Join Jean-Michel Jarre and me as we take the third part of our walk through of his ENTIRE discography of studio albums, while sitting talking in his flat in Paris. In this part we talk about the perfect piece of ambient music, returning for Oxygene and losing an old friend. A fascinating talk with a true innovator, who is now out with a brand new album called Equinoxe Infinity.
This is the third part of a long interview I did with Jean-Michel Jarre in his flat in Paris on November 9th 2018. After handing the story in to the magazine I did it for, I realised that I had so much left over that I really wanted to publish. So here it is! You’re welcome! You can read part 1 here and part 2 here!
Jean-Michel Jarre was at the beginning of the 1990s at his commercial peak. His albums sold by the truckloads, he got exposure on MTV and other TV channels, and it seemed like every year there were talks about a new mega concert somewhere. After releasing five studio albums (six if you include Music for Supermarkets, a couple of compilations and two live albums, the 90s would enter a more quiet decade on the recording front. On the concert front, on the other hand, Jarre seemed busier than ever.
Waiting for Cousteau
Waiting for Cousteau (1990) was Jarre’s first album in a decade he hoped would be a happy but environmental conscious decade. The record has one of the most ambient pieces of music in music history, in the form of the 47 minute title track. It’s among my favourite pieces by Jarre. A lot of people thought the music was computer generated, something Jarre denies.
– That track has a very special story. I’ve never been able to listen to music while writing, reading or working. I admire people who are able to do stuff while listening to music, especially with headphones. I just can’t.
Jarre says going to restaurants is a nightmare.
– I hate background music. I’ve unplugged speakers in restaurants, so many times. Once I even paid a pianist, who were playing close to my table, to stop playing. I told him that I had lots of respect for what he did, but I paid him to stop playing until I had finished my meal. So, I started with that idea, to make a piece of music that could play, while I was doing other things. I composed it like a hologram.
– A hologram?
– Yes. You know a hologram is that you take one element of a picture, and you stretch it. And I thought I would do that with a piece of music. The original version of Waiting for Cousteau is 75 minutes, but it’s only 47 on the album (22 minutes on the LP). And nothing in the piece is repeated, not one single moment.
Jarre locked himself in his studio, from Saturday night until Sunday night, without sleep during the process.
– I did it just once.
– So, every time you hear a *plink* on the piano, that’s your finger, actually hitting the key?
– Yes, exactly. And then I had this trick to get this kind of slow down sounds. I did that by recording it with the tape at double speed. Then I played it at normal speed, mixing it into the music. I did this to create this dreamy and soft type of mood. And l agree with you, it’s one of my most favourite pieces as well.
– I used it when studying for all my exams. It’s very calming, and I’m able to concentrate.
– Yes, exactly. And I’ve used it at every concert I’ve done, since I made it. It’s playing before the gig, when people are making their way to the concert. And the first concert I did after this album came out, was La Défense in Paris in 1990, and 2.5 million people showed up (Jarre broke his own world record, again). The police told me that in a crowd of one million, you will have seven heart attacks, and seven women giving birth. And of course, with that many people, you will have violence as well and fights.
But not so on the 14tfh of July in 1990, because Jarre received a phone call the mext morning from the chief of police.
– And he said: “Sorry to disturb you, but I just wanted to tell you that the music you played before and after the concert, calmed the crowds down. We should use it for all events like this in the future, because we had no trouble. Everybody left calmly.” And I think the track has that effect on people. From that day on and for all my future concerts, that track will always play before I go on stage.
– Not really. I know why the promotional material said that, because I recorded it with Studer on 24 tracks. But the people from Studer were so obsessed with competing with digital recorders that they put a lot of digital stuff inside their gear, so it was not analogue anymore. We also used this digital Yamaha console during the mixing, and I really don’t know why. The sound of Chronologie on tape, was really analogue. But then it became… hybrid. Having said that, Chronologie and the next album should have had more bass. During this whole era in music, we lost the bass. Listen to Michael Jackson, for instance, there’s absolutely no bass. So, you had a very compact sound. And if you compare the way we are listening to music today to how we listened to it twenty years ago, it has changed hugely. Today we are listening to much more music with bass.
Bringing the conversation back to Chronologie, Jarre says it did signal a return to what he was doing with Oxygene and Equinoxe, namely having an album that was like one piece of music, flowing together.
– Yeah, and it starts and ends with the same sound, so it goes full circle.
– Yes, exactly.
– And the EP from 1969 you were talking about, Eros Machine pops up in the beginning of Cronologie Part 2, doesn’t it?
– Sometimes a demo in electronic music can be a loop. And this loop was made in 1969 with Sellotape. So, when I did Chronologie, which was about the concept of time, I thought I could use this loop made with magnetic tapes from another time, in this kind of rhythmic sense.
After the release of this album, Jarre went on his first ever outdoor arena tour, scaling his skyscraper related projects down down for football stadiums. The scene decor was still reminiscent of skyscrapers, and there were of course fireworks galore.
Jarre’s manager, Fiona Commins, now informs me I have 15 minutes left, and still quite a few albums to go, so we are told to speed things up. So, I immediately jump to Oxygene 7-13 (1997) which was a continuation of the original Oxgene album, some would say a sequel. What does he think about that album now, 21 years later?
– I prefer Oxygene 3 (2016). Oxygene 7-13 wasn’t analogue enough. And that was because we were in this very silly era. It was an era where we started to discover that digital just couldn’t match the warmth of analogue sounds. And I tried to do this sequel with a digital approach, like if I had digital synths back when I did the original.
Jarre says that when he did the original Oxygene, he already then thought it would be interesting to make a sequel.
– I’ve always been interested by sequels in literature and movies and TV series, but it doesn’t really exist in music. Mike Oldfield did it, with his Tubular Bells series, but apart from him and me, nobody did it. Which is strange, because I love this idea.
After doing his first indoor tour and setting yet another world record with his concert in Moscow in 1997, where 3.5 million people showed up, Jarre went off the radar for a while. Then came the new millennium, and his album Metamorphoses (2000). It was heralded as a new and all-different Jarre.
– It was. And it also proves my point that technology is dictating creativity. It was me discovering software like ProTools, which made it possible to have your entire studio on your laptop. You could record, produce and mix it like that.
He compares Metamorphoses to Zoolook (1984).
– Just like Zoolook, it was very different from what I had done before. And I worked with Joachim Garraud, who came from the DJ scene, and he brought with him this industrial sound that I was looking for in this project. Metamorphoses is also close to Zoolook because I used a lot of processed vocals.
The album also contains two of his favourite tracks. Millions of Stars and Bells.
– I really like those two, and I know that Fiona (looking over at his manager) also loves Millions of Stars. It’s her favourite.
Fiona concurs, and I tell them that Millions of Stars is also my favourite track on that album.
– Fiona also loves the second part of Chronologie Part 1.
– Yes, it’s my favourite, Fiona confirms.
– I call it the whale part, with the voices.
– Yes, that’s my favourite part of the entire Chronologie album!
– There you go! Good, says Fiona.
– That’s right. It’s absolutely true. II had some real issues with my record company, Dreyfus Records, and this started a very dark period of my life, actually. It also heralded a ten year long court case with Dreyfus. Francis Dreyfus and I were friends, and we grew up together, but I wanted to follow a different path than he wanted me to. He was saying “the Internet is just a joke and it’s not going to last,” and he was just not into technology. Instead he became more and more involved with jazz and his label for that. He released old Charlie Parker records in mono, and I thought that was great. I even encouraged him to do it. But I felt we were simply not on the same page anymore.
However, when Jarre expressed a wish to move on, Francis Drefyus said Jarre owed him two more albums.
– I told him that it wasn’t the case, because we had signed with Sony worldwide, and they had an option for two more albums. But he wouldn’t budge, and finally he didn’t want to talk to me anymore, I had to take everything through his lawyer. I was so upset, that the following Christmas, I put two albums on his desk, and I said goodbye. It was Sessions 2000 and Experimental 2001. This made him so furious that he didn’t want to release them. But he had to release at least one, so they went with Sessions 2000. They still have an entire album, that has never been released.
Since Drefyus was so into jazz, Jarre made Sessions 2000 like an electro jazz album. However, Dreyfus hated it, but he had no choice to but to release it.
– And then it ended up being named the best independent album of the month in the UK, he he. But there are some moments on that album that I really like.
Geometry of Love
– Thank you for saying that. I really did that as an obscure album, because it was simply meant to be a project for a club here in Paris. And it was linked with Dublin, because in Dublin, you had a café/club called the Blue Room, and U2 was involved as partners. They did the music for the Blue Room, and I did the music for the club in Paris. So the music is really meant to be lounge music for this club.
In between all of these releases, Jarre was doing big outdoor concerts in places like Acropolis, the dessert of Morocco, the windmill park of Gammel Vrå Enge in Denmark and the shipyards of Gdansk.
Then came what a lot of fans, and Jarre himself, consider his artistic lowpoint.
Stay tuned for Part 4 where we talk about that, as well as finally becoming a prophet in your own time!
And there’s more. Here is a Spotify playlist that includes several of the songs discussed above:
What did you think of the third part? Any good? Something I should have asked? Leave a comment below!