Techno tour de force with a distinctive human heartbeat

Hamer Hall, November 30

It’s been five years since Nils Frahm first performed in Australia. Back then, he played to a sweaty, intimate crowd in a pop-up club – essentially a giant wooden crate – as part of the Melbourne Festival.

These days, Frahm can fill our biggest concert halls (several times over) in each city he visits. But if we were a little late coming to the Frahm party, we’ve made up for it, inviting him back to Melbourne twice within the past 14 months.

On Saturday night, you could sense the anticipation – and affection – in the auditorium as the German composer and keyboardist strolled casually on to the stage. The contrast between his charming, self-deprecating demeanour whenever he speaks and the intense focus that sweeps over him once the music begins is one of the many contradictions that make a Frahm concert so compelling.

Nils Frahm shifts from self-deprecating to intensely focused when the music starts.Credit:Michael Augustini

Put him in a tux, and he could be a virtuoso classical pianist – especially on Hammers, a brief but breathtaking tour de force that sounds like Philip Glass on steroids.

Imagine him in a labcoat, and he’s a slightly mad inventor: an acoustic chemist creating experimental petri dishes of sound and watching them grow in real time. Darting back and forth between various pianos, digital and analogue keyboards and racks of effects units, he builds tiny arpeggios into ecstatic electro-acoustic raves filled with intricate details: a chorus of invisible pan pipes; a choir of unearthly voices; a burst of improvised syncopation on a sci-fi synthesizer.

The sheer physicality of Frahm’s performance also brings to mind an elite athlete, as he sprints across the stage from one instrument to another and literally embodies the music as it unfurls, rocking his torso gently on wistful ballads like My Friend the Forest or thrashing his limbs in sync with the throbbing hypnosis of All Melody.

From the tender hum of the harmonium that opens the show to More’s impassioned crescendo two hours later, we’re immersed in the beguiling sonic universe of an artist whose warmth and passion lend even his most digitally enhanced creations a distinctly human heartbeat.

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