Release Date: Feb 5, 2016
Record label: R&S Records
With nonkeen, wunderkind pianist Nils Frahm has reformed his boyhood band, assembling their tape-recorded experiments into nine abstract instrumentals. The result, titled The Gamble, somehow manages to sound off the cuff and beautifully arranged at the same time, with carefree notes that glow as colourfully as the album cover. Almost entirely improvised, these nine songs evoke the playfulness and spontaneity of youth.It's tempting to describe nonkeen as second generation of Krautrock, but the sound is all their own, a syrupy blend of luminous keys, subtle bass and tumbling percussion.
Germany in 1989 was on the cusp of epoch-defining change. A seven-year-old Berliner from the communist East was sent to Hamburg, in democratic West Germany, on a sports exchange. There, the tape recorder he carried piqued the interest of two local boys.They bonded and stayed in touch, even when their friend headed home. They made radio shows, swapped music they'd made, recorded conversations from school playgrounds, teachers talking, covers of folk and pop songs.
German keyboardist and composer Nils Frahm's music has always been, at its heart, instinctive—sometimes, to a degree where it seems like he's trying to get a rise out of people. He's been bold enough to release albums of spare, fully improvised solo piano material; last year, he decided to flout both copyright and John Cage-ian practice by performing a version of the notorious avant-garde composer's silent work, 4:33, with plenty of sound. Rules and guidelines have never been hard and fast things for Frahm, and his latest album with his childhood trio nonkeen highlights that Frahm is best when he's having fun: proposing limitations but then pushing back against them when the musical moment seems to call for it.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. There aren't very many bands that can claim that they started in primary school and still maintain their original line-up, but nonkeen are one of the few that can. Nils Frahm, Frederic Gmeiner and Sebastian Singwald's musical partnership dates back to the late-eighties. Frahm and Gmeiner produced their own radio show in their second year of education, making field recordings of their teachers, the playground, and each other practising their instruments.
For the first three minutes of nonkeen’s debut album, the atmosphere is familiar for those who have listened to Nils Frahm’s work. While it’s not primarily piano-based, like much of the experimental artist’s work, the swirling, muted synths steadily rise. It’s not until the second song on the record, “saddest continent on earth”, where you get the sense this project is something different.
Music As a Memory MachineGerman composer Nils Frahm can be, first and foremost, held as a classicist. Not only because he is an incorrigibly Romantic pianist, but also because his style is reverential towards the classic and well-trained. When he experiments, an event which, in recent years, has become increasingly recurrent, he still does not give up on the idea of control entirely.
The debut album by Nonkeen sports an extensive back story, dating back to the trio's first musical experiments growing up in Germany in the late '80s. Nils Frahm, Frederic Gmeiner, and Sebastian Singwald would trade tapes back and forth between Hamburg and Berlin, creating music with whatever instruments they had on hand, making up skits and stories, and updating each other about their lives. During summer breaks, they'd convene and play music together, eventually playing summer concerts at a fairground.
Nonkeen have a charming background story, which traces friendships forged through rudimentary recording devices used to capture the incidental sounds of the playground. Nils Frahm and Frederic Gmeiner attended the same primary school in a rural suburb of Hamburg. The pair met East German schoolboy Sebastian Singwald – who happened to be sporting a tape recorder around his neck – in the summer of 1989.
Musicians forge intimate partnerships that can last a lifetime. That's the story behind Nonkeen. It's a band whose roots go back to 1989, when pianist Nils Frahm struck up a friendship with schoolmate Frederic Gmeiner and East German exchange student Sebastian Singwald. The trio reportedly made their own radio show as kids, shared recordings through the '90s and fell in and out of touch over the following decades, before reuniting to make The Gamble.Though this is the first Nonkeen album, it isn't the trio's first together.
The journey from childhood to adulthood is one not without its casualties, and foremost among those is friendship. Of all those bonds made as children, the vast majority are broken if not through choice than certainly through necessity be it the change of schools or location. So how easy is to pick up those pieces after a period of several decades and continue that quest in the form of musical expression? For Nils Frahm and his childhood friends Frederic Gmeiner and Sebastian Singwald – here trading under the name Nonseen - The Gamble is very much a journey, an experience with a beginning, middle and end that's clearly designed to be consumed in a single sitting rather cherry-picked, dissected and playlisted.
Where nonkeen would at first appear to be a new group, the reality is their roots stretch back to a time to before the fall of the Berlin Wall, being as it is a project beginning in 1989, helmed by avant garde classical musician Nils Frahm alongside Frederic Gmeiner and Sebastian Singwald. With Singwald living on Berlin's east side and both Frahm and Gmeiner on the west, it bore difficulties at the beginning and onwards to 1997 where a freak funfair incident curtailed nonkeen's life. Reportedly, a drunken reunion years later saw them embark on a series of long, experimental self-recorded practice sessions in Singwald's basement.