Nicolas Jaar live in New York
- By Anna Codrea-Rado -
- Feb 10, 2012
The crowd swarmed around Nicolas Jaar at MoMA PS1. He was engulfed by a sea of people at the inaugural event, marking the first of the museum’s Sunday Session performances. Jaar played his five-hour set in the geodesic dome that was so new, the igloo-like construction still smelt of MDF.
At the centre of the specially constructed bubble-cum-performance space, on a knee-level circular platform, Jaar manned his station. All afternoon he played off a combination of his laptop, MIDI controller, one turntable and various instruments fed into this complex set-up. This included both live input from his saxophonist, Will Epstein, and vocalist Sasha Spielberg, as well as looped playback of those recordings.
Behind him, live images of the crowd overlaid with footage shot by Ryan Staake, were projected on the back third of the dome. The screen’s split-mirror filter created a kaleidoscope effect. Images of windmills, woodlands and rivers complimented the earthy notes of the sounds Jaar pumped out. The images of the crowd added to the feeling that audience was very much a part of this work. The soft acoustics in the dome were such that at the quieter moments of the set, of which there were many, the low hum of the crowd added another layer to Jaar’s already rich sounds.
“You know he was born in 1990,” an audience member said to her friend. “Yeah, he went to school with my friend. He’s so cute.” To hear such an interchange is not uncommon at a Jaar gig. A lot of people in the early twenty-something bracket claim to have a connection to the sudden superstar of electronic music. This is surely more than just wishful thinking and rather testament to how well respected he is among his fans, who just so happen to be very close in age to him.
About an hour into the performance, Epstein and his saxophone accompanied Jaar on stage. Epstein’s appearance shifted the gears as he instantly injected a new energy into the set. Spielberg, and her haunting vocals, soon joined the two.
The performance sat at the intersection of live art installation and experimental electronic music production. The trap was set for an underwhelming, or even worse: cringe-inducing, delivery. Jaar didn’t just dodge that bullet; he outdid himself by pushing the boundaries of performance art. The only weak link in what was otherwise a slick operation was the ceiling projection. There wasn’t enough of it. The space offers the possibility for a 360 experience, but the visual elements were a bit flat.
Past the halfway point, those who had climbed up onto the podium at the back of the dome were politely removed in order to make way for Lizzie Fiedelson. Her dance piece went a long way in compensating for the screen’s shortcomings. She was something else to look at and become mesmerized by.
Jaar is the antithesis of the cult DJ. Renowned for playing tracks at 100 BPM or less, he’s the least likely producer to be seen waving his hands in the air, riling the crowd. Yet, the set up at PS1, with Jaar on a low level at the center of the crowd, drew all eyes onto him for the entirety of the performance. At one point he stood up and raised his hands in the air to signal to the sound desk to turn up Spielberg’s mic. The crowd couldn’t resist and let out a resounding cheer.
He’s already been hailed as the renaissance man of electronic music, but to call Jaar that is to say electronic music was going through a dormancy, which couldn’t be further from reality. In slowing the tempo down and adding multifaceted dimensions to his sets, what he has indisputably done is granted some much needed breathing space to the genre. His music challenges listeners, which the performance at PS1 epitomized in the way it combined a plethora of sensory interactions and oscillations with Jaar’s signature erudite sounds. Whether or not by design, Jaar has found himself centre stage of a step change in electronic music.
This guest blog complies to Virgin.com terms & conditions.