"I'm going to play some music that I love, that's been inspirational to me the last couple years," Nicolás Jaar said as he introduced a livestreamed mix on a recent Thursday evening, his mouth sticky with nerves. The chat room exploded with salutations. He premiered a bright and charismatic piano piece, recently recorded at home in isolation. At the same time, we—as in, the 7,000-strong global viewership—tried to make sense of what he presented us on screen.
An uncanny illustration of a human head, taken from the artwork of Jaar's latest album, Cenizas
, framed the stream. Inside it there appeared to be a shared view of an Ableton Live session, divided into roughly seven tiles and animated with conveyor-belt-like motions. The hyper-internet feel of the visuals and the Twitch interface contrasted sharply with the mournful tones of the famed Lebanese singer Fairuz, with a song, "Torok Orshalim," from an album called Good Friday - Eastern Sacred Songs
. Those of us who weren't hypnotised by the chat room may have seen a cursor move to a browser tab, with a YouTube video of a volcano spectacularly erupting. At which point, for me, it clicked: we're seeing an abstracted but real-time view of Jaar in creative flow. In summary, it went something like:
Google "quicksand." Select an Ableton clip of a helicopter—pan left and right. Drop an edit of Kassem Mosse. Sweep a filter. Play Can's "Vitamin C," briefly at increased speed, fade track, then return it, in reverse. Cut to YouTube video of lightening. Now Hildegard Von Bingen—medieval classical music. Decrease energy. Show birds in slow-motion flight. Announce a reggaeton song made a couple years ago, with a heavily Autotuned falsetto vocal. Stream ends.
I'd seen Jaar do something similarly frenetic and fascinating a few months ago, in a draughty room above an exhibition space in Zaandam, across the North Sea Canal from Amsterdam. We'd met to talk about the two albums and another project he was planning to release—either at once or in quick succession, it wasn't decided—and the changes he'd recently made in his life. The immediate matter at hand, though, was a three-month artist residency at Het HEM, a newly opened cultural centre in a former munitions factory. Jaar had created sound installations, was giving regular improvised musical performances, and had formed an experimental research project called the Shock Forest Group. It was an extended opportunity to interrogate some of his many interests.
That he'd received such an invitation speaks to the very particular position Jaar holds within electronic music, one that he never fails to count his blessings for. Since he broke through as a teenager roughly ten years ago, he's enjoyed broad popularity while essentially remaining in a state of flux and exploration. His albums like Space Is Only Noise
were abstract and woozy by the usual standards of song-led electronic music, but were adored by both large audiences and music critics. (Space Is Only Noise
was album of the year on RA
in 2011.) Darkside, his almost rock & roll band with Dave Harrington, gained a similar level of attention—their low-slung performance of "Paper Trails," for example, from the album Psychic
, is the most-viewed video RA
has ever produced. Among many other accomplishments, Jaar has the score for a Palme d'Or-winning film, Dheepan
, an Essential Mix of the year and principle production work on the recent FKA twigs album, MAGDALENE
(album of the year on RA
, #2 on Pitchfork
), on his CV.
I actually didn't ask Jaar about much of this—which is to say, his popularity and many achievements. Frankly, once I'd got to know him a bit, it didn't seem worth it. To emphasise, he seems incredibly grateful that people are interested in his work and for the opportunities this affords him. But success? Or status? Or even a career? These don't seem to be ideas he wants to engage with.
Styled in what an interior designer might call "industrial chic," the ground floor of Het HEM has an open-plan restaurant, which is where Jaar and I first met. We headed back in the direction I'd come in, past an enormous, earth-caked tree stump centred in an exhibition, and ascended a set of metal stairs to a sort of makeshift living quarters and music studio. I'd noticed Jaar's willingness to connect with me during the walk, but once we sat down together it initially fazed me. He seemed zen-calm and open, his eyes wide. I was scattered and flustered.
We soon came onto big picture stuff. He spoke generally about the residency and his recent projects ("It's all music!" he emphasised); explained that he'd spent the past few years focussed as intensely as possible on writing music; and said that in some senses he'd left behind the usual apparatus of an electronic music career. The first entry in the news section on his website
, dated April 4th, 2018, under the heading "Representation," reads: "Nicolás is no longer represented by WME, Windish, Geist or We Are Free. For all further requests, please email...," followed by a general inquiries address.
This might be thought of in a couple different ways. There's of course the practical aspect. Jaar isn't touring so doesn't need management and a booking agent. But there's also something more ideological in play. In short, subscribing to what might be called a standardised system may not lead to decisions and directions he's most fulfilled by. "I really can't give a prescriptive argument here," he'd tell me a few months later. "It's a very unique, privileged position that I'm in to be able to say, you know what, I want to make these records, I want to make music. I care more about making music than about playing shows right now. So I'm going to make this my priority and I'm going to form my life around that."
The demonstration Jaar gave me of how he currently makes music showed an artist who's living out this idea. I'd asked if I could watch him begin a track at some point during our two days together, and the suggestion seemed so enticing to him that he got started right away. First, he showed me some of the custom-built instruments he'd been working with, rectangular wooden boxes of varying designs that produce the otherworldly sounds heard on his recent albums 2017 – 2019
. The latent magic of these boxes, he explained, was in the sampling and processing of their sound. Setting up a mic, he plucked the rubber "strings" of an instrument and, once recorded, we settled at a desk with his laptop open.
For the next 40 minutes, Jaar manipulated Ableton in a way that could be described as both crude and brilliant. The whole session went down on his laptop in a maniacal blur. With a focused smirk, he bent his original recording into unplaceable shapes but always seemed conscious of exploring its tonal opposite. Pulling up the software synth Absynth 5, he created a patch that went splat!
. "We're in D, somehow," he muttered. I went to engage him, asking what he was trying to capture. "Dunno," he replied, from the depths of a junkie-like trance. The piece wound up seeming vaguely like dancehall in places but was mostly its own entity. Jaar made the point that my presence in the room indelibly influenced its sound.
A few months later, I tried to define what I saw that day by saying, "There's a sound... and it's generated in that moment... and..."—"That's it!" Jaar cried. "Period. That's it. Nothing else. There's no period in that sentence, actually. Ideally that is all there is. Of course it's very difficult to do that, and my own judgment of myself, other people's voices in my head often come into play. Sadly. I work so that doesn't happen. But that's a player that is there, and it has its own say and its own agenda. We all have to make concessions and balances. There is an equilibrium between these different forces that are at play, I think."
In a roundabout way, the ideas of systems influencing outcomes (which shaped his decision to leave representation), and the chemistry between two people in the moment (when I watched him make a track) shaped my time with Jaar in December. In the past, interviewers have noted how he appears somehow guarded, and that he can take a remarkable length of time to answer questions. I didn't bring this up with him directly, but Jaar made the point that once I started my recording device, a natural conversation between two people would become something else entirely. Suddenly he's speaking to a large, unseen audience, and what he says right now is essentially inked in time. On top of that, all of our person-to-person context—our emotions, expressions, our relationship—is lost.
"That's what makes profiling the prominent person the most difficult, because they are so aware of the way that every gesture and movement of theirs… and every sentence that they utter will be read on the page," the New Yorker
staff writer Jiayang Fan told The Ringer
a couple weeks ago. "And that can make for a very unnatural interaction."
Jaar and I eventually agreed to spend the next two days together off-the-record, and we framed it as "improvisation." We'd figure out a formal interview, in some form, at a later time.
"I've been quarantined for a month. And that's about it."
Since I'd said goodbye to him in a taxi back in December, Jaar had, among other things, finished up the residency at Het HEM, spent time in Chile, released a mix, an EP and two albums, with a further project on the way. This isn't, of course, where we began our interview on Zoom in early April, our hand now forced by the situation into this means of communication. I asked him which aspect of the pandemic had most been occupying his thoughts. "Overall, I've been thinking a lot about how this is showing the lack of infrastructure that is available in most 'rich, developed' countries, he said, quote-unquoting. "That the welfare of the people is not the number one priority for so many of these 'developed' countries. It's showing all the weak links of the system. It's already on the brink of collapse."
Jaar brought up the Irish government's decision to nationalise the country's healthcare system. "It's just a rational effort that shows empathy for the welfare of the Irish people. They're putting life before money. What a thought, right? To put life before money. For some reason that's not the rationality of a country like the US where the hospitals are for-profit. Imagine even the thought of a hospital being for-profit. Just the thought of an entire society dealing with a system that is for-profit. This is people putting money before life. They're putting death before life."
Jaar paused many times during our conversation. Here, though, I got the sense he was trying to respect the gravitas of the situation. We'd spent a significant chunk of our time in Holland discussing politics and connected topics. His style of engagement came off as both cerebral and visceral, or put another way, the many injustices of the world seem to greatly affect him. When we spoke on Zoom, as he considered subjects like the US Senate's economic relief bill and its bailout of corporate America, the capitalist system more generally, and the possible effects of the pandemic in impoverished countries, he had to sometimes modify his language or gather himself—perhaps better to avoid anger gripping him too tightly. Cenizas
had been out in the world for five days. "I debated whether or not I wanted to put out any of the music this year," Jaar told me. "Because the last thing I want to do is do a post like, 'Hey listen to me. Look at this thing.' Ugh, what absurdity. What a clown. You're really going to try to get people to listen to something right now? Are you serious? Half of me is thinking that." Friends around him reasoned that yes, some people may think that. But others would welcome the record or might even find it helpful. I suggested that this must be something he's able to feel, at least in part, on an emotional level.
"I've been getting some of the most beautiful emails I've ever received in my life," he said. "I've been very moved. I've been very, very moved... I don't know if it's because of the situation or because the album is very mournful and very sad and has a lot of pain inside and people can feel that—I don't know what it is." Around 9,000 people simultaneously heard Cenizas
when Jaar hosted a public listening session on Twitch, a situation he said he couldn't have even considered in his "wildest dreams."
On reflection, I'm not sure about the review
I wrote of Cenizas
. A short time after it was published and I'd interviewed him, I noticed Jaar had written a note about the album on his website. It gave me the feeling that, despite spending all that time with him, I'd missed some of record's emotional resonances.
In the note, Jaar explained that a few years ago he'd quit alcohol, caffeine, smoking and meat, which came from "a desire to feel everything." He went into isolation (before it was government mandated) and focussed exclusively on writing music. "I didn't want to work from ambition," the note said. "Where I would work to impress first, and love second. I wanted presence first." He talked about a desire not to channel "negative shards" within him by putting them, through music, back into the world. But the more he tried to escape negativity, the more it revealed itself in the music. The existential wrestle Jaar describes here, manifested in 13 aching pieces of ambient, experimental, jazz, minimal electronics and modern classical, is right there in the record.
The release of the two albums and the third project, which he wanted to keep under wraps for now, could have turned out pretty differently. Originally Cenizas
, the Against All Logic LP 2017 – 2019
and the forthcoming project were, in a highly unusual move, all set to come out simultaneously in January. Jaar's thinking was that, despite how possibly counterintuitive this was, they were so closely linked that it made sense to present them together. Sirens
, the last album he'd released under his own name, was in a sense part of triptych, across 2015 and 2016, that included the singles collection Nymphs
, the alternative soundtrack he recorded for Sergei Parajanov's film The Colour Of Pomegranates
(tonally, it was perhaps the closest thing to Cenizas
in his catalogue). However, a combination of factors that included a major delay in mastering and "a lot of crazy things" that were happening in Chile meant alternative plans were made. Jaar also said that he cared so much about Cenizas
that he wanted it to have its own moment.
"The Against All Logic project has allowed me to make Cenizas
," he said. "You get rid of anger and then you can mourn. And then after mourning, you can do what Telas
does, which when you listen to it you'll understand. It's a process." 2017 – 2019
was both a shocking and exhilarating change of pace. It followed up the mainly warm and soulful Against All Logic album 2012 – 2017
with an often brutal barrage of mangled club tracks, ticking off house, techno, electro and footwork. "Nicolas Jaar has rarely sounded as combative—or inspired—as he is on this club-focused LP," read the review introduction on RA
Jaar described the album to me as "the fire that burned" and agreed that if it'd been scheduled to come out when Cenizas
did, in late March, it just wouldn't have been appropriate to release it. "I realized also that I needed to get Against All Logic out of the way as soon as possible," he said. "In many ways it was the simplest music to get into and get out of. So it was the quickest thing, in a sense. I wanted to complicate things as we went along."
There were echoes of 2017 – 2019
's tone and its artwork, a photo of a military man on the phone, in Jaar's exhibition Incomprehensible Sun
, which he made with help from Pantxo Bertin. It took place in a long, dark tunnel that, in Het HEM's days as a munitions factory, was used as a shooting range to test weapons. "All I want to say is that the piece is in a 200-metre-long tunnel and it's about dust," Jaar told me as I descended the stairs.
I entered the installation around the halfway point of the tunnel. Dazzling, animated shards of light were projected along its length. The air was that of a cave or cellar. Sonically, the piece was mostly based on engulfing drones and percussive tones, and lurched through varying moods—some ominous, some more soothing. The tunnel was periodically plunged into total, disorientating darkness, only for the light to flick on and, in my experience, bring with it the silhouettes of new people in the tunnel. I'll most remember those 40 minutes for the sensation of dust on the back of my teeth, and the realisation that this could be fragments of bullets and people. Jaar later said that he'd spent two weeks, nine hours a day, down here ("super weird") working on the music, so as not to write from an imagined conception of the space.
As impressive as the piece was, I found the scene around the door, before you entered the exhibition, just as affecting. Wil Spier, a genial woman perhaps in her late 50s, who was one of the mediators, introduced the exhibition to people and engaged with them afterwards. She said that "no one ever leaves and says the same thing," as in, they each had different experiences. "They came in like this
, and they left like this
," she said.
Jaar had been excited to introduce me to her, and was extremely interested in how people had been finding the installation. I was struck by the idea that the space, which was once essentially an accessory to death, had been temporarily transformed into a place of human connection. This also seemed to reveal something about Jaar. He fits the mould of the intense artist and academic (his father is the conceptual artist Alfredo Jaar, whose famed work "A Logo for America" was shown on the cover of Sirens
). But he seems to value empathy and relationships as much as theories and ideas.
Jaar told me that an advantage of essentially representing himself is that he works with people directly and forms closer bonds. Looking over the list of projects on his website, it's likely he's made quite a few new friends in recent years. His residencies, improvised performances, installations and collaborations have taken him to the Middle East, Australia, Central America and all over Europe. (Jaar is Chilean-American, grew up mostly in New York but with a seven-year stint in Chile and a year in Berlin, and has spent periods in various cities during his adult life.) "I didn't look for most of these projects," he said. "I was lucky they came to me and I was really lucky to have the time to be able to say yes to them."
"For his residency at the Dar Yusuf Nasri Jacir for Art and Research, Nicolás transformed Dar Jacir's storage space into a sound studio for the creation of site specific sound pieces," reads the description of his July, 2019 residency in Bethlehem. "Throughout his two weeks in the space, Nicolás met with musicians from Bethlehem, Ramallah and Haifa and also had sound workshops with kids from Aida and Dheisheh refugee camps. These sound workshops introduced children to the practice of music and sound's creation, experimenting with instruments and tools available in the new studio."
I—like, I guess, many others—wasn't aware of this residency at the time. Plenty of what Jaar does seems to have this quality: never shouting, there to be discovered. His record label, Other People, got started in 2013 with the quietly innovative idea of digitally delivering subscribers weekly content on a Sunday, magazine-style. In 2016 this transitioned into a vast online radio network where users could browse stations by typing in numbers between 0 and 333.
Over email, I asked Jaar about his vision for Other People. He simply pointed me to a mix
he recorded two years ago using material from the label, I assume partly to avoid appearing like an impresario figure. The mix begins with Lucrecia Dalt's "Esotro," a slow and smoky experimental pop song; spends the next 20 minutes revelling in fractured ambience; moves through dubby house music; and lets loose in the final 15 minutes, with stylistic leaps across tracks by Vtgnike (sorta footwork), Against All Logic (poignant house), Lydia Lunch (distorted fight music) and Soul Keita (colourful downtempo). My take on Other People is that it's a place for Jaar to continue working with frequent collaborators, like Patrick Higgins, Will Epstein and Dave Harrington, offer a platform to emerging artists he's excited by, and is also an opportunity to connect with longstanding artists he respects, like Lydia Lunch, DJ Slugo and Ezekiel Honig. Musically, words like probing, murky and reflective come to mind.
In the video
for "home with you," a track of gripping tension and release that Jaar partly produced, FKA twigs winds her way upstairs from a basement, the exaggerated, rose-like fabric of her futurist outfit almost brushing the wall, steps out onto a darkened Stoke Newington Road in London, and gets into a metallic yellow convertible along with a similarly dressed crew of people. As she puts the car into gear, her voice swells and is toasted by distortion, an aesthetic reminiscent of Jaar's recent albums. In an interview with Pitchfork
last year, twigs, who produces the majority of her own music, talked about the sensitivity Jaar showed towards the public perception of their creative process, saying he offered to remove his name from the credits. "He felt that his name on stuff wouldn't highlight how much I've done, especially as a female producer," she said. "When he said that to me, I cried."
Jaar, who wound up playing a prominent production role on seven of MAGDALENE
's tracks, worked with twigs over multiple sessions and locations. He'd actually never recorded in a professional studio, aside from some limited time connected to the Darkside LP, but described the experience as "fun."
of people made things for this album," he said, referring to an extended cast of producers that included Hudson Mohawke, Koreless, Benny Blanco, Skrillex and Oneohtrix Point Never, "so putting it all together was kinda crazy. There were days that I would work on something for the entire day and nothing would come out of it. This happens all the time when I'm making stuff alone, but having that happen in front of someone else is difficult and was new for me. I love producing for other people, it's much more complex than just making music, it's a psychological process, a loving process. It's also a mirror, seeing the unique way someone else writes a song helps you understand your own ways. I learned so much from her and the entire process. I'm very grateful to have been a part of it."
In the late 19th century, the Dutch military planted a small forest on a plot of clay-rich land in Hembrug, roughly 10 kilometres from central Amsterdam. What came to be known as the Schokbos, or Shock Forest, was used to test explosives. For reasons that aren't entirely clear, in the 1960s the forest was home to Europe's largest heron population, although the graceful, long-necked residents didn't stick around for too long. A decade later, the heron numbers had decreased dramatically.
When Jaar brought together a group of 12 researchers, with backgrounds in, among other fields, sound, linguistics, architecture and genetics, they set about investigating Hembrug's chequered history and the role of the former munitions factory, their current place of work, as a support artery of Dutch colonialism. The Shock Forest Group defined their process as an experimental research project—more like free jazz than classical music, to borrow their description—which eventually presented its findings in different exhibition pieces dotted through Het HEM.
In the introductory paper visitors could pick up at Het HEM, there was a striking passage of text in the section on the Shock Forest Group. While working in—or for?—this new cultural centre, the group appeared interested in questioning its existence: "In about three years [Het HEM] will close for an extensive renovation including the construction of a hotel on top of the old building… Art is often placed in this role, as the interim between war and commerce. Het HEM is no exception. Is the aim of culture here simply to add value to the real estate property and to help gentrify the area?"
In interviews around the time of his 2016 album Sirens
, Jaar spoke of a gradual process of looking outwards instead of inwards, towards political and social themes. The previous year he'd been teaching at Boston's Berklee College Of Music, where, as he explained
to The Guardian
, he posed questions to his classes such as, "Can—or should—electronic music be political? Can we protest through instrumental music, for example? And how would you do that?"
"Every single song is about very specific places, a very specific arrangement of events," Jaar told me of Sirens
. "The song 'No' is about the '88 referendum in Chile. The song 'Killing Time' is about a kid who brought a clock to school, and because he was Arab they thought it was a bomb. The song 'Three Sides Of Nazareth' is about the Blue Line between Beirut and Israel." "No" is a strong example of how he tended to render these themes. It's a six-and-a-half minute song, in Spanish, that features the inviting, melody-led mood that drew so many people to Space Is Only Noise
, his breakthrough album. But at the same time, Jaar is at root dealing with the subject of General Augusto Pinochet, the brutal dictator who led Chile for almost 20 years; the track has patches of odd, freeform electronics before pulling itself back into a more traditional shape.
Rewind 12 years to "The Student," the first track on Jaar's first release, and you'll find traces of this sonic sensibility. It's telling that his introduction, on one of hottest dance labels of the time, Wolf + Lamb, was a low-key adventure in enigmatic percussion and piano, like Ricardo Villalobos, one of his principle influences, without the steady kick drum. Jaar's big dance floor tracks from the early days, the ones that now have streams in the tens of millions, always featured some nonstandard sound or decision. On "Time For Us," it was a pitched-down vocal treatment, a mosquito synth and an arrangement that ground to a halt. On "Mi Mujer," it was the spidery synths and percussion. On "El Bandido," the background voices and liquid-like atmospherics. In one way or another, Jaar's spirit of pushing, prodding and exploring has been a defining characteristic.
"I've been wanting these sounds for so long," Jaar told me as we sat at his desk in December. He’d become fascinated by the possibilities of the custom-built instruments he was working with. In particular, he loved the idea of creating sounds that can't be traced to a time, place or culture. For instance, how would you would describe the start of 2017 – 2019
, the chaotic blast we get on "Fantasy" before the Beyoncé and Sean Paul sample shows up?
In some ways linked to this idea of ambiguous sound was the exhibition Retaining The Energy, But Losing The Image—made in collaboration with Vincent de Belleval and developed by Pantxo Bertin and Adam Paikowsky—which Jaar introduced me to at Het HEM by saying, "Upstairs is a soundsystem. That's all I'll say for now." In a vast, columned room with tall windows overlooking the canal, Jaar and de Belleval had arranged ten parabolas, rotating concave rectangles that captured sound and light. The parabolas are in constant dialogue with each other, emitting hallucinatory audio images in a sort of ongoing process of call and response. On a basic level, the mind is tantalisingly occupied with trying to identify the sounds' sources. If you get the chance, a break from the usual auditory experience is something I'd recommend.
I eventually joined Jaar at the back of the room. A young woman cautiously approached us and told Jaar that she loved Space Is Only Noise
and the exhibition in the tunnel downstairs. He thanked her warmly, as though he was used to this sort of thing but meant what he said. He explained to me that he considered the parabolas to be a performance tool (he'd already given several concerts with them at that point) and that the crucial aspect here was the listener being unable to place sounds in a space. "Freedom for the mind," was how he described it.
On the edge of the desert in Sharjah, the third largest city in the United Arab Emirates, Jaar gave a performance back in November in which he simply intended to play a single bass note with three or four sine waves, transmitted by speakers buried underground. He would allow the waves to drift from their central pitch, so as to create a beating effect. Across 45 minutes, he just had to press ten buttons. But he got nervous. About 25 minutes in, he'd lost the thread of what he was doing and began to overcompensate. He eventually stopped the show early and apologised to the audience, suggesting that they listen to the desert instead.
The next day, he attended a workshop with Abdullah Ibrahim, the South African composer and pianist (Jaar described him as a "great master" and said he's been listening to Ibrahim since he was nine). "One of the first things he said was how hard it is to just play one note," Jaar told me. "When you just play one note, it's not about technical skill or anything like that; it's about disappearing enough so that you become a mirror of the beauty that is already latent in the air.
"My favourite shows are those where the artist directs attention to the collective moment," he continued, "to the polyphony already implicit in the act of getting together, breathing together, sharing time and space. In the past couple of years, Holly Herndon has demonstrated this beautifully in her shows. You can still feel that when you go to The Loft in New York. I felt that at The Marcy," he said, referring to the "hotel" where the Wolf + Lamb crew used to throw parties, and where Jaar first started playing live.
More than half of the shows he's done in the past two years have been fully improvised. Basically: an empty Ableton project and an audience. "In the blank space of uncertainty," Jaar said, "you realize there's no such thing as a blank file: the people who are in the room, the sound of the space, the history of the building, the time of day, the position of the moon, all already contribute to the music before you even play a note. But for the present to emerge, you have to make space for it. If the present is already cluttered with preconceived notions then there's little room for anything else."
Jaar seems to believe that in order to present himself to the world he should, in a sense, aspire to remove himself from the world. We spoke a lot about paradoxes. How in the time of COVID-19, music and culture have never felt more superfluous or more vital. Or how the idea of focussing on spiritual growth during the pandemic is both absolutely necessary and absolutely absurd "when considering the anguish that the cracks in the system have created for the most vulnerable and the most poor around the world." Jaar said the people who likely won't be listened to right now are the exact people we should be listening to: marginalised communities, sexual minorities, indigenous peoples. "A lot of people now are having to face a reality they don't want to face," he said. "That's the basis of someone who has to deal with racism every day."
"We can learn a lot from indigenous struggles all over the world, from black theorists, from queer and feminist movements. There are people who have been thinking about this who can soundtrack and guide within this crisis. These texts have been written."
On a long table near the restaurant in Het HEM, I joined Jaar and members of the Shock Forest Group for lunch. As I eavesdropped, they explored various ideas, ongoing situations and upcoming events, the conversations oscillating between dense and frothy. "Things change over the years," Jaar later reflected over email. "Recently, I found great collective joy in the hours spent with the research group in Zaandam. I hope to continue doing collective work. Where there's not a single voice, nothing is mono, it's all difficult, entangled, interpersonal, political work. I think to me right now that is the most relevant kind of work because it echoes the kind of work we need to be doing out there. Out in the world."
Early on my final morning in Zaandam, Jaar met me at my hotel, insisting we could spend the remaining hours together before I flew home. He was hosting a gathering later that day, and wanted to go shopping. We walked north along an indistinct main road towards the district's centre, a nexus of commerce and canals, as we talked about his current listening habits and grappled with theology. Our conversation broke off as we entered a general store. "Hi," he said, smiling to the young woman who worked there. "Do you have any paper plates?" She showed him to the aisle, he paid, and we left the store. "Now, where were we…?" he said.