“FOR ME IT’S NOT ABOUT VINTAGE”
Frahm has been collecting audio technology since the age of 13. The self-built mixing console, old amplifiers, taping machines, early synthesizers, a cabinet full of venerable microphone classics. A yearning for the good old days? Frahm shakes his head: “For me it’s not about vintage. I don’t care about it at all. I just want it to be simple, for it to be transient, crisp, but also not sound lifeless. I think it’s nice when somewhere something behaves somewhat dynamically, when something does not scale in dB steps. We use the new and the old because it is an eclectic way to do things; some things work better and some worse. That’s subjective and not pretense.”
On the one hand, building and renovating a whole studio, on the other hand, working as a musician — do these worlds contradict each other?
Not at all. But it’s the best complement to things that keep repeating. I didn’t want to become a classical pianist back then, because I knew that every day I would have to play the piano for six to eight hours. The birds are chirping, the sun is shining? You don’t go to the lake. I don’t have this discipline and I’m much too curious. But without these border areas, without sometimes having to build a table for these instruments alongside building the instruments … without these ideas, there is no workflow. A workday begins with me assembling something for the day. I don’t know how that happens, but I can’t do music otherwise. You just start somewhere. Here, with the chair. Put it in the middle, set up an instrument, sit down, play something. Ah! I need a microphone. And then it starts. If something rattles here or something squeaks there, I simply have to apply some WD-40. Then something creaks and you hear that as very loud. Suddenly two hours have passed and your hands are smeared with oil. I don’t think anymore then. The creaking just has to go. I also don’t get into discussions then. It’s completely egotistical. Perhaps I’ll think the next squeak is nice. But the creaking here and now? It has to go. I just want it to sound like I imagine it — and at the same time don’t know what I’m imagining. It’s like an inner ping-pong match with Wagner. And then I’m gone, like some guy on a sailboat.
Is your studio perfect now?
The perfect sound? The best room? The most ingenious microphone? No. They don’t exist. There is only one special room or one special sound. I could think tomorrow that it isn’t my sound anymore. That’s exactly the expression of my philosophy that materializes in a studio. But I’m never satisfied with it. The more I fixate on the seemingly perfect, right way, the more I get out of balance. This other thing is possible too!
Very little in the big studio works digitally. You work in analog almost the entire time. Is that loathing for the digital?
If people find a good way with a computer, I’m happy for them. Perhaps they manage not to saddle themselves with the madness. I can’t do it. I saddle myself with the madness; I keep equipment in good repair and try to create a space to inhale these vapors when renovating and painting and doing. I ask friends, colleagues, acquaintances, experts. Discuss paints for the wall and their acoustic properties. A huge construction site, 1,000 details. But people have become used to sitting at a table with their laptop and doing everything from anywhere. That’s brilliant! And I ask myself, enviously: How is that fun for you?
It doesn’t sound like you’re a friend of technical innovations.
I wouldn’t say now, ‘You can still invent the piano, but then the development needs to stop.’ Everything is evolving; the piano became the synthesizer, and now it’s virtual. But I’m more interested in what comes out of the speaker in the end. I’m never in the mood for tricks, to strum away on any old thing and your buddy does some wicked mixing and we count the clicks. If something is successful 24 A Visit to the St udio of Nils Frahm and someone looks behind the scenes, then there should also be an interesting story, an inspiring process. If you just sample everything and run it through filters, that can trivialize music and compositions. Once you realize that and can hear it, the magic is lost. The more you look, the more you listen behind the scenes, the more you learn about production. In the end there is not much left that moves you. I want reduction. A small amount that blows me away — and there’s an infinite amount of that out there.