Nicolas Jaar: From Scratch
Sunday, February 5
Better than: A just-press-play-and-hide-behind-the-laptop DJ.
The 21-year old American-Chilean electronic producer Nicolas Jaar has ambition. In the past two years, he’s released seven EPs and the full-length Space Is Only Noise; he runs his own label and tours with a rotating cast of collaborators, who bring elements of live performance to his robust yet minimal compositions. This weekend, Jaar wrapped up a weekend of shows, among them a sold-out night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, with a five-hour set at P.S. 1 titled From Scratch. Jaar’s music is an intersection between left-field electronic and contemporary classical music, and he leaves plenty of space between the beats for his music to breathe. The quality of the sounds used by Jaar are equally important to the sounds he constructs as harmony and rhythm, with melody taking a back seat as a compositional element.
The performance, which took place in P.S. 1’s geodesic dome, combined recording, sampling, and looping with live instrumentation and projections by filmmaker Ryan Staake. Jaar constructed a spacious and unpredictable sonic environment spread across nine speakers throughout the dome; piano, guitars, horns, and strings, accompanied by Staake’s visuals, ebbed and flowed around the space. Black and white projections split by an axis of symmetry merged and unfolded onto themselves on the curved surface of the dome high above the stage; live footage of the audience was mixed into the visuals.
All too often the audience of an electronic performance can often be alienated from DJs hiding behind their laptops, but From Scratch allowed the audience to witness the music evolving, thanks to Jaar’s inclusive and inviting process. Being able to watch Sasha Spielberg sing what would, in the context of a record, be a spliced R&B sample over Jaar’s sparse, throbbing midtempo beat drew a huge response from the audience three hours into the set. Jaar took advantage of periods of ambience to tune into his headphones and prepare his next motifs and beat drops. He pulled sounds from his turntable on the fly, reworking them into his improvisation.
Jaar describes his brand of electronic music as “blue-wave”—a subtle and emotionally approach to dance music influenced by Erik Satie and Berlin minimal techno. On Sunday, he produced an event that was more experiential happening than concert; to further the immersive nature of the afternoon, audience members could slip out to the gallery wing, where a pool of yarn waiting to be dove into laid in wait.
Critical bias: Shows like this are exactly what I’m looking for.
Overheard: “What genre of music is this?”
Random notebook dump: I would love to be able to get an even closer look at Jaar’s process. What’s happening on his computer screen?