Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria opened in London a couple of weeks ago, a year after it won an award at the Berlin International Film Festival. It’s famous for having been shot in a single 138-minute take. I came away impressed by everything it has to offer, from the direction and the acting by all the young principals to the agile cinematography of Sturla Brandth Grøvlen and, by no means least, the contribution made by Nils Frahm’s soundtrack.
Frahm is a pianist and composer who was born in Hamburg 33 years ago — his father is a photographer whose work was used on early ECM sleeves — and now lives in Berlin (where Victoria is set). He creates a kind of music that is austere and lyrical, and suits the times. It doesn’t have a name but could only be produced by a person with good listening habits. (He’s curating a three-day festival at the Barbican in London in July, called Possibly Colliding, also featuring Nik Bärtsch, stargaze, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Szun Waves, and the Britten Sinfonia Voices performing Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, and Pärt.)
Frahm’s music in no hurry. In fact in the notes to Solo, an album released last year and devoted to his playing of the largest upright piano in the world (15ft high, weighing almost two tons, and built by David Klavins), he says this: “The joy of playing and listening to the sound of the instrument made me play slower and slower, softer and softer, as almost every new note was destroying the immense beauty and sustain of the previous note.” The sound is rich and dark and full of overtones. You get a definite sense of strings vibrating. Sometimes he seems to produce notes without any attack at all; they just emerge. But although the mood is calm, it’s never passive.
In Victoria, having opened the film with a club track by DJ Kose (heard in the trailer), Schipper uses Frahm’s electro-acoustic ambient music brilliantly, and never more so than in a couple of sequences during which he mutes all the sound from the live action — speech, street or club noise — and allows the score to take over. It’s a brilliant touch, perfectly suited to the mood of a film which takes place in the hours before and encompassing dawn, when the senses are both naturally and chemically distorted. Some of the individual pieces on the soundtrack album, such as the one titled The Shooting, possess an almost transparent beauty.
Frahm’s live performances seem to be as interesting as his work in the studio. Here’s an excellent film of his 60-minute set at the Montreux Jazz Festival last year. He has two concerts coming up in London, one at Village Underground this month and then the Barbican Hall performance in July, and they’re both sold out.
* The photograph of Nils Frahm is by Michael O’Neal. The soundtrack album is on the Erased Tapes label.