Prom 27: Late Night With … BBC 6 Music: Nils Frahm and A Winged Victory For The Sullen
The story behind the second BBC 6 Music Prom was a gratifying one, built on a desire for classical music to make itself more available. Mary Anne Hobbs was the catalyst, playing music by Nils Frahm to enthusiastic listeners worldwide. Their response encouraged her to introduce them to his Erased Tapes label mates, A Winged Victory For The Sullen, a duo comprising Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Wiltzie.
Both acts were part of an extended mix for this late night event, aided by atmospheric lighting and smoke to turn the Royal Albert Hall into an after-hours club. Into this already heady environment came A Winged Victory, playing much of their second album ATOMOS. They were joined by an unnamed string trio and London Brass, their task to provide sonorous colour and slow but far-reaching melodies. O’Halloran and Wiltzie were on keyboard duties, drawing out chord patterns and soundscapes to give the listener an airborne sensation. This was further enhanced by members of the Random Dance Company, whose chief Wayne McGregor provided the stimulus for ATOMOS. Their relaxed interpretations of the music belied the effort required to contort their limbs!
The music was expansive, like a slowly changing cloud formation, and crucially had beauty of timbre to match. From the simplest of melodic cells came music of primitive meaning, evoking memories of pop music’s ambient craze twenty years ago but without any vocal samples. Here music was stripped back to its basics, and was all the more moving for the lack of incident and chatter. The crowd was thoroughly absorbed, most stock still but some perceiving the latent energy running through the music.
In truth London Brass could have been used more, their potential to add brightness only sparingly glimpsed. The string trio were more gainfully employed, the cello particularly beautiful when raised above the textures. As their set came to an end so Nils Frahm joined the stage, the two acts uniting in an improvised piece that brought more rhythmic definition – a sign of what was to come from the German pianist.
Frahm used a team of keyboard instruments, including two ‘prepared’ pianos – that is, with keyboards, hammers and strings all modified to secure the all-important timbres required. Frahm’s music is more obviously derived from classical music, with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Chopin and Debussy all discernible influences. It has more obvious kinetic energy, moving quickly during Hammers to imply a strong beat, even before the introduction of an incredibly warm bass note to rattle the ribcage.
Frahm was a hyperactive presence, rushing urgently between his pianos and synthesizer, occasionally looping small clumps of chords in the manner of Steve Reich or even Dave Brubeck, but always intent on carrying his music forward. It was largely successful, though the introduction of two toilet brushes for the closing number felt like a gimmick.
What really carried, though, was the intense desire for discovery on the part of the audience. 6 Music had been playing classical music in the lead-up to this Prom, sensitively chosen with the pop music lover in mind, hoping to arouse curiosity – and that is exactly what this sort of Prom should be doing, bringing in people who find classical music and its terminology a daunting proposition.
It was a handsome success, Hobbs having found a way of communicating its appeal while showing how electronic and classical styles are on a fruitful collision course. We should not just be limited to Erased Tapes, though, as Warp, Glacial Movements, Bella Union and One Little Indian are just four more labels excelling in this area.
It is to be hoped that at the very least we will have a sequel. Tom Service presents a program along these lines on 6 Music this Sunday, showing how the two stations do on occasion overlap. Both have open musical policies, and in their current state show the BBC at its best, providing musical stimulation for a clearly hungry crowd.