Electronic music pioneer Jarre delves into genre's 'DNA'
When Jean-Michel Jarre helped create electronic music in the 1970s, the sound came off as revolutionary. With the genre now increasingly mainstream, Jarre is seeking to trace its evolution.
In an album to be released Friday, Jarre's first of new material in eight years, the French artist has reached out to other musicians he sees as critical in electronic music, heading with them into studios to showcase their unique styles.
"Electronica 1: The Time Machine," which will be followed by a second volume next year, features compositions by Jarre with artists as diverse as English trip-hoppers Massive Attack, Vince Clarke of synthpop sensations Erasure, downtempo activist DJ Moby and even guitarist Pete Townshend of rock legends The Who.
Jarre, who is both eager to speak philosophically about music and up-to-date on the latest pop trends, scoffs at the notion that his album is simply the latest collection of celebrity mash-ups, a common industry formula for chart-topping singles.
With most such collaborations "you send a file to someone you didn't even meet and it's done in a total abstract way, more sometimes for marketing reasons than anything else," Jarre told AFP on a visit to New York.
"For this project, it was really based on the idea of physically traveling to meet people -- merging DNA in studios, not going through managers or lawyers," he said.
In a metaphorical statement of his intentions, Jarre took the fingerprints of all his collaborators and is coalescing them with his own for a series of paintings.
Jarre said he chose artists "who have this timeless element -- the kind of organic, instantly recognizable sound."
- Last song of Tangerine Dream -
Jarre became a surprise international sensation with his 1976 album "Oxygene," six free-flowing yet melodic synthesizer tracks he recorded at home.
Jarre soon was drawing massive crowds to elaborate performances that coupled as light shows. His 1997 concert to celebrate Moscow's 850th anniversary drew 3.5 million people, tying a world record, and included a live link to the Russian space station.
At 67, Jarre has spent most of the past four decades working in solitude at his studio in the Paris suburbs, which is crammed with computers, keyboards and most other instruments of his career -- except his famous and imposing "laser harp."
Jarre welcomed artists to his studio for "Electronica 1: The Time Machine," but also went to other musicians to explore how their own home bases shaped their sound.
In the most momentous piece on the album, Jarre traveled to Austria to work with Tangerine Dream, the German group that also pioneered electronic music in the 1970s.
Tangerine Dream's chief member, Edgar Froese, died in January at age 70, and his work with Jarre was his last.
The resulting track, "Zero Gravity," harks back to classic albums of both Tangerine Dream and Jarre, with steady electronic progressions that turn ambient.
"I always considered that electronic music is coming from Germany and France but we had different approaches. German bands -- in a rather German way -- had a robotic approach and were also making a kind of apology for the machines," Jarre said, noting how Tangerine Dream used to walk off stage with the music still playing.
By contrast, Jarre said that in France he had a more "impressionist" outlook inspired by classical greats such as Ravel and Debussy.
He also allowed his sequencers, then mostly programmed by hand, to make "subtle accidents."
"Which is, in my opinion, what makes life. If you take a heartbeat, it is always the same, but never the same. If it was exactly identical we would die."
- From The Who to China -
Townshend's inclusion on the album may come as a surprise but Jarre credited The Who with integrating synthesizers and sequencers into rock. Their collaboration -- entitled "Travelator, Parts 1, 2 and 3" -- is crafted like a mini rock opera, with Townshend's rugged vocals.
"Suns Have Gone," the track with Moby, is built off a repeated minor chord, a signature sound of the gloomy artist whom Jarre affectionately called "the Woody Allen of techno."
Other contributors on the album include two of France's biggest electronic acts in recent decades, Air and M83, Berlin house DJ Boys Noize, horror movie director and composer John Carpenter and experimental artist Laurie Anderson, who worked with Jarre just as her husband, rock legend Lou Reed, died.
Jarre closes the album with Chinese classical pianist Lang Lang, who recorded his first electronic song.
Jarre hailed Lang Lang as a "genius" and said he wanted to give the album a connection to China. Jarre in 1981 was the first Western artist invited to play in China since the Cultural Revolution.
© 2015 AFP