Name: Nur Jaber
Occupation: DJ, producer
Current release: Awakened Whisperer is out now on Nur Jaber's own label If Only.
Recommendations: The Doors - The End’; From Within (Pete Namlook & Richie Hawtin) - A Million Miles to Earth
If you enjoyed this interview with Nur Jaber and would ike to find out more about her, visit her on facebook or soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing lyrics and piano pieces at the age of 14. It felt like being just a chaotic teenager letting her feelings out.
I first started getting interested in electronic music during university years and took a few Ableton lessons with a guy called Moe who owns a nice music shop/recording studio called ‘per-vurt’ in Beirut (I always was curious as to why he called the shop that name haha). He was a really excited and genuine instructor and helped me continue to realise my love for electronic music.
It wasn’t until I moved to Berlin the 2nd time, in 2014, when I started really producing electronic music and finished my first track. My early passions and influences where Black Sabbath, The Doors, Megadeth, Drumtheater (their whole song-performance concept was crazy). Steve Gadd was one of my top influences when I was learning drums back then, and Max Roach too. Way before all this there were Beethoven & Bach. After the metal, rock&jazz phase, came the trance phase with my biggest influences being Above&Beyond. Then the electronic phase came in, where I would watch Monica Kruse, Seth Troxler, Richie Hawtin and Magda from my bedroom on youtube playing shows from Timewarp. I remember my eyes would light up everytime I would see them playing in front of this massive beautiful crowd.
Writing this now makes me realise what a musical journey I’ve been through, with all these diverse genres and phases. But one thing is in common with all and it’s the expression of the language of emotion through sound - this is what drew me to music. The ability for a creator to translate the universal language of emotion through sound, is really attractive to me.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I honestly never really used previous tracks or pieces to inspire my own. In the beginning I had some difficulty in producing techno, so when I would sit with other producer friends and ask them ‘what’s the secret’, they would mention that it’s easy to learn from other tracks by following their arrangements and ideas so that the process can get easier and more familiar. Every 8 bars comes something new, the melody goes here, etc. I tried that for a week and it helped a little, but I realised focusing too much on this imitation-technical side, you block the natural flow of writing and the music then becomes too mechanical, boring and just not me. So I stopped then and there.
I like imperfections, I like conversations between me and the machine and the elements of the track, even if the hihat is not perfect or not exactly where it’s ‘supposed’ to be. As long as it feels right to me that’s all that matters. I definitely watched a lot of Ableton tutorials on youtube, that helped a lot with my progress. Tutorials are a great way to learn and delve deeper. For me personally, the only relationship between copying and your own creation is finding out what kind of artist you want to be, and in my case it was to not get influenced by other peoples' tracks because it could block your own voice.
There is a strong relationship between learning & your own creations though; Learning about some technicalities does help in opening up your communication through sound; knowing what chord induces sad emotions, knowing about rhythms, when to place a certain effect or melody which can really reach the listener, how to create more ‘tension’ etc.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The technical side was my main challenge when writing techno music. It can still sometimes be tough but I’m getting there! The more I produce, the more tutorials I watch and the more I learn from fellow techno producers, the stronger I get. I don’t face any challenges when writing classical/ambient music though, it comes out so naturally for me. I can write 50 songs in a short period of time with classical, but when it comes to techno music it can take me up to 2/3 months to actually almost finish a track! This is really strange to me haha a mystery yet to be solved :)
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first studio was in my tiny room in Dresdener Strasse in Berlin. Just my laptop, a cheap Yamaha soundcard, a mic and a Miditech I2 control 37 and some speakers.
Over the years my favourite and most important machine, the Nord Lead 4, was added to the family. Of course I changed the soundcard and speakers plus got a Roland TB03 & TR-09 and Korg Elektribe SX. I had the Moog Sub37 for a year or so but unfortunately had to give it back. It was one of my favourites too but I will definitely get one again. The flat I moved into 2 years ago happened to have a classical piano, which is my favourite instrument. I can’t wait to add a proper piano to my studio set up.
My dream is to be in a small room with proper sound acoustics and me surrounded with lots and lotsss of pianos. Imagine what sounds could come to life then! The set up evolved as I learnt more and got deeper into music production and deeper into how I want to express myself through music.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I’m definitely not a technology nerd. I think humans excel at ideas and the creative process, humans are the ‘medium’, whereas machines are the tools used to transmit the message of sound from the medium into the world.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I think it’s the same as I answered above here. I’m where the ideas and creative process starts; I’m the medium receiving the ideas of a melody in a song from an outside realm, and the instruments are the tools I work closely with to transmit this message out into the physical world through sound.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Collaborations are an integral part in my journey. Jamming with vocalists and other musicians is one of my favourite things to do as it brings out a certain moment between 2 or 3 people into life, and a story is written. Sometimes you meet people that you just know there is a connection there and that there is a seed that is waiting to be planted.
I also love learning from other producers and watching how they use certain instruments and certain functionalities that I may not have been aware of. Also sharing ideas inspires me and opens up a lot of my creative process.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I am an early riser, I like to rise with the sun. Without a morning routine and a goal to focus on, I feel empty. Here in Berlin the sun rises at 6:50am right now, so I get up then and straight away sit on my mat for breathing exercises and a 30 min yoga session. Then I journal for a bit and set out the focuses for the day; my goals and tasks to be achieved. After breakfast and a shower, I take a walk and grab a coffee.
By 8.30am I am at my studio desk and working. I take a lunch break and then a nap, and then work away again and maybe squeeze in a workout before dinner. This is my favourite flow of music-life balance, if I get 8/9 hours of creative work 4 or 5 times a week, I am really happy and fulfilled. I also realise now more than ever that with every successful day there should be a bit of play or else you reach into body-mental exhaustion. I’ve learnt it the hard way :)
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
The ‘A State of Peace’ LP came to life in an interesting way.
I was first writing a techno album and one night after a long studio session I couldn’t sleep. It all felt wrong and unnatural to me. I remember getting out of bed and opening my music journal. I drew a sun and a few other figures and wrote the words ‘A State of Peace’ - I started looking back at my old ‘Berklee College of Music’ drum patterns’ notes and some old lyrics and decided then and there to just let everything flow and use everything I’ve learned from back then, to stop forcing the ‘techno’ to come out.
Every early morning for 3 months I would rise up and write down every single piano melody I had in my head. It all started with the piano pieces and then evolved into the drums patterns with the Roland TR09. I really felt connected to this album as I was in a state that was foreign to me, a state that was more peaceful - like a turning point from all the anger I had stored in me from growing up in Lebanon’s unstable political state.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
That’s a bit tricky. I am starting to believe that over-creating and spending too much time in the studio, day after day, can actually block the creative flow, making it more stagnant. I think taking breaks and self care days help this flow stay in motion; taking long forest walks and being completely still in the silence of nature can help recenter your mind, body, heart and even ears.
A major distraction is social media I would say. You need to place yourself in a tight bubble of total focus by shutting your phone off at least in the morning hours of your creative flow (if you're a night owl, then turn off the phone at night). We receive too many beeps and clicks, and information every single second, and during that second span the most creative ideas could come out. When you feel stuck with a track, just close it up and let it go. Come back to it a week after and maybe even months after. I’ve made some of my favourite tracks that were created months before and left alone.
The reason why I said it’s tricky at the beginning of my answer is because sometimes the best creative flow comes when you are sad or in a chaotic emotional state. So the flow can come to you at any moment just not at a moment when you’re forcing it.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
Playing live & testing different tracks and how people react to certain moments in the track definitely plays a role in production time back at the studio. You tend to be more aware of what kind of effects & elements gets the dancers going and you start to use them when writing tracks. In my opinion the dancefloor is the best teacher and most hands on experience ever. This is also how I learnt from other people’s tracks, by seeing them speaking live on the dancefloor. Also testing my own tracks on a dancefloor allows me to see what needs to be added, changed and made better. Sometimes new ideas come into place during certain gigs that can absolutely inspire creativity in the studio.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
Different types of melodies help convey different emotions, chromatic melodies or melodies with minor scale often convey darker emotions, where as major chords convey the opposite. Knowing the different elements of sound and how one note can either promote dark or happy emotions will allow you to understand a piece of music and to set out the tone of your own composition. It’s quite delicate.
But I honestly don’t really think about this much in detail and don’t plan what I’m about to write and in which scale I’m about to star. It all just comes out naturally and often on the minor scale side.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
The most beautiful sensation is when you hear that one song that instantly strikes through your whole body, creating goosebumps, visions, and a sense of being teleported somewhere beyond here. The ability for a song to bring all this at once into play is something magical.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
To me Art is a form of a past or present expression and/or a message from the creator that wants to come out into the physical word. The creator’s purpose is to bring out that message because others want to or need to hear it to help in their own growth process, and that’s how it is for me.
Sometimes the creator has to live with certain heavy and dark emotions and experiences because they’re the inducers in disguise to the message-releasing process through art.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
During the lockdown back in March 2020 I was sitting outside in a corner drinking a cup of coffee. The silence was really present and breathing so heavily, that I was almost hearing a symphony in my head. I was able to really listen for the first time and had a vision of how a musical piece can come into play by just the sounds of the universe.