NICOLAS JAAR

Following on from the release of Space Is Only Noise earlier this year, Nicolas Jaar has breathed life into his sensational project with a live show that captures both the sparseness of the record and the rich strands of inspiration behind it. He spoke to Fault ahead of two dates at London’s Fabric.

Interview by Era Trieman

Photography by Pascal Montary

You’ve labeled El Bandido, Mi Mujer and Time For Us as tracks manufactured ‘for the market’. If you were to predominantly produce music in this vein, would that necessarily be at odds with your personal integrity?

Those embody my being conscious of the market, conscious of what was cool at that moment in the DJing world. People were talking about how disco is back and deep house is this thing now, and so I thought I can have some fun with these trends: throw some deep chords in there, drop a disco beat… I mean it’s quite literal. But when I sing it will have nothing to do with this shit, it will slow down at the end and it has nothing to do with the beginning, because I’m gonna just turn this hit around. That’s what interested me, playing with the expectations and playing with trends, not just making some commercial hit. Time For Us is not a commercial hit: it has nothing to do with pop music. It wasn’t manufacturing for the market, nah, it was playing with the context.

Être strikes me as a challenging, quite abstruse opening to the LP. Must one penetrate this track before becoming immersed in the record?

This has a lot to do with what we were talking about Time For Us, and I’m glad you asked me that, because it did need clarification. At the beginning of the album I felt like I needed to say one specific thing, which I’d found in an old recording. An interviewer asks Godard the question, ‘can you show a full landscape without showing sky and the earth?’ However naïve or immature it was, I felt like it was necessary for me to say this at the beginning of my album, its structure was in this vein. The record begins and ends with the same song. Être is ephemeral, it’s ethereal, nothing is really happening and it’s just really atmospheric. Colomb is also hovering in the clouds, centered around metaphysical questions. Then slowly, slowly, you go from the sky to the earth, towards Space Is Only Noise If You Can See. You land in the earth before being taken back up with Almost Fell and Specters Of The Future.

Do you fell there a greater virtue in music that one patiently becomes absorbed in, as opposed to being instantaneously captivated by?

I think there’s something to be said for both. For me, it’s more interesting to give the listener a full experience, an experience that you have to be patient to get it.

How would you compare the experience of listening to the record intently in solitary with that of a set at Fabric for instance?

Two different things. It’s two ways the music can go.

The LP cries out for immersion – one really ought to delve into it, which is why I particularly like your concept of texture having an emotional resonance. How are those textures transmitted in the live show?

It’s an interesting question, cause it’s difficult, very very difficult to keep texture as a central point when you’re playing with a band. When I used to play solo I was just cranking little sounds and moving them from the left side to the right side and taking the sub-base louder, all I wanted was just to play with sound. With the band I can’t do that because of a very simple issue – all the microphones on stage already have this thick layer of atmospheric shit, so a tiny little sound is not a tiny little sound anymore, it’s this speck inside the dirt, it’s very difficult.

And so now the idea of texture turns into an interwoven multitude of waves. On the album texture resides in the moment, in the very specific small moment where you hear this little sound, or this little spike of reverb or this or that. In a live setting what you end up having is that same moment drowned in delay and feedback. That’s what happens: the same sound is just stretched out and kind of exploded, so it encompasses much more. I think those are two interesting sides of the same coin, and they’re both really important for me personally to give to people.

The album seems to have undercurrents that became so much more apparent upon having read you discuss them very eloquently: could you elaborate on your analogy of ghosts within the record? Are these your own ghosts imbued by the listener, or does the music introspectively conjure ghosts within the listener?

Hopefully both. Hopefully it’s the type of ghost that I can have, and that I can come up and spike at some point in the song and that same type of spectrality you can understand, it can summon up associations in you.

Is the spatial notion particularly pertinent to this album?

One hundred percent. I have made music that is not that way at all, this album was about space, rooms, architecture, physical surroundings and also mind sets. It was emotional architecture, that’s the idea. Every room in your mind type of thing…

Words are used in a sparse but poignant way. How great an authority did you intend the lyricism and spoken word extracts on the album to possess?

The more I listen to music from the past, I’ve realised how mind-blowing it can be when a song merges musically and lyrically. Though I don’t think lyrics have to be making anything explicit. If you’re into implicit art then you can make words that also go in that vein.

How does water and fluidity pervade the album and what purpose does this serve?

There are so many levels to it. Colomb is a song in French about Christopher Columbus discovering this unfamiliar land. Elsewhere there’s this narrative in which Vito Acconci talks about a body coming out of a lake. There’s another concept for me personally of water as sound, the sea as music, all encompassing organic music. This is all a big kind of thing with different entry points. There’s both the literal narrative throughout the album and this kind of more implicit fluidity, everything goes inside, each sound dips into the next sound and all is intertwined. I wasn’t thinking consciously of this when I made the songs themselves, but when I was piecing everything together it seemed like it needed this. This is back then, I’m not there anymore.

Nicolas Jaar

On mixes such as John The Revelator, Feelin Good or I Got A Woman, where you deploy such well known samples, do you feel any additional pressure to really make it your own?

I almost never use the parts. Basically I produce a whole new track and put the vocals on top. That’s how I make remixes and edits. I don’t know if its controversial or it would be difficult for people to wrap their heads around, but the point is, when I use Ray Charles I use him as just another voice, not as Ray Charles. I don’t know if that’s crazy or not but who cares, it’s a voice, it’s a beautiful voice, it’s an incredible voice, it’s taken completely out of context.

It’s also a great insight into where you derive your influences…

Absolutely. Though, but at first it’s in the studio. Ray Charles’ voice and the piano are equals, I can do anything with his voice, I can do anything with the piano.

You’ve spoken out against the exploitation of world music in sampling, drawing a comparison to a form of Imperialism. How does one tread that fine line between incorporation and an over reliance on the original material?

I think here’s how. It’s about capturing the feeling not the literal form. Lets say you truly absolutely love Bonga Kwenda [an Angolan semba musician], and you’re really influenced by him, what you should do is not learn the scale and play it on the guitar, slightly changing a couple of things. That’s not the way to go. Who cares? Bonga did it better than you.

If you listen to it with an open mind, just love it first. Not to use it for some commercial purpose, it’s not a trend thing. To actually like it, first you must love it. And then if you’re being honest with your creation process, naturally your music will encompass those influences. Your body and mind will do this for you, and then you won’t sound a bit like Bonga.

 

I was surprised to read that you considered the melodic rather than the rhythmic aspect of African music the greater appeal…

Yes! It’s bullshit, this rhythmic African thing is the most colonial, obvious Hollywood cliché. No for me, actually Bonga is an amazing example of this, I would love to show you what I’m talking about. [Nico plays a recording of Mona Ki Ngi Xica] It’s one of my favourite songs. The percussion, I don’t really care about, for me the guitar is gorgeous, what he’s doing with his voice is just unbelievable. I don’t sound one bit like this, but it’s one of the songs I’ve listened to the most my whole life. I don’t think my music has anything to do with this, I don’t try to make this, I would never try to make this, but its feeling is imbued by my love of Bonga. And that’s the point, you must love it first and your mind will follow.

How do you perceive your youth growing up in Santiago de Chile in contrast to Manhattan?

It’s such a difference in childhood. I lived in Chile between the ages of two and nine – I’ve lived in New York since. So those are two different me’s, two different people. I guess the main thing is, there’s no consistency for me in New York, everything is constantly changing, New York is like bloody everything. Back then, Chile was a constant thing: it was my home, my dog, my mother, my school. Mainly it’s the differences between consistency and inconsistency. But this is subjective to my life and contextual to the ages to when I grew up.

Nolita is a place where my whole life I’ve been going to cafes and restaurants, and Bushwick, Williamsberg a little bit, not too much. My parents live in Soho, but everyone except for them still lives in Chile. I go there once a year.

Your father, Alfredo Jaar, is a renowned installation artist. Your mother, Evelyne Meynard, trained as a dancer in Merce Cunningham’s studio. With each of you practising in a different medium, do you respond to these arts as distinct domains?

Like everyone you’re, either by opposition or by compliance, a product of your parents. I think I am one. I’m glad that I found music because it would have been difficult to make art because of my father’s career, but music comes very naturally to me having lived with an artist father, and I think a lot of artists’ kids become musicians because it’s more immediate than art in a way.

How fanciful is the notion of pursuing your interest in cinema and script-writing?

Those things are in the future at some point, for sure I’d like to make films.

How do you anticipate the creative hub surrounding Wolf + Lamb to grow or evolve? Could you imagine the Marcy Hotel leaving behind a legacy, much as Warhol’s Factory did?

There’s no way of knowing what way Wolf + Lamb is going to go in terms of sound. I’m not sure what my place in the future will be in terms of The Marcy and Wolf + Lamb, though I remain really good friends with them all.

So did your musical divergence motivate you to set up your own label, Clown & Sunset?

I mean, I make dance music but I also don’t make dance music, so I’m trying to build my own thing. There are people in New York and some people here in Europe who share this aesthetic vision, quite similar to what happened with Wolf + Lamb, and I wanted to see what we could do with this vision, to see where we could take it. This is currently its infancy period, so we’ll see where it goes. Maybe in the future you’ll see some sort of collective notion of what Clown & Sunset is like.

How do you divide your attention between looking out for new artists, signing up acts like Valentin Stip, and also focusing just on your own material?

It goes hand in hand, the music I make comes when it comes and I don’t try to force it, so I have a lot of time to focus on new artists, on the aesthetic world of Clown & Sunset. It’s creating a context for this world, that’s what’s interesting for me, for this music, creating a little world for it.