In Nicolas Jaar's world, techno takes its time.
by Joshua P. Ferguson
Originally published in Time Out Chicago magazine | 03.22.12
If techno is considered an intense, driving force in dance music, Nicolas Jaar’s version is more like a leisurely stroll—with a few stops along the way to smell the flowers. Many of those same mechanical ticks, synthetic bass lines and waves of ambient noise are there, but the 22-year-old has slowed things down, allowing a whole new world of sounds and samples to crop up in the spaces he creates.
This idea of space is central to how Jaar thinks. “It’s interesting,” he says on the phone from the back of a cab in Providence, Rhode Island, where he attends Brown University. “Just the word space, as in the space you live in, but also space, as in some cosmic thing. I love that dichotomy.
“It’s so important to think about the fact that between two hits, people are thinking. The silence between those beats is just as relevant as the music itself,” he continues. On 2011’s Space Is Only Noise, Jaar’s first full-length since he began releasing tracks at 17, there was ample room to think. Vocal textures in a number of languages float in and out of songs like whispers, delicate chords envelope crisp handclaps, dubby echoes ripple. Listening to it leaves you deep inside your own head rather than wiling out.
It’s exactly the type of contemplative music you would expect from someone studying comparative literature, an interdisciplinary academic field that deals with writing and art between cultures and Jaar’s focus at Brown. In his musical world this means drawing from Ethiopian jazz, movie soundtracks and the avant-garde as much as from techno or downtempo, which, given his music’s mellow feel, it often resembles.
“I never really wanted to make techno in the first place,” Jaar says, his accent revealing a New York upbringing. (His father is Chilean conceptual artist Alfredo Jaar; his mother is dancer Evelyne Meynard.) “My influences are just what I really liked at some point in my life and what stuck around. The fact that they’re coming out through electronic music is, in a way, just serendipity or luck.”