Between electrifying solo performances and a string of charismatic records, no artist in recent memory has elevated the piano’s potential quite like Nils Frahm.
With a minimalist style that steers clear of pop norms, anyone unfamiliar might not picture Nils headlining world tours. And yet, following last year’s exquisite All Melody LP on Erased Tapes, his considerable talent sent him on the road for much of 2018. In an era increasingly mediated by technology, his meditative improvisational style – punctuated with outbursts of virtuosity – clearly strikes a chord.
Returning to his studio in Berlin’s renowned Funkhaus complex between tours, Nils would be forgiven for focusing purely on the music that flows through him so naturally. But Frahm is largely defined by his restlessly creative spirit. Not content to simply do what comes easily, he has taken it upon himself to assist Native Instruments in creating unique sample-based instruments that provide access to the rare and occasionally extravagant keyboards he’s collected over the years.
Frahm’s first foray into the world of KONTAKT libraries was 2015’s acclaimed UNA CORDA. The painstaking rendition of Nils’ uniquely-prepared, metal-constructed Klavins Una Corda was recorded by Galaxy Instruments’ accomplished engineer Uli Baronowsky. A distinctive library unlike any other upright reproduction on the market, UNA CORDA delivers a wide range of deliciously unusual piano-adjacent tones to KONTAKT users worldwide.
Since then, Nils’ impressive studio has continued to grow. Made to order, perpetually out of stock, and fetching nearly six figures on the market, Yamaha describes their CFX 9’ Concert Grand as “the crowning glory of the Yamaha Piano line”. So it’s no wonder a keyboard connoisseur of Nils’ stature couldn’t resist the opportunity to try one when he got the chance. After exhaustively testing no less than 30 CFX models, it was only the specific instrument that made the final cut and found its way into Nils’ collection.
Nils’ exquisitely designed and treated Funkhaus Saal 3 studio is a considerable factor in the resulting sound. A storied recording location for live East German Radio, no furniture, cable, or even lamp is there by accident: Every corner of the studio oozes craftsmanship and quality from a bygone era. Few rooms in the world could boast comparable warmth or depth.
Once installed there, Nils began experimenting with custom intonation and felt-dampening to enhance the CFX 9’s already stellar sound. By adding bits of felt to the hammers, Nils subtly subdues the impact of notes when keys are struck. The resulting softer attack produces less high frequency content, making for a rounder, gentler tone.
Collaborating once again with Galaxy Instruments’ Baronowsky for an extensive, meticulous multi-mic recording session, Native Instruments has crafted another incomparable sample-based virtual piano: Noire.
Noire captures both the standard CFX 9’ and Nils’ felt-mediated set-up, allowing the player to alternate between versions, or even play both simultaneously – something impossible outside this KONTAKT instrument.
Frahm’s trademark style embraces the interstitial noise and inherent character of acoustic instruments. So rather than merely present the sterilized version of a concert grand one might expect from a standard virtual instrument, Noire lovingly reproduces these idiosyncrasies to whatever degree a user desires, as determined by unique noise controls. Five simple dials further hone Noire’s sound by adjusting color, tonal balance, and dynamic range, adding reverb and delay as needed.
Dynamics, filtration, and envelope parameters augment essential sound shaping options within the realm of traditional piano instruments, but the unique Particles Engine pushes Noire to another dimension. Taking advantage of powerful MIDI delay sources under KONTAKT’s hood, it can blur clarion piano tones into billowing clouds of sound, perfect for experimental and cinematic atmospheres alike.
Learn more about Frahm’s guiding philosophy in helping build Noire, the tribulations in acquiring, adjusting, and recording the CFX 9’, the impact of Funkhaus’ Saal 3 on the instrument, and much more in our in-depth interview and video with this singular talent – and learn more about Noire here.