A Timeless Conundrum

This week I did something that I haven’t done in years. I bought some music. I mean sure, I do pay for music by subscribing to Spotify premium and buying tickets to live concerts. But I hadn’t purchased some music to have and to hold since I don’t know when.

The album that changed that for me this week is called All Melody by Nils Frahm. It’s music I’ve been listening to for the better part of a year now. I keep returning to it, and I keep liking it more and more. The songs are hauntingly beautiful and subtly crafted, with each note and shift ringing out with crystal clear purpose. You should listen to it.

I finally reached a breaking point with my affection towards this music and decided that I was no longer content to just listen to it. I wanted to play with it. I wanted to stretch it, reverse it, compress it, shift it, bop it, twist it, and pull it. You can’t do this stuff on Spotify—you have to have the audio file.

Quick side-note: There’s a similarity here to dating vs. being in a relationship. Listening to music on Spotify is like dating. You experience the music or person in the nice, curated way in which they want to be experienced. You’re also likely listening to other artists on Spotify (dating around), and you can walk away from any one artist whenever you’re tired of them. But purchasing music—now that is a relationship baby! All of a sudden you can truly take this music/person wherever you go. You can burn it on to a CD and play it in your friend’s 2007 Toyota Corolla, you can put it on your weird Chinese handheld mp3 player, or yeah, you can still play it on your phone. You can also hear this music from totally new, and deeper angles— you can slow it down, speed it up, and put it in reverse. Some of these new angles will be uglier, and some of them will be even more beautiful.

Disclaimer: I know more about music than I do about relationships.

Anyway, upon purchasing and downloading All Melody I was delighted to discover that the download included liner notes. I had a keen sense of nostalgia as I was reading them—remembering all of the CD’s I bought and insert-booklets I read. I also learned a little bit about Frahm and his recording process. For instance he does his recording in the historic Funkhaus Berlin recording studio, only records in one take, and only uses real chambers for reverb in the studio—all things that add an atypical depth of life to his electronic music.

Yet I was most struck with his articulation of a timeless conundrum in the artistic process. For creators, the music in the speakers, or picture on the canvas, or movie on the screen will never quite live up to the image which we have in our heads. These are his words:

“All Melody was imagined to be so many things over time, and it has been a whole lot, but never exactly what I planned it to be. I wanted to hear beautiful drums, drums I’ve never seen or heard before, accompanied by human voices, girls, and boys. They would sing a song from this very world and it would sound like it was from a different space. I heard a synthesiser which sounds like a harmonium playing the All Melody, melting together with a line of a harmonium sounding like a synthesiser. My pipe organ would turn into a drum machine, while my drum machine would sound like an orchestra of breathy flutes. I would turn my piano into my very voice, and any voice into a ringing string. The music I hear inside me will never end up on a record, as it seems I can only play it for myself.”

My song this week (Lucas speaking now) feels like a textbook example of this very conundrum. I had high hopes for it, and I think there are certainly redeeming qualities to it, but it is not what I hear in my head. Oh well, here’s to getting closer next week.

Finally, I want to extend an extra special thanks to my buddy Jonathan Gardner for providing the buttery bowed bass you hear on this track.