Nicolas Jaar entered the cultural consciousness last year when he released his debut album, Space Is Only Noise (Circus Company). A sublime collection of haunting, jazz-tinged sound collages, Space is as addictively listenable as it is singular and strange. “My songs getting blasted on blogs—that was all an accident,” says the 22-year-old electronic musician, a senior studying comparative literature at Brown University. “I imbue space and texture so that the sound isn’t naked and has its own history. I try to make new sounds sound really old, like they were recorded a long time ago. The dirt you hear helps tell the story.”
Jaar’s sonic experiments started early. Raised in a creative downtown New York household—his father is Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar—he began improvising on the piano when he was eight. “My parents were incredibly encouraging,” Jaar says. “But eventually you take what your parents give you and do your own thing: They were never into technology or performance.” Following a teenage fixation with minimal techno and proto-dubstep, Jaar began weaving his own frayed-at-the-seams compositions, embracing a kind of lush abstraction that would make Thom Yorke do a double-take. He continues to push the envelope: In February, Jaar presented From Scratch, a five-hour continuous multimedia performance at MoMA PS1 in collaboration with Clown & Sunset Aesthetics, the ambitious interdisciplinary “culture house” he recently founded with film producer Noah Kraft.
Clown & Sunset’s latest project is its Prism, a futuristic cross between a music player and a conceptual-art piece. The minimally designed one-and-a-half-inch-wide aluminum cube contains 12 tracks from Jaar and other Clown & Sunset artists, but with a twist: The music can’t be downloaded or played on a computer—it can only be heard on headphones (twin outlets on the cube encourage sharing) or with a proper sound system. “People look at it like, ‘What the fuck does this do?’” Jaar says with a laugh. “For me, this is a sculpture, not a piece of merchandise.” It’s all at one with Jaar’s musical sensibility. “Every time you think you’re in a genre, you get put into another one and get discombobulated,” he says. “I am very much against someone saying, ‘Nico makes dubstep’ or ‘Nico makes house’ or ‘Nico makes hip-hop.’ If you try to create music today and people can’t describe it, you’re actually making something pretty amazing. That’s the golden ticket—you just feel it.”
PHOTO: NICOLAS JAAR IN NEW YORK, MARCH 2012. JACKET: DKNY. SHIRT: KENNETH COLE. STYLING: VANESSA CHOW. GROOMING: WESLEY O’MEARA/THE WALL GROUP. PHOTO ASSISTANTS: JAMES CLARK AND JEREMY SMITH. SPECIAL THANKS: INDUSTRIA SUPERSTUDIO.