live music duo
interview by ANNABEL FERNANDES
portrait by CORALIE GIROUD
Nicolas Jaar formed Darkside with guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington, reinventing sampling and improvisation: the guitarist on stage adding blues and jazz voicing to Jaar’s space-age cloud music, composed live.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — You both have a connection to art. Nicolas’s father, Alfredo Jaar, is a well-known artist. You’ve performed at art events, including a five-hour set for MoMA PS1.
NICOLAS JAAR — I played a couple of art events recently. My father’s an artist, so I’ve always been in that world.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — Do you have any favorite artists?
DAVE HARRINGTON — Dan Flavin, Richard Serra — big late-20th-century Minimalism. Artists featured at the DIA:Beacon.
NICOLAS JAAR — When I was really young, my father would take us to the Venice Biennale and things like that. At 11, I liked Magritte. I don’t go to exhibitions much, but I’ve been into Manzoni, the Italian Arte Povera artist, and John Baldessari. I like how his work can be serious while treating art itself as a kind of joke, which is how music can be — just for dancing and to party.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — Baldessari appropriated images and has a huge collection of images and film stills. Do you do that with samples and sounds?
NICOLAS JAAR — Oh, yeah. We were producing a band, and someone gave me a hard drive with one of my files on it, but also on there was a secret folder of their collection of snares and kick drums, which I added to my hard drive. That was exciting.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — Was there some kind of an epiphany that led you both to music?
DAVE HARRINGTON — I always played music. My dad had an amazing jazz collection on vinyl. Good jazz is in my DNA, trapped in my mind, from the time I was a little kid. I never imagined life without music. I’ve always played.
NICOLAS JAAR — My mother told me a story recently. We were in church in England. A choir was singing, and I started belting out and screaming with them — similar to the way I do now. I was probably a year old. But maybe that was when I first knew deep inside I was a musician.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — It was Miles Davis’s birthday two days ago. I remember you played Miles Davis’s long jam, Bitches Brew, before you came out onstage in London. Is that something you play before concerts? Metallica plays Ennio Morricone’s The Ecstasy of Gold before they perform.
DAVE HARRINGTON — That’s their walk-out music?
ANNABEL FERNANDES — Yeah, since the ’80s.
NICOLAS JAAR — Really? For us it’s Miles! Well, sadly, at festivals our sound guy needs to tune, so he uses an awesome, super dubbed-out reggae number he engineered, like, 20 years ago. Then he puts on Miles. It’s a weird- but-fun transition. In club shows, we can put on Miles because we don’t need a sound check. We also finish with it.
DAVE HARRINGTON — We play Miles’s “In a Silent Way.” It’s a meditative moment, a cue to come back into the world.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — And what about other jazz musicians apart from Miles?
DAVE HARRINGTON — Classic stuff: Oscar Peterson Trio, Yusef Lateef, John Coltrane, Art Farmer, ’60s and ’70s Impulse and Verve records.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — Nicolas, what were some defining music moments for you growing up?
NICOLAS JAAR — When I was five or six, I was obsessed with Queen. Then when I got to New York, when I was eight, I got into hip-hop. I was listening to Hot 97 and some Z100, which is sort of a pop station. They were playing Dr. Dre and all the new Neptunes hits. Then, after that, I went into trip-hop, got into Tricky, Massive Attack, and Portishead. I guess when I started making music — when I was 14 — I was just getting out of that and into fado and some African music, a lot of the stuff that my father was playing. I started to understand what was so good about my parents’ music when I started making it myself.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — That seems young to fully appreciate your parents’ music.
NICOLAS JAAR — I guess I had my rebellion period until 14 — not that fado or African music was better than Portishead, but it had a weight and a non-cool factor. It was just good. Honestly, I’ve always been interested in music that people agree is wonderful, rather than something that is “awesome” or “cool” for a moment and then becomes boring. Things that need a context are, to me, less exciting than something that is simply good by itself.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — You’ve stated that Can was an influence on Darkside’s sound. The members of Can were classically trained but chose to play avant-garde electronic music. They seem quite democratic when they improvise. No one outshines the other, which seems similar to your music and performances.
DAVE HARRINGTON — There’s something quite interesting about improvising outside of a structured idiom, like jazz, which has its tradition of one soloist generally following another. Can was interesting because their improvisations were not related to a particular language or genre. They quantified their way of doing things in the same way that Derek Bailey or even The Grateful Dead did.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — Would you say they were progressive then?
NICOLAS JAAR — Progressive is the best worst word.
DAVE HARRINGTON — But every 10 or 20 years that word gets tacked on to something, which is contextual. And then five years later everyone says it was bad, like prog rock. I mean, I love prog rock, but it gets a bad rap because as soon as it stopped being like Can, Pink Floyd, and Yes doing weird things, it became prog rock, as if retroactively it became something that wasn’t good.
NICOLAS JAAR — Which means that some of the best music created some of the worst. Yes, there are incredible bands. Then there are people who just get stoned and do bad stuff. We thought a lot about the term “progressive” when we made the Darkside album, Psychic. I also think about it a lot in my own solo work. It’s music that doesn’t necessarily go back to a source. It can start here and go there — like we do. I think it’s important that it doesn’t talk back to itself and can keep going and talking to the future.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — When you made Psychic, what were you reading, talking, and thinking about?
NICOLAS JAAR — I think we’re too young as a band to have that kind of clarity. Maybe in 10 years we’ll remember when we were obsessed with watching a Jodorowsky movie every day. Maybe that happens when you’re 30…
DAVE HARRINGTON — Thirty-five.
NICOLAS JAAR — Or making music for 15 years.
DAVE HARRINGTON — The record was about us touring, playing, and writing together, just living.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — But, as Darkside, was there something specific you set out to achieve with Psychic?
NICOLAS JAAR — The most difficult thing about the Psychic record was not to fall into a minefield of clichés — which you can do, especially when making electronic music with a guitar that sounds psychedelic. At the same time, it’s so much more exciting to make an album that has these pitfalls.
DAVE HARRINGTON — Our tools create a kind of tacit restraint. It’s only two of us. We do everything democratically.
NICOLAS JAAR — He says, “Nico, now it sounds like Ibiza.” I say, “Dave it sounds like…”
DAVE HARRINGTON — Metallica.
NICOLAS JAAR — We stop each other. Not that my default is Ibiza or Dave’s is free jazz.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — The composer/accordionist Pauline Oliveros, who created the Deep Listening Institute, teaches ways to experience a heightened awareness of sound and silence without drugs. It involves moving the body, which she says is essential and basic to heightened awareness. In her philosophy, she says, “Listen to everything all the time and remind yourself when you are not listening.” This is quite central to improvising. Do you have a philosophy for your music or for when you improvise on stage?
NICOLAS JAAR — The progressive thing to me is that music can start somewhere and end somewhere else. If the point of the songs is that they do not end where they start- ed, I guess that is the beginning of a philosophy. With Darkside, we won’t achieve what we want by writing it out but through improvisation, which is maybe like automatic writing. The music is something you can access by working with the crowd, with the lights. That’s maybe where truth can be found.
DAVE HARRINGTON — I agree. You surrender to the moment.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — Nicolas, you did a five-hour improvisation for MoMA PS1. Tell us about that?
NICOLAS JAAR — Improvisation needs time to present itself. After you improvise for an hour or two, you’re only beginning to run out of ideas. It’s interesting to be, like, four hours in and have one more hour to go and you don’t have any more ideas. At that point, you are struggling, and everyone knows that now is the time the truth will come out.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — When Neil Young performed recently in Paris, there were these huge amplifiers on stage, I suppose to reiterate that he’s championing a new sound called PonoMusic. In his autobiography, he talks about it and what he calls the “underwater listening” experience of compressed digital music — as opposed to a $6.2 million sound.
DAVE HARRINGTON — Yeah, his next-level audio. My mother gave me his autobiography for my birthday. The first 15 pages talk about it. I didn’t see it coming — him driving around in his custom car and talking about this new system. What about Crazy Horse?
NICOLAS JAAR — I don’t want to forget about making music and to start thinking about the way it’s presented. But I get obsessive about that, too.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — Through your Other People imprint, you released your own new medium called the Prism — a $40 aluminum cube containing 12 songs.
NICOLAS JAAR — Right. I don’t want to be a cube sales- man, but it was coming from a need, or maybe a crisis, which was listening to music on YouTube. I tried to turn that crisis into a little object. It comes from the fact that we work so hard just to give something. When you see a painting in a museum, you have to look closely, and it has to be quiet. With music you do whatever you want. We are subject to the whim of the consumer. It’s weird that we have the best technology at hand and yet we listen to music worse than ever, with MP3s, and this and that. YouTube has probably the worst quality of sound.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — Music gets distorted. You’ve also said that you’ll never distribute your music by CD.
NICOLAS JAAR — I was just having a moment. [Laughs] Now, our next album is going to be straight-up CD and vinyl, all the normal stuff. For me, it was important that people should care about how they listen. The more care you put in, the more it’s going to benefit you. With my music, and DARKSIDE’s, you have to have patience to listen to it.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — How does technology and software come into play?
DAVE HARRINGTON — Technology doesn’t mean a fancy gadget. Technology is tactile hardware, a new tool, a new instrument. Each little box is an instrument I’ve spent time practicing, the same as I would a guitar or a bass. I’m always looking for new technology, not in a cutting- edge or retro-fetishistic way.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — Are there instruments you want to learn?
DAVE HARRINGTON — I’m still waiting for the pedal steel guitar I ordered six months ago. It’s usually associated with country music, but it’s a 10- or 12-string slide guitar with levers and a very vocal and emotive sound. It’s been used in some great Hindustani music from the ’70s and in gospel music as well.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — Nicolas, you play the piano. Any instruments you would like to master?
NICOLAS JAAR — I play the piano pretty badly, but I can use it with computers. Being with Dave doesn’t make me want to play guitar, but it makes me wish I could play it since it’s such a physical object. I really like the nature of that. Piano is more percussive. I hope one day to play a physical object, but I guess I’m slowly learning how to sing.
DAVE HARRINGTON — That’s as physical as it gets.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — Will you be singing more on the next record then?
NICOLAS JAAR — Performing live, I sing all the songs on Psychic. I struggled for a little bit, but now I’m getting used to it. It’s exciting.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — Are lyrics something you work on together?
DAVE HARRINGTON — I’m just a soundboard. If I’m not going to sing, who am I to say what should be coming out of Nico’s mouth?
NICOLAS JAAR — I didn’t exactly write them; we improvised them on the spot. Honestly I don’t remember which ones we wrote and which ones we just came up with. It’s safe to say that, at least for the next record, I’m going to take care about what we say.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — To make a statement?
NICOLAS JAAR — No, more of a focused vision in the lyrics. I’m just in a songwriting mood now.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — Dave, are there any guitarists that you admire?
DAVE HARRINGTON — David Torn and Bill Frisell come to mind. Then there’s Jerry Garcia. Torn and Frisell are jazz guitarists who integrate analog electronics, like processing or looping, in a very tactile and tasteful way that isn’t about the mechanism but their personalities as instrumentalists. They’ve played different things from free jazz to noise, prog rock to soundtrack music. Their careers cover many ideas.
NICOLAS JAAR — When I started working with Dave, I realized that he was more interested in creating little worlds than guitar lines or chord progressions. What makes him incredible is that he doesn’t see himself strictly as a guitarist. Whether those guitar players are an influence or not, I can safely say that movies are a bigger influence on his guitar playing or scores.
DAVE HARRINGTON — That’s totally true.
NICOLAS JAAR — That’s why I gravitated to his powerful soundscapes that have deep emotion. His solo sets are like rocks set on top of rocks to make beautiful mountains. What makes him a great guitarist is that he’s almost scoring music as he plays.
DAVE HARRINGTON — [Laughs]
ANNABEL FERNANDES — Do you have any particular favorite scores, soundtracks, or even musicians and directors?
DAVE HARRINGTON — I go through phases. I like Dario Argento and Goblin, Morricone, Lalo Schifrin. I’m a big David Fincher fan.
NICOLAS JAAR — I like TV soundtracks. The first time I hear the opening music I think: Whatever. Then by the 20th episode of, say, House of Cards, I’m so into the music.
ANNABEL FERNANDES — I got that with True Detective.
NICOLAS JAAR — Exactly. I hated that song the first time I heard it. Now I love it. It gets you in the mood.
DAVE HARRINGTON — TV music has gotten very good in the last five years. It’s shocking and awesome.
[Table of contents]
The Fall/Winter 2014 collections
by Terry Richardson
Richard PrinceRead the article
Rafael de CárdenasRead the article
1968Read the article
JacquemusRead the article
Barbara KrugerRead the article
Terry Winters x Edward FrenkelRead the article
Jean-Luc Godard Sound ArchivesRead the article
Purple AccessoriesRead the article
Bionic YarnRead the article
Francesco RussoRead the article
Nicolas GodinRead the article
Andre WalkerRead the article
Umit BenanRead the article
Chris MartinRead the article
by Sabine Heller
by Sven Schumann
by Giasco Bertoli
by Simon Liberati
by Terry Richardson
by Patrick Mauriès
by Takashi Homma
by Olivier Zahm and Stéphane Feugère with a portfolio by Christopher Wool
by Olivier Zahm
by Caroline Gaimari
Don’t Be Cruel
by Donna Trope
by Olivier Zahm
by Michel Compte
by Johan Sandberg
by Benjamin Alexander Huseby
by Drew Jarrett
by Katja Rahlwes
by Ola Rindal
Best of Men’s Fashion
by Andreas Larsson
by Paul Wetherell
by Giasco Bertoli
by Maxime Ballesteros
DarksideRead the article
by Chikashi Suzuki
by Camille Bidault Waddington
by Sandy Kim
by Olivier Zahm
by Donatien Grau
Tomoo GokitaRead the article
by Max Farago
by Olivier Zahm
Casper Mueller Kneer
by Charles-Edmond Henry
Ragnar KjartanssonRead the article
Pier-Gabriel LajoieRead the article
Cédric RivrainRead the article
Louis Vuitton Fall/Winter 2014/15Read the article
Aaron De Mey
by Theo Wenner
Thadée Klossowski De Rola
by Benoit Peverelli