‘Godfather’ of electronic music Jean-Michel Jarre celebrates 50 years of maki…

The music of Jean-Michel Jarre has always sounded like it’s from the future. And that’s somewhere the “godfather” of electronic music, 75, feels extremely comfortable. Despite some incredible achievements under his belt, the classically trained French composer, performer and producer prefers looking forwards, both for himself and for music.

Since his career began back in the late 1960s, he has sold more than 90 million mainly instrumental records and scooped 40-plus awards, including France’s highest possible accolade, Commander of the Legion of Honour.

His passion for breaking musical boundaries, both in composition and performance, has earned him three Guinness World Records, including largest ever outdoor audience for his 1997 Moscow concert which drew a staggering 3.5 million spectators. And he’s still making records: his latest, Oxymoreworks, featuring Brian Eno, Armin van Buuren and Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore, is released today.

And, he tells the Daily Express, he has plans to put on another spectacular live event somewhere in Europe next year.

Born in Lyon to Jewish French Resistance fighter Francette – who escaped three Nazi concentration camps – and film score composer father Maurice Jarre (winner of three Academy Awards for Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and A Passage to India), Jarre retains the same optimistic outlook today for what music can bring to the world.

He also possesses much the same joie de vivre and Gallic good looks as when his first album, Deserted Palace, was released back in the early 1970s.

Speaking to him at home in his central Paris apartment (whose former owners include Marlene Dietrich and Henri Matisse), I can’t resist telling him his global breakout hit Oxygene, composed and recorded in his kitchen back in 1976, was the first piece of music to affect me emotionally when I heard it, aged six, at the London Planetarium.

This now legendary record was turned down by countless record companies before finally being accepted by Francis Dreyfus’s Disques Motors label. Dreyfus agreed to press 50,000 copies; it went on to sell 18 million.

READ MORE: ‘It sounds haunting yet beautiful’: Fans emotional over The Beatles Now and Then

When I describe how the album’s hit single, Oxygene (Part IV), was used as an auditory backdrop to the mesmerising show of stars and planets swirling above me almost 50 years ago, Jarre smiles: “My music has always been linked to space, yes – but not, for me, to outer space, but to the environment and the space around us.

“And that is also the reason I decided, long ago, to play at these big outdoor ­ venues – like the pyramids, the Sahara desert, Houston, China and the London Docklands.”

In 1981, Jarre made world history by becoming the first western musician ever to play a concert in communist China.

Seven years later, his Destination Docklands concerts saw him perform hits such as Equinoxe, Revolutions and London Kid, with space-age instruments such as a laser harp, to more than 200,000 people from a barge in the River Thames.

Given the futuristic aspects of his music, I ask him whether space and science fiction have always been of interest to him.

“Oh yes! I was very close to sci-fi writer Arthur C Clarke. I’d been inspired, like many others, by 2001: A Space Odyssey – both the movie and the book – and when the sequel came out, 2010: Odyssey Two, I was in London. I went straight to a bookstore and bought it, and when I read inside I was amazed to see my name acknowledged: he’d written the book while listening to my music. We started a kind of correspondence and became quite close.

“He had a perfect mind between science and art. You know in Europe especially we have the tendency to separate culture and technology, and sci-fi writers such as Clarke link the two in an artistic way, and that’s been a major source of influence.”

Jarre also formed a friendship with the cosmologist Stephen Hawking, even dedicating an album, Chronologie, to him.

When Hawking was asked by the French musician – married to Chinese actress Gong Li and previously wed to British screen star Charlotte Rampling – “what is the most mysterious thing in the universe”, the physicist is said to have replied “women”.

Yet before all the fame, success and headline-grabbing concerts, what were Jarre’s own first musical memories? “My mother was friends with another woman from the French Resistance called Madame Ricard who owned the most famous jazz club in Paris,” he recalls.

  • Advert-free experience without interruptions.
  • Rocket-fast speedy loading pages.
  • Exclusive & Unlimited access to all our content.

“It was called Le Chat Qui Pêche (The Cat Who Fishes) and my mum used to go to this place, with me, every other weekend.

“Whilst she was talking with her friends at the bar, I would go downstairs and spend my afternoons with people playing what was to me, as a seven-year-old, a very strange kind of music: jazz. I was fascinated.

“These people were the most modern, influential jazz musicians such as Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, John Coltrane and Chet Baker. I have this fantastic memory of my ninth birthday: Chet Baker sat me down and played for me.

“Every time I think about this, I can still feel the air blowing on my chest from his trumpet. That was my first feeling, as a child, of the power of sound. The fact that sound is made of air molecules which create waves that transmit sound from the instruments into your ears, and that is something that changed my life.”

Later, Jarre’s mother arranged for him to study harmony and counterpoint at the Paris Conservatory where he began playing guitar in a rock band, The Dustbins. They played at nightclubs, appeared in a 1967 film Des Garçons et des Filles and, the following year, released a single.

It was around this time that he started experimenting with the tape loops and sound manipulations which were to form the basis of his work at the electro-acoustic music studio Groupe de Recherches Musicales under Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry.

These two composers helped pioneer the genre of “musique concrete” which used sounds recorded from nature and the built environment to create a new, raw-sounding kind of music. Similar to how musicians use sampling today, Schaeffer and Henry might record the buzzing of a bee or the revving of a car’s engine and make a piece of music out of it.

Combined with the avant-garde, ­synthesiser-based sounds being created by the likes of Karlheinz Stockhausen (who introduced Jarre to the Moog synthesiser) in Cologne, Germany, these different strands of experimentation led to the establishment of electronic music as we know it today.

He was also influenced by classical music and his best instrumental work has drawn comparisons to Bach and Mahler.

Jarre also acknowledges the role of British musical pioneers in the genre’s development.

“Electronic music comes from Europe. Henry and Schaeffer in France, Stockhausen in Germany. And including, of course, in England at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop,” he says.

“These guys, and girls, defined the music of the 21st century way back in the 1940s and 1950s. My last album Oxymore, and by extension this latest project Oxymoreworks, is a tribute to this very important period.”

Jarre’s own influence can be seen today in the works of artists from Moby and Air to Daft Punk and David Guetta.

Having helped make electronic music into one of the most popular genres in the world, listened to by more than 1.5 billion people, it would be easy for Jarre to sit back and enjoy the spoils of his success.

But that’s not his style.

Don’t miss…
Glastonbury 2024 set to be headlined by ‘really big’ artist[MUSIC]
Jenny Boyd: My life hanging out with (and marrying) rock royalty[BOOKS]
Monster mash-up by an 80s’ powerhouse: Duran Duran’s Danse Macabre[MUSIC]

In keeping with his “always looking to the future” attitude, he sold off his entire back catalogue last year to BMG, in what the German media giant said was the biggest single deal it had ever done in France.

“I’m not too much into nostalgia,” he laughs. “Nostalgia can be a trap. To distract you back to one moment of your life when you think that things were better than they are now, even if that’s not really the case.

“My driving force is curiosity. I’m always curious about the next thing, what is coming after the tape machine, after the synthesiser, rather than trying just to repeat myself.”

So, what is next, according to Jarre?

“The immersive world is going to be more and more part of our everyday lives.

“And it’s funny because with AI and the Metaverse, everyone is talking about visuals.

“It’s an irony because your vision field is 140 degrees but your audio field, your hearing, is 360.

“So for a human being the strongest way to feel a sense of immersion is through your ears, not your eyes. My last album Oxymore was the first album conceived from scratch in 360 degrees spatial audio.”

Spatial audio technology uses advanced mathematics to enable stereo headphones to behave like a multi-channel speaker system, where ­different sources of sound such as voices or instruments appear to be coming from all around your head.

Talking of technology and AI, I ask him if he feels confident about our future or whether he has any fears about the way the world is heading.

The album of Oxygene shows a partially destroyed skull floating over a desolated Earth. Based on a 1972 picture of the same name by French artist Michel Granger, it predicted the possibility of environmental catastrophe long before climate change was a household phrase.

“That’s an interesting point,” he replies. “You know, technology is neutral.

“It all depends on what we do with it as human beings. Take, for example, the ­discovery of fire: fire is dangerous but it’s also positive in lots of ways.

“The same with when we invented atomic fission – it created a lot of progress in ­science and medicine but we also created the atomic bomb with it.

“So it’s not a question of being optimistic or pessimistic but of being aware; how we can use technology to our advantage.”

His latest project involves him once again turning away from the past to help shape the future of both music and technology:

“I used to collect old American cars from the 50s but now I’m more into electric vehicles. In fact, I’ve had a partnership with Renault for the last two years to define what will be the future sound of electric cars.

“Because EVs are quiet, there are safety consequences for pedestrians so I’m helping design the sound these cars will make.”

When I point out the poetic irony of this, given his musique concrete roots, Jarre laughs.

“Yes, we used to steal the sound of cars to make music, and now we’re using music to create the sound of tomorrow’s cars!”

He adds with a chuckle: “Don’t worry, though, we’re not falling into the trap of giving them Star Wars sounds because, as we all know, a car is not a spaceship!”

At least not yet, anyway. But if and when that time ever does come, you can be sure that Jarre will probably be providing the soundtrack to it.

  • Oxymoreworks is released today. For more information visit jeanmicheljarre.com

Source: Read Full Article