

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A Review of ‘Four’ by #ARNALDSFRAHM – The Perfect Collaboration

Photo by Alexander Schneider
Photo by Alexander Schneider

2015 has certainly been some year for both Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm!  Whilst Frahms took the 2015 BBC Proms by ‘Perfect Storm’, Arnalds has been riding the tide, or should we say tidal wave, of three successful collaborations.  He kicked off the year with the Alice Sara Ott collab, the Chopin Project, and, will end it touring Kiasmos with fellow Icelander, Janus Rasmussen.  In the meantime, both he and Frahms have produced a musical “blurry memory” (Frahms) in ‘Loon’, an EP comprising of what are essentially five synthesiser-led pieces, recorded over five days, in Frahm’s studio in Berlin.

‘Four’ is the exquisite lead track, taken from what is essentially a series of live takes, performed on an Oberheim 4 Voice wired up to a Korg PS3100: “Nils got some new synths and we thought we’d try them out” (Arnalds).

Minimalist, but very much ‘alive’, ‘Four’ opens with electrical pulses of synth, reverberating across a stream of soft melodic chimes.  This pivotal sound sequence, redolent of the anomalous scenario of electrical charges zig-zagging across a soft-flowing waterscape, provides an interesting contrast between raw voltage buzzing over a gently soothing underflow.  As the track progresses, there is a shift in weight as the più forte ‘chiming’ briefly takes centre stage until it softens into thoughtful, spacious, easy peals.  Like the slow plink, plink, of the last raindrops falling, as a rain-shower comes to an end, they bring this sublime wonder to a close.

The dark experimental video for ‘Four’ was directed and filmed by German filmmaker, Misha Shyukin, who so very kindly agreed to give us some background to the film.  “It was a very open brief, I didn’t have to follow any script or narrative.  The visuals are completely driven by my perception of the music. I found that the dark and ambient atmosphere worked well with this quiet minimal track. The video itself is completely CG, using a light projection technique to recreate a light source seemingly floating above a terrain, projecting continuous wavy patterns onto the surface. In the second half I “flipped” the whole setup to achieve the effect of the light coming from underneath the ground, fitting the much calmer music at the end.”

Ólafur Arnalds & Nils Frahm’s Loon joins their first collaboration Stare alongside Life Story/Love And Glory and Trance Frendz on a CD compilation titled Collaborative Works, which brings all of the pair’s recent work together and will be released on October 2nd via Erased Tapes. If you prefer wax, with the exception of Trance Frendz, you can also get most of the works individually on vinyl.

This review was first published in Ja Ja Ja (Nordic) magazine on 27th September 2015

The Real Mc Coy

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I am blessed to have the friendship of Debs Mc Coy.  Ask anyone who knows her, and like me, they will tell you that she is one of the loveliest, gentlest, funniest and gorgeous people they know.  “A beautiful spirit”, I think is how one mutual friend recently put it.

I know Debs for a while now; we’re ‘Derbs’, the ‘twin-gal-pal, mad mod’ moderators forFresh on the Net‘, the ever expanding website resource for emerging artists, set up by Tom Robinson some years back, to run in tandem with his weekend gig at BBC6 Music.

One afternoon, during one of our regular #Dropbox conversations, we got to talking about Debs’ own music.  She happened to mention that both she and Jon Cox had reworked an Oli Arnalds track, ‘Only The Winds’, by weaving McCoy’s ‘Black Winged Taker’ composition through it. The result, as you will shortly attest to, is nothing short of stupendous.

I knew Debs’ work was good, VERY good, but it wasn’t until I came across this certain piece, that the enormity of her un-presuming talent began to dawn on me.  I now felt compelled to tunnel down through crust and mantle, until I reached the inner core of her work.

Yes, feeling sure I had only just scratched the surface, I took a lengthy meander through the works of this wonky tonk woman, a surreal stroll that left me stunned by the extensive diversity, and seemingly endless scope, of Debs’ portfolio.

Due to the voluminous size of  the McCoy musical library, it is impossible to showcase everything here, so I’ve selected a few varied samples of her work to reflect and indulge upon.

First things first though….just who is Debs McCoy?

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Debs is a Geordie lass and, as if that wasn’t enough (woah!), she is also an artist, photographer, poet/lyricist and multi-instrumentalist.  Jealous?  Too bloody right I am, aren’t you? No? Liars!

Debs obviously queued up more than once when the talents were being handed out.  So what does this uber talented, chatty mod have to say for herself? Take it away Debs….#armflourishthingy

“I started taking classical guitar lessons when I was 6, followed by piano a few years later, but I stopped playing both for a long period of time, as I felt that I was really struggling to marry my lyrics with the music I’d written. Funnily, I could successfully write poetry and instrumental pieces separately. Some years later, after a fractured period in my life, somehow both lyrics and music were easily coming together, in a way they hadn’t in the past, and I’ve continued to write music ever since.!”

Therapy Sessions 1

If you could put music to the endlessly bleak moors, the isolated loneliness, and the tragic sense of loss and despair in Wuthering Heights, Therapy Sessions 1, would be it.  I can imagine #TS1 as a musical backdrop to the scene in which Heathcliff is buried next to Cathy (the side of his and Cathy’s coffins removed so that they will forever lie together side by side).  With hints of a Scottish lament, it is a brooding, doleful, yet somewhat tender piece, given to intermittent bursts of uplifting, almost sparkling, piano sequences.

It opens with a low drone which pervades throughout, providing a tense, forbidding undercurrent, continuously murmuring underground.  Dark minimalist piano erratically dots a melancholic string sequence; it’s almost as if the piano is conveying a sense of someone having lost their way.  There is a feeling of confused desperation about it’s presence in this section, leading us awry amidst dusky shadows.  Even when the piano does lighten, it still doesn’t illuminate the way.  There is however, a subtle change in the soundscape, as the piano becomes suggestive of ripples of water.  Droplets of rain splish down onto a bubbling stream, a warm ray of light filters across the sky.  The mood fleetingly lifts, but too soon the clouds close over, and the lonely darkness once again falls.  We are covered in by a rising blanket of tormented strings, shadowed by skeletal bass piano, until that too fades into the grey, flat-lines, and slowly disappears into another world.

More about Debs!

“I studied Fine Art for 4 years at university then went on to do a post-grad for 3 years in Art Psychotherapy. I’ve always been fascinated with inner and outer experience; music and visual art bridges the gap between the two, tapping into the unconscious. Music helps me to make sense of my experiences and the world around me. If others can also find some connection and personal meaning from what I create then that’s lovely and a bonus.”

Revolver

When I was selecting tracks to feature here, I asked Debs to make some recommendations and the next piece – ‘Revolver’ – was one of her suggestions.

‘Revolver’ is exactly three and half minutes of rich, sumptuous musical velvet.  Utterly captivating, it is a luminous composition made up of intricately woven threads of strings and piano, in which a wondrously warm and mellow shot of single malt cello, counterpoints a looping Philip Glass-like crystalline pianissimo reverie.  The music envelopes the listener with it’s cyclical chord sequences, delightful as a spring morning, arousing as youthful love, spirited as a musical merry-go-round.  It is an exquisitely executed keyboard carousel – enchantingly hypnotic, hypnotically enchanting – exuding radiant hope.  It exemplifies the beauty within Debs’ soul; only the pure of heart, could compose something as innocent and beautiful as this.

It’s Debs again…(she is a chatterbox innit!)

”We’ve all got our own histories and experiences so different stuff taps into ‘us’ in a different way, sometimes with great immediacy.  It’s like when you go into a gallery and look at a painting you know nothing about, you just accept it for its aesthetics, and have an instant reaction to it, whether that’s positive or negative. BUT then if there’s a title to the painting, a little piece of text or, a little bit about the artist and how they came to make the work, it takes on a completely different meaning.

You can look at the most spectacular modernist painting, in the most beautifully vivid colours and think “wow, that’s a really skilled bit of painting”, even if it’s not really your bag.  Then you read that a 5 year old child painted it in 2 hours, and has produced hundreds of similar works, or a blind person has created it, or, someone who’s in prison – it turns everything on its head.”

Rose Madder

And by way of introduction to our next track…

“‘This is a Jon Cox rework/remix of my track ‘Rose Madder’ with Underworld’s ‘Capa Meets The Sun’ for USA record label Nuova Forma for a podcast he curated for them.”

When you hear a song as wondrous as this, with such vocal fragility, is there a need to say anything?  I think I’ll let this one sing for itself.

Magical…!  A sonic web has been spun!!

The Weight

My penultimate choice is another collaboration – this time with cellist Leah Coloff, who has played with such heavyweights as Damon Albarn and Nancy Sinatra!

‘The Weight’ in Debs’ speak is ” … improvised piano, guitar, and cello, with some other instruments (synth etc) … “

It has an eery intensity, an almost Gothic feel of Usherian restless spirits and “The Others” other worldliness.  This is music by which to read Poe (and spend the subsequent early hours awake because every creak terrifies you!).  Aside from #thedark , there is a cross continental sound to the string sequences of this song.  At times Russian, at times Spanish, but at all times Bohemian, gypsy even, the string arrangements (both guitar and cello), add an eclectic flavour to the plaintiveness of the piano arrangement.

This piece is the product of a perfect collaborative synchronicity and, I really do hope that Leah and Debs get together in the not so distant future, to create some more spectacular pieces of music. #hinthint

And so, to the piece of musical genius that brought us here….

Only The Winds // Black Winged Taker

There are very few times in life when you have what I call a ‘Radiohead’ moment – that moment when you hear a voice, a song, a piece of music and you just know, this is a titanic moment in your musical life.  Few artists have given me those shiver filled moments – obviously Thom Yorke with Radiohead has obliged, Mark Hollis likewise. Kate Bush was the first to hit a nerve, and has since been followed by the Manics, Olafur Arnalds & Nils Frahm, Dvorak and most recently, Cortney Tidwell (tbc!).  Few then, have roused such passionate emotion or violent reaction within, for my world to screech to a musical halt.

But, it happened again the other day.  Not with another big name, not with an high profile super group, legendary lyricist, or, even a toilet brush impresario.  Nope, it happened with Debs…which, to be honest, made it all the more stupefying.  And it happened when I played this final piece, which sprang into the music-verse when Debs Mc Coy, beautiful dreamer, took this divine instrumental by Olafur Arnalds, and along with Jon Cox, turned it on it’s head.

There really isn’t anything to say after that is there, so I’ll leave you with some final words from Debs….

“I once had a tutor at art school.  He made us make a three minute film, which we had to show to our fellow students, but, we were not allowed to say anything about it.  Nothing!  When we complained, he got really angry and said …

“…ART should speak for itself…it doesn’t need words”  “

You can learn more about Debs McCoy’s music via the following links:-

Bandcamp

Soundcloud

Twitter

You can find out about her collaborators here:-

Jon Cox

Leah Coloff

Olafur Arnalds