Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds just cannot stop working. Their continuous drive for making new music changed the dynamic of their meetings from downtime in the company of a good friend to an opportunity for sharing musical thoughts. Each producer found they could not sit still for long, and that hiking, swimming or eating pizza gave way quickly to studio collaborations.
Because of that, Collaborative Works is not an album, more a musical travelogue – and perhaps because of its relaxed genesis, there is never a moment on either of the two discs’ worth of material that feels forced or contrived. The two are conveniently divided so that the first disc takes on the four EPs released together on Erased Tapes, while the second, Trance Frendz, is subtitled ‘An Evening with Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm’, a session of unedited improvisations.
The two are well matched, sharing an open attitude towards their music. Frahm obviously leans towards prepared forms of the piano, while Arnalds deals more in electronics and keyboards. In reality the boundaries blur, each protagonist complementing the other. Their music is slow moving harmonically, and has next to no melody apart from some long, drawn-out phrases, but this does not matter. What the listener is encouraged to do is find an environment where these pieces can completely take the weight off their thoughts and feelings.
An ideal illustration of the gorgeous simplicity at work in this music is a2, second track on the pair’s Record Store Day release of 2012, which drifts in on a warm breeze. The simply titled m creates a floating trance effect with its soft hues, and also shows the childlike innocence at the core of this music. It is as though both artists have gone back to school days, when chime bars and glockenspiels were the instruments of choice, and have expanded tiny musical thoughts with exquisitely crafted window dressing.
There is a deep-set melancholy here, one that courses through the heart of Four, or the ambling beat of Wide. b1, however, is the most substantial and most emotionally affecting track here, the husky tone of Anne Müller’s cello lent to broad notes and wide ranging thoughts.
After the relatively disparate selection of EP tracks, Trance Frendz brings greater cohesiveness and a sense of pushing forward, Frahm and Arnalds sharing their musical thoughts again through minimal material but with maximum impact. There is a natural ebb and flow to their work, which can generate surprising momentum at times despite the relaxed ambience of its output.
This is music for slowing down the pace of modern life, and deserves to inhabit a place right next to Philip Glass in your music collection. It is not specifically classical music but occupies a similar mind space and demonstrates similar qualities, especially in the ability both these composers to conjure a mood or statement with the most basic of building blocks. An immersive listening experience is guaranteed, while we must hope Frahm and Arnalds go on ‘holiday’ together more in future, and don’t forget to take their musical instruments.