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Prepared piano is no longer a novelty, but Berlin-based composer Nils Frahm’s new album, Felt, evokes in the listener a childlike wonder at the warmth and weirdness of an instrument whose hidden complexity we easily forget.

From the thick, muzzled stickiness behind the keys of opener Keep to the wearied growlings of the penultimate track Pause, the piano – fitted with wodges of felt between the strings and hammers, hence the title – seems to respire, to balloon and deflate like an organism; indeed, it swells and sighs alongside Frahm himself, whose breathing you can sometimes hear.

Though often repetitive and motif-driven, Frahm’s compositions could not be described as minimal or even simplistic. Unter, for example, is a subtle intertwining of little baroque curlicues – reminiscent of Frahm’s contemporary Dustin O’Halloran – with the snap and crackle of radio interference, while Old Thought, which begins with an antique, reedy lament, sounds more like an uncertain, curtailed warning signal than a neat piano miniature.

The nine-minute closer, More, having started out as an urgent hammering in the upper registers, boats away on a slow crest of opalescent synthesiser that references electronic artists like Tim Hecker and Fennesz.

Recorded in the dead of night on an instrument rigged with microphones and measures of material, Felt is an intentionally intimate listen meant to be heard in the way it was made: alone, on headphones or close to the speakers, in the smallest of hours.

LAUREN STRAIN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2012 - ©Rhinegold Publishing