- A beautiful but transient album conceived as an interactive online world.
- Nicolás Jaar's third album of 2020 was first released in its "liquid form," an interactive website that played different elements of the record depending on where you clicked and moved your cursor. It depicts a "panspermic terrain where particles travel through space, weaving together life forms," each combination of elements creating new sounds you'd never hear on the actual record. This was the culmination of a stage in Jaar's career chronicled by Ryan Keeling earlier this year, which began with a series of art installations and live performances. These days, Jaar performs live by opening a blank Ableton file and seeing where his mind (and the room) takes him. Telas, in both its "liquid" (website) and "solid" (four-track LP) forms, feels like the truest expression of this yet: an hour of whisper-quiet passages, loud epiphanies and intense sonic manipulation, a fleeting work that feels improvised and profound at the same time.
Jaar translates Telas as both "veils" and "fabrics," positioning it as a "construction" compared to the "destruction" of its predecessor, Cenizas (which is Spanish for ashes). Cenizas was like like hearing fragments of songs on the breeze, occasionally forming into hymns, while Telas is more ephemeral. This is an expansive, unpredictable sprawl that borrows from free jazz and avant-garde classical as well as ambient music, where time and patience become as much of a musical device as rhythm and melody.
Telas might seem freeform at first, but it has a natural rhythm. Sounds intensify and pull back as Jaar adds and removes layers of his tapestry. There are a few central sounds: plucked string arpeggios, perhaps from the custom instruments he developed with Anna Ippolito & Marzio Zoriowhile; hums and whirrs, some from Milena Punzi's cello, others from Susanne Gonzo's voice; and rich, pipe organ-like tones. They take turns as the songs unfurl, so that what at first feels exploratory soon becomes methodical, almost like the record is breathing.
Listen to the way "Telahumo" develops, first with organs, then abstract glitches, then plucked strings and honeyed vocals from Jaar, each idea setting the stage for the next. It's all framed with remarkable sound design: towards the end, the notes waver as if trembling in the wind, converge into screeching feedback and then sink into reverb. This is Jaar's version of using the studio as an instrument, tinkering with effects and time-stretching in the same way precocious engineers used to splice and loop tape fragments back in the '60s.
The vocal passage on "Telahumo" is one of a few brief moments where Jaar's voice, usually a bedrock of his work, appears on Telas. Jaar's notes state that the only lyrics on the album are "NADA LO QUE VEO NADA LO QUE SOY NADA EN LO QUE ES SER NADA EN LA NADA LO QUE DOY," or, "nothing what I see, nothing what I am, nothing in that which being is in the nothing what I give."
Nothingness is central to Telas. It's a sound bath that washes over you without trying to impress any clear message. There's no moment of clarity or climax like Cenizas's "Sunder." After one last swell of organs, Telas recedes back into silence as mysteriously as it began.
There's a relief in the space that Telas leaves behind, a kind of moving on. While Jaar says Telas is a "construction," he also says the album "lets go." This is not Jaar's best album, nor is it his strangest, but it's a wonderful listen that tempts you to get lost in its many layers. It is beautiful but confounding, an artwork whose "solid form" still passes through like water trickling down between your fingers. You notice the sensation, and then it's gone.