Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar walked into a record store in late 2004 and, wanting a Christmas gift for his 14-year-old son, asked for the “most forward-thinking electronic music album” they had. Jaar took the clerk’s suggestion and gifted his son, Nicolas, the current LP by minimalist techno godhead Ricardo Villalobos, Thé Au Harem D’Archimède. This story is practically scripture in the techno community but the skeletal facts of it still miss exactly what turned the young Jaar’s head so much it inspired him to create his own glacially paced electronic music: It wasn’t Villalobos that Jaar geeked out over, it was the work of Berlin-based recording engineer Rashad Becker. “It sounded like nothing else I’d heard before,” says Nicolas Jaar, now 22 and one of experimental electronic music’s brightest young lights after the release of his celebrated 2011 album Space Is Only Noise. “Not what the music is made of but the actual sound itself was new in an exciting way – like electronic elements coming out of the earth.”
That was a precocious observation from a young listener, and Jaar’s valuation of the new, the untested and untried, has carried over into all aspects of his work and business – never so clearly demonstrated as this month, when Jaar’s multi-media production company, Clown & Sunset Aesthetics, released Don’t Break My Love, a compilation of music housed in an aluminum box. The Prism, as it’s called, is almost elegant in the simplicity of its design and ease of use: It’s a palm-sized cube with two headphone jacks, and four buttons – play, stop, and a pair used to skip through tracks. Most of all, it’s a communal experience. “The most important thing was the object was shareable, that the actual experience was about listening with someone else,” says Jaar of The Prism. At press time, the Prism was sold out on the label’s website, with a note that more are soon on the way.
Jaar was inspired to re-think the packaging and sound delivery mechanisms of his releases after the disappointment of holding the CD version of his debut album, Space Is Only Noise – a format Jaar calls “completely archaic.” “I simply decided to try to never put out music through CDs, because I don’t agree with the format,” says Jaar. “It didn’t make any sense.”
The producer calls this just a first step, and hopes to continue to not only discover unique ways of creating and making music but delivering it as well. “There’s a way to make the object even more simple and rudimentary,” says Jaar. “The more simple the experience is, the better it is. The more it gives voice to the music, the better. I want the music to be put into your head in the most simple way possible.”
That utilitarian impulse may be surprising from such a complex individual. A comparative lit major at Brown University, Jaar’s gorgeously downcast, singular music is anything but reductionist; indeed, it often sounds genre-less, the product of unexplored places – or “culture from no place,” as he puts it. That spirit extends to Jaar’s many projects, which recently included an improvisational performance at New York’s MoMa and, soon, the follow-up to Space Is Only Noise and the debut album from he and friend Dave Harrington’s Darkside project. Like many ambitious and creatively surprising artists, it’s impossible to guess what these records are going to sound like. Perhaps even more exciting, it’s impossible to guess how they will look, feel, and operate as well.