Welcome to Amazonas and Jean-Michel Jarres kitchen for frequencies, sounds, samples and nature.
Yup, it’s back to his roots for Jarre. Namely the roots that are musique concrete. His mentor Pierre Schaeffer created the principles for this movement as early as the 1940s. The principle is to record sounds from real life, and then process them heavily before using them as basis for musical composition. With the entrance of electronic instruments in the 1960s, this became even easier, and that’s when Jarre started his career, by doing just that.
He has returned to the principles of musique concrete several times during his career. In such instances he has mixed sounds with his own version of synth pop. The best example is probably the album Zoolook from 1984, where he used voices, singing and talking in 20 different languages as the basis for composition and instrumentation.
Another great example is the brilliant 47 minute long ambient piece Waiting for Cousteau from 1990. On this track he mixed sounds of animals and nature into his own studio created sound palette.
What you will find on Amazônia is a fine mix of musique concrete, ambient, and some noise music, as well as chillout electronica in the vein of The Orb. Truth be told, this sounds like something that could have been performed at any jazz festival these days, during the kind of performances where the musicians are bent over mixing desks and Macs. Fiddling, twisting and turning knobs with some playing on “real” instruments every now and then.
The background for this album is a photo exhibition by the same name which opens in Paris on May 20th. Photographer and videographer Sebastião Salgado has created an exhibition where over 200 photos from the Amazonian rain forest in Brasil will be on display. The pictures show nature and the life of the natives in the area.
And it’s in that spirit Jarre has done what I think he likes best: Went into the studio, his kitchen as he calls it, and played around with sounds, frequencies and snippets of melody in a totally impressionist way. Jarre’s biggest and best musical moments have usually been created in this way.
On Amazônia Jarre has also mixed in the sound of nature. However, a lot of these nature sounds have been created by himself in the studio. As he himself says in interviews: “Like Felini did in his movies, I’d rather create my own version of the ocean, instead of using the real ocean.”
In addition he has visited the Ethnography Museum of Geneva where he took with him samples of song, speech, music and other noises from the native population in the area Salgado shot his photos. But relax, this isn’t Deep Forest or Enigma. The voices are just spice in the cooking pot of music Jarre has created, and they are never the focal point of the music.
The music itself is very ambient, but just when you think it’s getting stuck in the vegetation of the jungle, it turns, twists and bends. And then you’ll find you are going in a totally different direction. Suddenly you have a driving bass line, supplemented by drumbeats. At one point you get a lot of synth arpeggios, which is vaguely reminiscent of Arpegiator from The Concerts in China.
You will find more than enough variation on this album, despite its ambient nature, to keep your interest up. At the same time, the music does take some roundtrips and you will suddenly find yourself back at places where you’ve been earlier, before you are suddenly taken to a completely new place.
Jarre fans missing the Oxygene and Equinoxe sound will be disappointed. The same goes for those who’d rather see him do Electronica, Rendez-Vous or Teo & Tea. As for the rest of us, and I think I can safely include those who usually aren’t very fond of Jarre’s music here, this will be a treasure we will play quite a lot.
Amazônia is also released in a binarual version. This gives you a surround sound experience when listening to it with headphones. My review is written after listening to the binaural version of the album.