Nicolas Jaar’s new album Sirens is an experimental masterpiece, pushing the limits of conventional online streaming.
Jaar is streaming the album in full on his website, and after swathes of recent releases on user-unfriendly platforms like Tidal and Apple Music, his method is ultimately refreshing. Less website, more ambitious online project, The Other People Network is a piece of interactive art. In the centre of the webpage, a message invites the browser to ‘Please enter a random number between 0-333’. Elsewhere on the ‘home’ page are unlabelled symbols which stack other images on top of the basic page, which is dotted with white star-like flecks, with the network name scrolling in huge letters across the bottom of the screen, and the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ floating beside it, a visual weird enough to match his music.
On 332 of The Network’s channels is radio static, white noise as if from outer space with occasional voices being heard (perhaps the titular ‘other people’?), and the names of other random tracks and artists. Entering number 333 takes you to a different page within The Network, where Sirens is available to listen to in full. The channel number and album name scroll continuously along the top of the screen, with Jaar’s lyrics listed in a huge scrollable block of text boxed in the middle of the page.
One interesting thing about the playback is the lack of track names, and the inability to choose to skip through the tracks. Once the visitor to the page presses play, the music cannot be paused or stopped or even restarted without leaving the webpage.
Though the lyrics are roughly split into what we can assume are different tracks, it’s almost impossible to tell where these breaks fall in the music. With no track names, the listener is taken on an ambient trip through Jaar’s creation. It’s easy to get lost in the alien pulses and sounds which individually sound like computer glitches, breaking glass, or the static on channels 1-332, but together with Jaar’s winding thoughtful vocals create a nuanced and layered musical experience. The music is fragmented at times, the different elements continually falling apart and reconstituting themselves in different forms within and between each track.
In fact, the way Jaar invites us to listen to Sirens is not track-by-track like a conventional album, neatly sectioned into different songs, but as a holistic experience, more geared at taking the listener on a journey. Sirens subverts commercial norms that restrict so much of the industry and is a fresh look at how we listen to music, it’s also pretty good.