In the age of COVID, live performances are taking a real hit. If you’ve been longing for a night out at a concert listening to a vastly talented musician, this very eclectic and energizing film could be the ticket. At least for now.
A select group of pianists have built an international following of legendary proportion. Classicists Glenn Gould and Van Cliburn and jazz artists Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett are among those luminaries. In the 21stcentury, Nils Frahm, a Berlin-based keyboardist/composer/producer follows in their footsteps, blending classic, jazz and electronic sounds with great innovation. He has the grace of Cliburn the keyboard dexterity of Hancock and Jarrett’s penchant for seemingly making love to his instruments with obsessive movements.
Frahm’s impulsive melodies are as abundant as his tranquil chords. Keyboards swoon, emit pulsating automated sounds, pure piano tones and percussive noises too. When he performs, his head bobs up and down, his body twists and turns. It’s like he’s in an inner zone conducting a séance and pulling the audience into his deep REM dream state. He flourishes. Listeners succumb.
At the scene of this live concert, devoted fans sit in the Funkhaus arts center building in Berlin, Germany during four sold-out shows, being awed by this gifted sound explorer. There are moments when Frahm’s mesmerizing songs inspire the crowd to conjure up images of the dawn (“Fundamental Values”), dirge processions (“My Friend the Forest”), bustling streets (“All Melody”), hurling spaceships (“#2”), scurrying ants (“Hammers”), the passing of life (“Ode”), mist and fog (“Our Own Roof”) and a cataclysm (“More”).
Using hand-held cameras, film director Benoit Toulemonde, director of cinematography Thomas Lallier and their crew capture the heart and spirit of Frahm’s electrifying performance. Facial expressions, body movements, fingers skipping over keys or pounding boards. Front, back and side angles.
Funkhaus is as quirky and glorious as the performer. It’s a mid-century German Democratic Republic broadcast center, which has become a multi-purpose venue for recording symphony orchestras, choirs, chamber ensembles, jazz groups and pop music.
An overhead light beams down on Frahm surrounding him with a luminous circle. A giant golden bulkhead hovers over him shaped like a thick boomerang. This iconic Berlin building is where the avant-garde musician recorded his “All Melody” album in 2018, which is the source material for the concert. Frahm also composed the score for the Brad Pitt-starring movie Ad Astra.
How does one person create these rapturous melodies and rhythmic sounds and then perform them with either complete control or total abandonment? That’s a mystery viewers will uncover as they watch and listen to this experimentative pianist. An artist who will take them on a soundscape journey like they’ve never experienced before.
Be prepared to travel over the high mountains and down the deep valleys where Frahm’s entrancing music treks. It’s worth the journey. Worth the exploration. Well worth the escape from our current reality. It’s a trip.
Streaming on platform MUBI on December 3, 2020.