REVIEW album Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm Collaborative Works

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

Collaborative Works

Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm

Some things are just meant to be. Some things just simply go together, form perfect partnerships, like strawberries & cream, Rogers & Hammerstein, Ernie & Bert … Then there’s 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 take the BBC Prom by storm with Oli Arnalds working his way through not one, but three, projects. The latter has performed 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 gotta; it’s absolutely fascinating, a really simply filmed, illuminating insight into how these two masters of improv and ingenuity work.

‘Stare’ is the starter for ten on here. Released in 2012, it was the very first collaborative recording between Arnalds and Frahm. Featuring 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, it is yielding in its malleability. ArnaldsFrahm have taken the sounds they wanted to use and moulded 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.

New kid on the block number two 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. First class creativity, musicianship, arrangement, and production.

It is indeed more than a collaborative work…it is a gift from #ArnaldsFrahm to the musicverse, 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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