He Comes From Planet Jarre, Part One

Last fall I had the honor of interviewing Jean-Michel Jarre for the second time (the two features based on our 2017 conversation are here and here). This second interview again resulted in two separate features; one ran in Stomp & Stammer; the other on Rock and Roll Globe. Here now is the full 2018 interview, restored to oneness … and then broken into three sections to be run here on Musoscribe over three consecutive days. — bk

A towering figure in music, Jean Michel Jarre pioneered styles of music that didn’t even have names when he started making them. Musicians working in EDM, ambient and electronica all owe a debt to the French multi-instrumentalist who started making recordings in the late 1960s. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Jarre remains vital and musically engaged today, mounting ambitious world tours and recording futuristic new music that builds on the past without being slavishly bound to it.

A new compilation called Planet Jarre is a survey of the man’s half century of music, but in typical Jarre fashion, it’s not a by-the-number, traditional best-of collection. On the same day that he announced an album of new material (Equinoxe Infinity) he took time for this interview in which he discusses the compilation, some of his more outré projects, the origins of electroacoustic music, and the difference between his music and that of other synth pioneers.

Planet Jarre is deliberately not sequenced chronologically. Instead, you’ve grouped the works thematically into playlists. Could you tell me a little bit about each of the four categories?

To tell you the truth, Bill, I’m not really a fan of compilation albums. Because, most of the time, I think they are just marketing or commercial items from record companies. And frankly speaking, one song from different albums, [with each] song having its own world and complex and story, sometimes creates an artificial result.

So, for this project, I tried to make a relevant creation. I said, “Okay. I’m going to do something totally different.” Planet Jarre is starting from the idea that each of us has our own planet, our inner world. And this inner world would be structured from an equal point of view … not necessarily with my favorite track, but tracks which could match with each other. And then, I said, “This planet has, actually, four different territories based on my four different approaches I have when I’m composing music.”

The first one, Soundscape is coming from my influence from classical music and my love for soundtracks and movies, and these kind of long ambient type of tracks, like the beginning of “Oxygène,” for instance. So, I went to the different albums to find this kind of category of music which could match to each other.

The second one, Scenes, I did the same thing, but with the pieces of music I did something with a simple melody playing on the keyboard, and then doing the electronic arrangement along with it.

And the third one is called Sequences. It started with the idea that one of the main ingredients of electronic music is this kind of hypnotic, repetitive pattern that we are playing with during the sequences and before we are doing the sequences by hand. And again, I tried to find in different albums at different times the tracks which could match this idea.

And the fourth one, Explorations and Early Works, is based on the way I started electroacoustic music by recording sounds — raw sounds — with a microphone and tape recorder. I used these techniques with samplers, of course. And I use these techniques still today; I used them on Zoolook [1984] and even the next studio album. I always also try to conceive tracks starting with raw sound, and then create the music and the arrangement around that.

Even though you are drawing from different albums, the individual Planet Jarre discs hold together. Removed from the context of the original albums, they sound like new albums themselves.

Thank you for saying this, because it’s precisely what I wanted to achieve. With Planet Jarre, it’s actually proposing to the audience the new album made of existing tracks, and this is exactly what I had in mind. I’m glad that you’re saying this because it’s exactly that. So, suddenly, because each track is within the different contexts, I was hoping that it would offer to the audience something different, like a new album.

Planet Jarre also includes both sides of your very first single, “La Cage” and the flip side. Those were recorded in 1969, but not released until 1971. From what I’ve read, that’s because no label was interested. To them, it didn’t seem commercial. In retrospect, obviously, it was ahead of its time. Do you think that if you had approached labels in Germany or England that you might have been able to release it sooner?

Not necessarily. Because Oxygène, was [initially] rejected by record companies, even years later after “La Cage.” I think lots of people in these days were more interested in having kind of pop albums. I discussed this with Edgard Froese when we collaborated together for Electronica. I said, “We started more or less at the same time,” and he said, “No, no, no. You started before us because we were prog rock in the late 60s. We became involved as an electronic act or band in ‘73, ‘74; before, we were more prog rock.” So, their relationship with record companies was more to the rock field than a pure electronic band.

So, I think that in ‘67, ‘68, many people were much more interested into the prog rock than pure electronic music because then it wasn’t even considered as music: doing musically strange oscillators and filters and all that. It took time for the music industry to recognize that as a potential genre.

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