Nils Frahm's art is in the right place. I'll compare the feeling of listening to his latest album, Spaces, to the precise moment where everything goes from washed out sepia to vibrant colour in Wizard of Oz.

Frahm's proposition was this. He recorded over thirty live concerts over the last two years, picked a part the best of each piece and placed them back together again. A modern day virtuoso! A contemporary warlock! So in-tune with both the harmony of his music and its ability to string the listener along that the key to it all felt marginally magical. With the end result being an art-achingly beautiful exercise of how to engage intimately with an audience in any given space.

Other mundane common approaches to recording are blown away by awe here. It's the sepia enthused with colour.

Listening to Spaces is positively therapeutic too as it evokes a guttural howl capable of shattering any chaos your mind might have. "I put out a proposition for a certain reaction," he reassures me, "and I'm very interested how you can change reality for people, without telling them exactly what to do." To no surprise he revealed that he wanted to become a psychologist when he was younger.

For him Spaces is a history of picking out the best cherries from the bunch - an autobiographical journey told by a modern day storyteller. The foundation for any music listener's imagination is that it allows us to conceive a life of future possibilities by being able to pick out the most amazing ones and pull the present forward to meet them. You'll find yourself wondering down a trajectory of your past, present and future all at once.

I'm suitably beguiled and drawn in and the challenge was to discover more about the man behind the curtain of this classical coup. His nature is as genuinely enchanting as the musical world he creates, "I think we should all do a little less" he declares, "sit more and just enjoy the music."

Spaces somehow had the ability to yank me out of neutral - I shall never wash my ears again! I assured myself moments before I spoke with him. Shaken by the gift of tangible nostalgia from his music over the years, it felt like I was stepping off a cliff and inventing the ground my feet were going to land on.

It's no wonder that this German composer is building his own multifaceted musical world so stirring it strokes the edges of near sublime. If this is modern day classical music, then honey, we are definitely not in 'Kansas' anymore. We're in the front row eating cherries in Frahm's Emerald City.

We chat about the opening track, his perfectly imperfect way of coding songs with colour, and toilet brushes - of course.

So you've recorded with some incredibly talented artists in the past taking the role of producer and engineer and in fact when I spoke with Sarah Neufeld last year we laughed a lot about your particular experience recording in the geo-dome. She loved the intimacy of your sound...

Yeah that's beautiful to hear! I hope she had good things to say. Working with her was really constructive as it was an experiment because we didn't know each other. She got great reviews too especially in this whole art and experimental music context. I'm really fortunate that she asked me.

In comparison to the rest of the album, 'An Aborted Beginning' is so obviously different in its construction and tonal 'attack', why did you decide to open the album like this?

In thirty concerts a lot of funny things happen! When I listened to all the tapes and all the recordings I did I marked that bit green and green meant 'you should listen to this again' and when I mark it light green it's 'okay but not as exciting' and when I mark it yellow it's 'probably not gonna happen' and if I mark it red it's 'definitely not gonna happen.'

So I marked these little 1.30 minutes green and whilst I was listening back after mixing the second track 'Says', I was worried about using 'Says' in first position. It starts fairly quiet and gets really loud as you noticed, so I had the idea that when people start the CD with that track they would crank the volume on their hi-fi way too much in order to hear something because they might think; 'huh why is it so quiet!' and then they would have to go halfway through the song, go back to the stereo and turn it down. So my idea was, that I need to put something with maximum volume in the very first position so people adjust the record system to the right volume.

That's so thoughtful of you! Many musicians don't even consider the sequence.

Yeah huh? I thought that too. That's the function of this intro - it was basically a test tone so people can adjust their hi-fi or headphones accordingly and don't get totally shocked when the amplitude rises in the second track. The side effect too is that it's just a very funny start to my album because people are so used to my intimate piano music.

I pictured them taking it out of the sleeve slowly, putting it on, getting excited and then suddenly thinking - oh no somebody put the wrong record on!

Ah, you just messing with us aren't ya? I was thinking what if a Scientist had to hook me up to a monitor and play your music, what would happen to my brain psychologically?

I love that, such an interesting question. I think my goal is to distract your brain and hopefully take you out of its usual patterns. Getting out of these patterns can be very stimulating and make us euphoric. I'm totally standing behind the idea that we should all do a little less, sit more and do nothing but enjoy the music. Some things are just considered to be good - a great exercise for our brain and nobody ever says that music is bad for you for a reason. I find it very exciting that I can spend all my life now working - it's just the most beautiful way to spend your time.

When you are exposed to music I think it shouldn't just give you a distraction it should also plant a little seed of unconsciousness. Music can put a different light to things. I had the same feeling with good music before, it filled me up completely like you didn't know you were thirsty and then you drink something, and you realise ah this is so refreshing! Just what I needed.

And you improvise a lot too so reevaluating and reconfiguring becomes the natural progression of your sound, do you think your need to be imperfect is in some ways the makings of a perfectionist?

This is where it becomes a paradox for me. I try to make circumstances perfect and work hard on getting the frame right, to be able to paint the pictures you have to set up the canvas. When you start painting the painting then this is the different chapter. Setting up this canvas in my case is tuning my pianos, modifying my instruments, figuring out microphone positions and getting into the details of sound recording, composition, math and sound waves. Only to forget about that completely when I'm in the ring. I'm very anal about preparation and when that's done I feel free to do whatever.

There are some notes on the album that I didn't intend to play, which can be very fitting like the cellphone, or the giggling audience and for me it adds a whole different layer to everything which I find very enchanting. It's accepting these imperfections and including them in your concept of what's perfect.

I felt in a good flow with Spaces and very humorous about the whole thing because it was a little bit like working on your own face on Photoshop! It's a very autobiographical process, with all your imperfections exposed. I only picked the cherries, and so it's a history of cherry picking. I'm just another idle artist trying to polish his own musical nature. You suddenly are able to alter reality in editing and I just had the best time doing that.

You gave yourself a few different chances to get it right

That's exactly it. I could never put up one amazing show up it wouldn't have covered the soul and essence of each individual piece in each separate circumstance.

Which now makes me think about the concept of over-editing because we have this ability to edit and backspace ourselves. Do you think there's some sort of danger in a recording studio - where does it end?

[Laughs] for me it's done when I have 20 versions of one song! I always take the one I hate the least. For Spaces, I could have just recorded version 21 again - but I set myself a deadline and just had to let it go. The nature of the record was to try and pick the best bits I liked. During my analogue workflow of working, with microphones bleeding into each other there's no advanced computer technology involved, I basically had to stick to the tapes I got.

This is what you were saying earlier it's not over edited in a way where it sounds raw and kind of unpolished. You can get lost when you're alone in your editing process, you are your own worst enemy and you can destroy it by overthinking and not letting it go.

What made you use real toilet brushes in the song 'For-Peter-Toilet Brushes-More'? You know, being from South Africa I once saw a donkey's jawbone used as a 'brush' for a drum.

Yes! I wanted to become a psychologist when I was younger and I'm very interested in how you can change reality for people without telling them exactly what to do. So instead you change the circumstance so people have no other choice but to react in a certain way. I put out a proposition for a certain reaction. I went to IKEA and saw they weren't selling one toilet brush, but two in one bag for 2 euro - which is a good deal!

I thought this was hideous and a typical sign of our throw away culture.

I was curious how these nasty toilet brushes would sound on a $100'000 Steinway - it excited me putting them in the middle of the most ambitious song of my live set. People would have no other chance to laugh, thinking okay now he is picking up the brushes and making crazy sounds. I liked the oddity of listening to something beautiful, but having a chuckle.

So is this a singular experience for you? How do you manage to invite people in when you're creating music that's so personal?

I'm a collaborative spirit and what I've realised is that my musical output has become stronger because of playing live. My fans help me refine my music, their reaction and energy tells me if I'm on a good path or not. They are the landmark and they help me focus - which is why I've always felt very connected with them and super super thankful always to make this my full time job.


After discussing his first published book entitled Sheets, it's clear his heart is in the right place too. It's the space between him and us that feels fully authentic as it becomes an inspiring one-on-one session he hopes would initiate a spark and fuel change. Of all the grey pretenses attached to classical music, calling it 'melancholy' has to be the most inaccurate of the bunch.