Mirror of Zen Blog

Samadhi 1: Nils Frahm

One cannot say enough about the genius and utter virtuosity of this man, the Berlin-based Nils Frahm. He is a true monk of the keyboards.

Some people send me to links of electro- or trance music, and some of it could be a kind of spiritual music, and it’s also possible to get a feeling of “moment” in this. But this Nils Frahm is way, way different stuff — it is true spiritual trance, sacred music in the truest sense. This is samadhi (yes, his samadhi, to be sure, but you can absorb the liberating glow of his buzzing one-pointed no-mind state well enough to imagine the possibilities, if you haven’t practiced yet). This is dharana (one-pointed concentration). This is meditation through the ears, if a human can ever create it nearly on par with the singing birds, the sound of that car, the sunlight on the floor, scent of this espresso wafting up: meditation: dhyana.

There: samadhi, dharana, and dhyana — already three limbs of Ashtanga. Approximately, since it is still compounded phenomena requiring wires and silicone and metal and wifi — like Gregorian chant or great Celtic music, it lifts to truly refined deeper transcendent states, even though mediated by “things.”

Frahm’s music is just-now mind in aural form, and it leaves barely any traces of dust behind. When I describe it as meditation, it is with full awareness not the real kind of meditation we must do ourselves, and certainly no “substitute” for it. (So many people are accustomed to experiencing such a transcendent sensuality and consider it to be, as the dopamine floods their minds in the hearing of it, a true spiritual experience worthy of sitting meditation’s effects. So this caveat must be made clear.) But it is the picture and sound one of the closest mentally constructed things I have heard to real and true samadhi, in any cultural vocabulary. When you hear him, you know yourself in it, and yet it uses a language which is not familiar to our subject/object brains.

Since being introduced to his by Niko Michos, I have returned to it many times. Here is a filmed version of two of my favorite compositions, “Says” and “Toilet Brushes.”

If humanity accomplishes its long-desired goal of destroying itself — either through thermonuclear conflagration (a more possible scenario than you would realize*) or as its own homemade flamb√© en place, I would fervently wish that — to whoever or whatever might be listening out there, witnessing this species’ self-immolation, to better understand what or who we were, passionately, and the most exalted spiritual heights to which we (quite often) aspired — some heavenward-facing satellite dish out in the vastness of some Chilean mountain range, or the Hubble Telescope — would use its last dying atoms of battery power to beam out into the unspeakable infinity Nils Frahm’s “Says”. Just out into space. It would really tell “them” of what we sometimes were, what we aspired to be, and how we would regret ever feeling again once we have exited our flaming proscenium.

Were these notes to be our last utterance, at least we would be leaving behind a message that we were, though suicidal, capable of extreme profundity and the sincerest, purest yearning without the messy words that have probably led to our demise anyway. The last signal we ever send, it should be this. This should count as one of the greatest pieces of sacred music ever created, the trance-equivalent of the Fourth Movement from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, Beethoven’s late string quartets, Philip Glass’s “Metamorphoses,” or Bach’s Goldenburg Variations. (Frahms’s performance of “Says” at at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2015 tops even the transcendence offered above.)

Some more of his video performances:

“Toilet Brushes”, in its most manic and pure: (if this doesn’t turn you into a truer believer, then…)

And this:

“Says” in a radio studio, jamming. You can see details of his technical virtuosity with keyboard and machine:

But his live versions of it just astounds:



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