In a new interview, synth music pioneer Jean Michel Jarre explains why, despite all the advances in electronic music technology, he still has a love for vintage gear:
Jean Michel Jarre is reeling off some of the music he’s been listening to lately: Actress, Fuck Buttons, Zomby… It’s not the average 64-year-old’s playlist, but Jarre has never really done average. His presence has loomed over electronic music for some four decades. The Frenchman studied under musique concrète progenitor Pierre Schaeffer—one of electronic music’s earliest pioneers—and released the seminal Oxygene LP in 1976, which proved the catalyst to a sustained period of commercial and artistic success throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. His career has been defined not just by his achievements themselves, but also the scale of them: on Bastille Day in 1979 he played to a live audience of one million in Paris, while a further 100 million tuned in on TV; nearly two decades later in Moscow he performed to a crowd of 3.5 million. He’s also sold around 80 million albums (Oxygene alone has sold more than 18 million copies).
Jarre now exceeds the French pension age by four years, but he’s not showing any signs of slowing down. He talks excitedly of two new albums he has on the boil. His most recent project, InFiné by JMJ, saw him delve into the French label’s back-catalogue and pick out his 12 favourite tracks for a compilation. It was a low-key affair—by Jarre’s standards at least. In conversation, he’s clearly enthused by the project, earnestly discussing the merits of each inclusion and explaining his shared roots with the label—both he and former label boss Agoria hail from Lyon in southern France—with pride. We called up Jarre at his studio to discuss the compilation’s origins, his current musical interests and his ambitious plans for an electronic music academy in East London.Can you tell me about how the InFiné compilation came about?
It’s a concept that started in my hometown. Like me, InFiné has its roots in Lyon, and lots of the label’s artists are also from that part of France. I collaborated with some of the InFiné artists at the Nuits Sonores festival in Lyon last year, and we had a special evening where some of them revisited my work on stage. When InFiné decided to celebrate their tenth anniversary with a compilation, they asked if I would look into their catalogue and make some selections for a compilation.
How did you go about compiling it?
I went through lots of different tracks, and tried to build a kind of journey, using songs and artists that fit well together. As the music on InFiné is quite varied—there are artists from all kinds of different musical worlds—it was important to have some sense of direction on the compilation. A selection like this is always subjective; [the final selection] doesn’t come down to which track is better than the other, it’s just more reflective of my own tastes.
How did that sense of direction develop?
One of the reasons why InFiné is so important to me is that lots of artists on the label have been influenced by my own music. For the compilation I chose tracks that I felt were close to my own music in some way. The first track [Oxia's "Exaila"] could almost be a kind of introduction to one of my own albums; it’s a short piece and I think it opens the door to the compilation nicely. Then there’s Murcof’s “Como Quisiera Decirte.” I’ve admired this guy’s work for a while, at times it’s very close to the kind of stuff I was doing when I studying with Pierre Schaeffer at the musique concrète studio in Paris, when we were experimenting with sound design in pretty abstract ways. Murcof has an approach to music that I really enjoy—he mixes an experimental approach with Latin flavour. I’ve always been interested in trying to mix the Spanish or Italian soundtrack ambience of people like Pedro Almodóvar or Fellini into music. I find “Como Quisiera Decirte” quite haunting. It has a Mexican feel but it’s still definitely electro. I love that mix, that hybrid feeling between two different worlds.
Which other artists on the compilation did you find yourself drawn to?
Rone is a good one—he has a very interesting sound. The problem with so much electronic music now is that more often than not, you hear a track, and it’s interesting, but you don’t feel it belongs to somebody in particular, or has a particular style, even if it’s OK and you like it. In the case of Rone, for instance, or Agoria, and some of the other artists on this compilation, they have a definite sound world of their own. That’s rare these days
Talking more broadly, which other contemporary artists do you listen to?
I’m listening to lots of different music. I really love Zomby’s work, I’ve listened to a lot of his tracks over the past two years. And there’s Actress—I’ve been appreciating his style of music recently. Then there are more established electronic artists in France like Air, Vitalic, M83, Justice or Sébastien Tellier—actually in fact I’ve just finishing a recording session with Sébastien today, we are working on a track together. I also really like Fuck Buttons. The first time I listened to their music I thought, “Wow, they’ve got such a special and unique type of sound.” I mean, those guys build a kind of wall of sound in front of you, a fog of audio, with a kind of techno beat lost in smoke. It’s a vaporized sound. I really love their direction and their Olympians EP was very nice.
How much time do you find yourself spending in the studio each week?
I try to spend as much time as possible in the studio, but it’s never enough. There are always other things to do. My dream is to be like a writer, and spend four or five hours every day locked in the studio, but I can’t really do that, I don’t know why. I’m a workaholic in short spurts—I’ll go into the studio and work for three or four days and nights, then I’ll stop, take a break, and go back to the studio a week or so later. So for me, it’s three or four days on, then three or four days off.
I read in an interview that you said when you’re in the studio you feel more like a “painter than a producer, mixing with colour and light, and experimenting with textures.” Do you still feel that way even when you’re not in the studio as much?
Yes, more than ever. I think that’s the beauty of electronic music. I used to do a lot of painting when I was a student, and I even hesitated between pursuing a career in painting or music. Over the years, when I’ve been faced with electronic instruments, oscillators and all these kind of strange machines, it occurred to me that mixing colours and mixing audio frequencies is actually the same thing. You are a craftsman, you are a painter, mixing colours and textures. For me, electronic music is very close to abstract painting, which is all about textures, shapes, colours and contrasts. These days, I like mixing analogue synthesizers with pure digital elements. I think this combination is actually reflective of society itself, because we aren’t analogue anymore, but we’re also struggling to deal with being in a virtual, digital world. I think it’s quite nice when you can mix both worlds.
After the release of their first single called “Moïra” (available now on iTunes, Amazon USA, Amazon UK or Amazon DE) Ad Inferna releases a new track on the 28th of December, namely a cover of the Jean-Michel Jarre instrumental “Equinoxe 4″. For the occasion singer Alina Dunaevskaya joined the band as guest vocalist. The track will be available on YouTube only for the moment (and of course on their album “im mortelle”).
The french electro act Ad Inferna will return with their 6th album on the 7th of January on DSM Music. The CD version is available for preorder on Poponaut & Infrarot webshops.
STRINGS + PHASER + DELAY = JARRE
STRINGS = Korg polysix
PHASER = genuine 1974 MXR Phase 90
DELAY = Roland SDE 3000
New JM Jarre cover from Percussa AudioCubes, details below:
Jean Michel Jarre’s Rendez Vous II Laser Harp Theme played on Percussa AudioCubes using Xils Synthix VST synth (hosted in Ableton Live) and Percussa MIDIBridge – learn more at http://www.percussa.com/
Check out our blog post to learn more about the setup: http://www.percussa.com/2012/10/11/jean-michel-jarres-rendez-vous-ii-on-xils-…
This is not intended as a 1-to-1 reproduction of Jean Michel Jarre’s famous classic. It is more like my shot at it using the instruments that I have.
It’s funny that just because JMJ used an Eminent U310 and later an Elka X-705 then these exact organ models sells for astronomical prices while most other organs can be bought for peanuts.
So therefore I have used Elka X-30 and Technics SX-C600 to play most of the arrangement. I don’t have a MiniPops 7 drum machine so I used a Rhythm Ace. One thing I did to make it more authentic was that I manually added the quijada sound to the rhythm. I synthesized it on my Roland JX-8P because I felt that it was vital for the mood of the melody. The sequence that runs through the first part was programmed on the little Korg Poly 800 and most of the sound effects was made on my Roland SH-2000. Finally I added the sound of my homebuild zimbelstern because I hadn’t got a clue on how to make the huithuithuithuithuit sounds of the EMS synthesizer that I assume Jarre used.
For once I had the sheet music. I found it at the public library – you know, the house with books made of real paper in it. But it’s not easy when the composer doesn’t follow his own notes on the recording he made!
I haven’t added many effects efter the sounds were recorded. Just some panning, reverb, and echo.
Jean Michel Jarre interviewed in his living-room studio in 1977.
Playlist “Jean Michel Jarre – Interviews”: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=F6EB8588DC38566F
Jean Michel Jarre in his studio in Paris.
A piece sequenced and performed entirely on the Korg Radias and recorded live into Logic Pro 9. Added some Echo using the Delay designer. All other effects are on the Korg Radias – Stereo Phaser on both Bass and Pads. Drums and Bass Line Sequenced on the Radias, Arpeggiator also used on Arp Saws.
“Fashioned on one of my idols Jean Michele Jarre, just in case you were wondering. Bass Sequence and sound programmed by me, all other sounds are from the presets, with a tweak here and there.”
Kebu on stage performing a classic Jarre song, here’s what he has to say about it:
This tune by Jarre is one of the most joyful tunes in the world and always makes me smile. Therefore, I picked this one as of the very few covers I performed at my mini-tour in May 2012. This video was recorded live at my show in Doo-Bop Club, Vaasa, 12th of May 2012.
The song was performed using only analog synthesizers, either played live or sequenced. The performance was recorded line in to one of the cameras. The ambience in the club was recorded using the built-in microphones on two of the remaining cameras and mixed together with the line signal.
Equipment used in this song: Arp Odyssey Mk II; Korg Polysix, Poly 61, Mono/Poly, Micro-preset M500; Roland TR-808, Juno 60, Alpha Juno 1&2; Moog Source, Touched-by-sound DRM1, Oberheim Matrix 6R, Yamaha RM1x (only for MIDI sequencing), Behringer DDX3216, Lexicon MPX500, as well as a midi patchbay and additional preamps for my mixer. Cameras: Canon HF100 (x2), HF200 and HF406.
RedBull Music Academy has made an interview with Jean Michel Jarre where he in detail talks about his ten favorite synthesizers:
Ahead of his Academy lecture at the Les Nuits Sonores festival May 16 in Lyon, the synth pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre recounts ten of his favourite pieces of gear.
While, of course, numerous parties are to be praised for introducing synthetic music to the masses, it can be argued that the French composer and musician Jean-Michel Jarre was the first to really foment the electronic music revolution. Though the early successful pioneers like Wendy Carlos, Mort Garson, and Hot Butter primed the public’s ears, their output was mostly either novelty arrangements of pre-existing hits or just plain novelty. Jarre took a different tack and began composing original pop material to be played solely on synths. Selling over 80 million albums and singles thus far during his four decade career, he not only brought oscillators out of the realm of nerdery, his music also served as a late-night soundtrack of the future for music lovers the world over – and spawned a countless number of imitators as well (oftentimes poor). From his first collaborations with Patrick Juvet and Christophe to his epic synth solo albums like Oxygène and Equinoxe, Jarre’s sounds now show up as ghosts in the works of contemporary electronic experimenters as varied as Sébastien Tellier, Oneohtrix Point Never, Emeralds, and Daft Punk, to name a few.
And here is the complete list:
E.M.S VCS 3 (1969)
My first synth, Europe’s answer to the American Moog: a Mini versus a Cadillac. Post-war technology had led us to an European electronic sound which was very different to the American sound. The VCS3 was one of the first real synths to be developed from modular research, a technique with which I was already familiar, as it had resulted directly from the equipment that I was working with at the GRM (Le Groupe de Recherches Musicales or, in English, Musical Research Group) with Pierre Schaeffer. I’ve composed a lot of music with this synth, most notably on Oxygène and Equinoxe, although I’d already tried it out on Deserted Palace [one of Jarre’s first projects] and the music that I composed for the Parisian Opera.
ARP 2600 (1971)
This is an American synth which quickly became the best modular/semi-modular synth on the market – different to Moogs, which didn’t have pre-set sounds. When we switched the ARP 2600 on for the first time, we could instantly start to play and shift potentiometers. It cost much less than a Moog, but it was much bigger with an extremely rich sound. I used it a lot on Oxygène and Equinoxe as well as on the albums I made with Christophe such as Les Paradis Perdues (Lost Paradises) and Les Mots Bleus (Blue Words). ARPs are like the Stradivarius or the Steinways of electronic music. They were invented by craftsmen who, today, we’d place on the same level as the luthiers that built violins, clavichords, pianos – all of the acoustic instruments.
ARP 2500 (1969)
This is the big brother of the ARP 2600, created to compete with the modular Moog. Pete Townshend of The Who was one of the first musicians to use it in Europe. The ARP 2500 is the huge machine that we can hear in “Baba O’Reilly” playing that well-known sequence which would become so essential to The Who’s sound. It’s an electronic sound, not the sound of a guitar! I try to approach people with a similar rapport with synthesizers to my own, such as Pete Townshend or Peter Gabriel, both of whom were amongst the first musicians to possess a Fairlight, along with myself.
FAIRLIGHT CMI (1979)
The Fairlight was the first instrument that I worked with which was directly linked to the training I’d received at GRM under Pierre Schaeffer, electroacoustic music, or what we’d later call ‘sampling’. With the Fairlight, we could record and sample any sound – a natural, urban or domestic noise – play it on a piano and create percussion, a choir, the sounds of chords, a constructive element of music, improbable sounds of which we didn’t know the origin. It’s an instrument with a very lo-fi sound and with a lot of charm and warmth, a graininess that makes us think of the compositions of Bernard Herrmann or of the aesthetic that we find in films from the 30s like Metropolis. It was significant in determining the sound of Peter Gabriel and the sound of the Real World label, as well as my own. It can be heard throughout my back catalogue, on Champs Magnetiques (Magnetic Fields) but especially on Zoolook, which was made entirely on the Fairlight. Oxygène and Zoolook are two very different albums on the sonic map, because as we know, it’s the tool that defines the style and not the other way around.
Roland JD-800 (1991)
This was the next synth to follow the DX7 philosophy and the approach initiated by Japanese synths, which was going to financially sink all of the American makers. I included it in my list because it was one of the first polyphonic Japanese synths that managed to resemble an analogue synth, although what I hated about the DX7 was that it left you thinking that electronic music only aimed to imitate the sounds of acoustic instruments. With the JD-800, you could modify the sound, as you can on an ARP or a Moog, but with a Japanese sound quality, which in some respects, is more refined. I used this synth a lot on Chronology and Revolution. These are the albums which spoke to people the least, but which were important in my career as they marked a period of flux where I still had a foot in analogue and another in what would go on to become digital.
MEMORY MOOG (1982)
The first analogue polyphonic synth. Until then, modular synths such as the VCS3 and the ARP were monophonic. If you wanted a polyphonic effect, you had to play four different sounds at the same time. It’s a practice that’s lost today, which is a shame because it meant you had to compose in the same way that we’d write for a string quartet: violin, alto, cello, double bass. With the Memorymoog, and other synths that came out around the same time, in one fell swoop, we could make complete chords, and that changed everything. For better and for worse. As a result, we ceased to compose electronic music the classic way, as Wendy Carlos did. The Memorymoog was the 8 Moog in the same form but with a new and different attraction: we could store the sounds we created. Before, we had to get our pencil and paper out and write down all of the operations required to produce a sound, but it was never really possible to reproduce the original sound again from the notes we’d made. From this point onwards, you could re-find the sound in its original state, even a year after you’d made it.
RMI Keyboard Computer (1974)
This is an instrument that was created in the 70s and which was revolutionary as it was the first digital synth in a period where everything was analogue. In the electronic music world of the 70s, digital had no place at all. The RMI functioned according to the principle of additive synthesis, whereas the analogue synths were based on subtractive synthesis. To simplify, additive synthesis is like an organ, meaning that you can add frequencies to each other and add layers in the same way that on an organ, you can add 32 pedals, then 16, then 8, then 4, which are actually octaves, or thirds of octaves or quintets. It’s a technique that was used heavily on Deserted Palace and on the track “Oxygène 5”, where the entire sequence is made using the RMI. It created a very different sound to anything else that could be heard at the time, precisely because the digital edge added a certain coolness. This synth was to music what the film Tron was to cinema at the time.
EMINENT 310 (1970)
This synth defines my sound, from Les Mots Bleus by Christophe and the songs of Patrick Juvet, right up to Oxygène and Equinoxe, where I used it heavily. To this day, I still use it frequently. Along with the VCS3, this is one of the fundamental instruments of my music. It’s an organ developed by the Dutch who were the first to figure out how to create chords from electronic sounds. It was from this first string ensemble that the Solina emerged, which is nowadays better known than the Eminent, even if the Eminent is three Solinas together with a notably richer sound. The Eminent can be heard on Oxygène and Equinoxe, adding that gliding, phased feel. The background story to this sound is that it’s the VCS3 and the Eminent passed through a Smalltone, a phase pedal for guitars, which created this very opulent sound similar to that of chords, but of course much more electro.
Teenage Engineering OP-1 (2011)
A little new one that came out less than a year ago and was invented in Sweden [by Teenage Engineering, a company founded by 2003 Academy pariticpant David Eriksson]. It’s a synth which doesn’t even seem like a synth at all – it’s tiny and looks like a Casio toy, but hidden inside is a very sophisticated machine, created using military technology. It’s 100% digital, but defines something completely new in its size and transportability. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen something as interesting, flexible and creative as this. And importantly, its inventors have reintroduced a notion which had been desperately lacking: humour. We have to remember that Moogs, ARPs and all of the first synths had been created by raging madmen, who created completely unreasonable and financially hazardous instruments. The inventors of this synth sold their OP-1 in drips and drabs on the internet, and the instructions are in Japanese to throw us off the scent. I met them after my tour in Sweden – the whole team came backstage and we jammed together. I chose this synth to show that any instrument, from no matter what time, can have a completely timeless value. I’m sure that musicians will still be using the OP-1 in 50 years.
This is another mythical instrument from the electroacoustic scene, since it was one of the first samplers well ahead of the Fairlight. What was interesting with the Mellotron was that it was conceived at a time (the 60s) when the philosophy of sampling wasn’t on the agenda at all. It was, once again, the idea of a luminary who asked himself how to play chords electronically. The principal is to record a choir in a studio onto tape and then to install all sorts of little tape recorders with tapes that last seven seconds to create the notes on a piano. The Mellotron is a kind of small piano which, when you press a key, places the stylus against the tape, releasing a tape which will be read by the head during the seven seconds. That allows you to have a whole range of sounds. When you play a Mellotron, you feel like you’re listening to soundtracks from silent films from the 30s, as there’s this whining contortion that would go on to define the sound of loads of Beatles, Moody Blues and Procol Harum tracks. In fact, pop and rock in the 60s would use this instrument to record choirs with a vintage, retro feel. It’s the sound of the 40s adapted for the music of the 60s.
interviewé à Berlin par Arte pendant la tournée Europe en Concert – Chronologie
démonstration du Digisequencer, Roland JD800, DJ70, Synthi AKS, Rack Mini-Moog et démonstration du bouton on-off de l’AX1
clip Chronologie 5
avec Patrick Rondat, Guy Delacroix, Dominique Mahut, Laurent Faucheux, Francis Rimbert, Sylvain Durand et Dominique Perrier
24 11 1993″