Join Jean-Michel Jarre and me as we take the final 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 his artistic low point, followed by a creative and critically acclaimed return. A fascinating talk with a true innovator, who is now out with a brand new album called Equinoxe Infinity.
This is the fourth and final 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, part 2 here! and part 3 here!
Téo and Téa
In 2007, Jarre finally released his next proper studio album, namely Téo & Téa. Never before has an album divided his fan base more than this release, some hate it with passion. I decide to go for broke and tell Jarre that I simply don’t like that album.
– Likewise! If there is one album of mine you should avoid, it’s this one. This is exactly the period I was telling you about earlier. It was a very dark period for me. On a personal level, I was absolutely dry. When I came to the studio, I couldn’t do anything. And then I started doing this silly dance floor oriented album, and it just didn’t work. This album is the proof that you cannot try to do something that is not true to who you are. When I worked on the Electronica project, and was in the studio with Robert Del Naja from Massive Attack, I said that my dream would be to make an album that sounded like Massive Attack, but I know that I can’t. And Robert told me that he would love to do an album that sounded like me, but you can’t escape who you are. And Téo & Téa is the ultimate proof of that.
– I like Vintage on that album, though. That’s a good track.
– Which one is Vintage?
Jarre simply can’t remember, so manager Fiona Commins comes to the rescue to explain which track we are talking about.
– Tell him how the track got on there, she says to Jarre.
Jarre still can’t seem to remember. So Fiona explains:
– I came to the studio to listen to the album. And I was very pregnant, listened to the music, and said the only track I liked was that one. And Jean-Michel was sure it was my pregnancy hormones talking.
– Ahhh, yes, Jarre exclaims!
– Now, I remember. See how much I dislike the album? I’m blocking stuff out.
– You even played that track when you performed at the royal wedding in Monaco.
– That’s right. And once again, the live version is better than the studio version.
Electronica 1: The Time Machine and Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
After Téo and Téa, Jarre went quiet on the recording front for eight years. He then released two volumes of his Electronica project in six months. The first one in November 2015 and the second one in May 2016. He spent four years travelling around in Europe and the US to create songs with Pet Shop Boys, Moby, Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode and Erasure), Massive Attack, Pete Townshend (The Who), Laurie Anderson, M83, Yello, The Orb, Cyndi Lauper, Tangerine Dream, the movie director and composer John Carpenter and a whole lot of other artist within the electronica field.
One of the more original guests on Electronica 2 was Edward Snowden. With the assistance of journalists from The Guardian, Jarre visited him in Moscow and recorded a speech by Snowden. In the speech Snowden says that if you are not willing to stand up for your rights for privacy, then who will?
– It’s unusual for you to be so political?
– Are you so sure that I am political? I don’t think I am. Remember that music can have two facets. You have music that is simply to have fun with and dance and party to. And then you have the kind of music that want to say something about the times we are living in, music that wants to convey a message. This is something Bob Dylan, who just won the Nobel Prize for literature, is a perfect example of. But I don’t like artists who use the stage as a political platform.
As if that wasn’t enough. Oxygene 3 came out in November 2016. Jarre insists that he didn’t listen to the two previous albums while composing the third one.
– No, the thought was just to work after the same principles. Sculpting sounds and melodies out of frequencies and playfulness. While working on Electronica I composed a piece of music that I felt didn’t suit that particular project, so I put it aside. I actually felt like I did during the creation of the first Oxygene (1976) when I did that track, so when the request from the record company came, I remembered it. I then decided to do the entire album like that. Playing with frequencies, sounds and sections, and do it alone, in my home studio, in just six weeks, like I did back in 1976. I started in July and was finished in September. I only had a small break in August where I was stuck and decided to stop being a musician and become a painter instead.
But he did finish it, and he is to this day pleased with what he considers the final episode in the Oxygene trilogy.
But Jarre isn’t finished with sequels. Because he has now returned to the album he did after the original Oxgyene, namely Equinoxe. The new album is called Equinoxe Infinity, and the release date was November 16th.
But while Oxygene was a continuation musically, the premise for the new Equinoxe is the cover art, and artificial intelligence.
– For the first time in my career, I started with the visual side of the record, namely the cover. The cover for the original Equinoxe is my favourite album cover of the entire vinyl era. What Michel Granger, the artist, did there is so extraordinary. You had all these figures, with binoculars, staring at you. And I was wondering, who are these creatures? These Watchers.
So Jarre then got the idea of making a soundtrack to the visual side, instead of vice versa.
– I’ve had the idea for a while, and I thought that Equinoxe is really the one I should do it with. Before going into the studio, I found on Instagram a young and very talented artist from the Czech Republic, called Filip Hodas. He specialises in creating 3D graphics. He has created these visualisations of Pac-Man and characters from video games and put them into contexts where they look half rotten and half destroyed.
Jarre approached him and told Hodas that he had the idea of using these Watchers.
– I also told him I wanted to release this album with two different covers, where we would speculate about that had happened to these watchers, and what would happen with them in 40 years from now. So, we have created two different covers, and you don’t know which one you will get when you order a physical copy. One is heavenly like and green, and the other is in a futuristic hell. It’s a vision of how the future might be like, unless we start treating nature in the best ecological way. And to do that, we also need technology and artificial intelligence.
– You have said in many interviews that artificial intelligence is directly linked to this project. In what way?
– When I started the new project, I was absolutely committed to collaborate with AI solutions. But when I started digging a little bit more, I was very disappointed. What I found was that I was a bit early, so maybe for my next project, I will instead explore artificial intelligence when It comes to composing music. The algorithms available these days can laboriously copy a Michael Jackson song for instance, or if you feed the melody into some other algorithm, it will give back a poor version of Bach.
He goes on by saying that a lot of developers are massive Bach fans.
– And that’s simply because the music of Bach is so mathematical, so it works very well for developing algorithms. So instead of involving AI directly into the music, it became much more a source of inspiration for me. So, I got to work creating a soundtrack for these Watchers. And by imagining that they are a symbol of all the technology that has evolved since I began my career, by watching me and watching us.
He opinions that these days, people are spending more time watching their smart phones or tablets, than watching their partners or their own family.
– At the same time, they are not being conscious that the technology is watching them and watching us, by studying us and knowing us more and more. This is used to sell us products that we don’t really need, and also to spy on us and our privacy. Also, the way the machines are learning and teaching themselves, by watching us and our data, is what artificial intelligence is based on.
He tells me he heard a very interesting story from the US about the eye on the Tesla, used to watch the traffic on the road, to prevent you from running someone over or prevent you from being involved in a collision.
– And all of these parameters have to be analysed, digested and studied, instantly, by the algorithm. Based on this the car should make the right decision. And they fed this algorithm with so much information, that it works almost flawlessly. But nobody knows exactly how, because it’s too complex.
He’s convinced that in ten to fifteen years, we will have robots and algorithms that can create original movies, original music and original novels.
– It’s going to happen! And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Remember, every generation is saying that everything was much better in the past, and tomorrow everything will be worse. And it’s not true, each generation has been better off than the previous one. There is no reason why that should change, just because we have more AI in our lives. And our future is linked with ecology, environment and artificial intelligence. Hopefully it will help us to realise potential we haven’t seen yet. We should be optimistic, by subversion. And that is what this new album, this soundtrack, is all about. To illustrate these two possible futures, one more peaceful and green and the other more dystopian and apocalyptic.
Manager Fiona now signals that my time is up, but I manage to sneak in one more question.
– The second track on the new album, Flying Totems, sounds very much like Industrial Revolutions Part 2 from Revolutions. Was that intentional?
– No. Which is surprising, because it’s true, ha ha! But it’s true, actually. I really love this conversation, because you have made me discover things that I unconsciously maybe did, but that I didn’t realise when I did it.
– I did review the album, and I gave it a positive review. But I can’t decide whether I like the new single, Infinity, or not.
– Really? It’s an interesting track, because I didn’t listen to Equinoxe at all before I did the new one, so that I wouldn’t be influenced. But I played it once before, in reverse. And then I found a tune, that was a bit close to the Infinity track, because I wanted to create a bridge with Equinoxe Part 5. I wanted to have this kind of happy track with these voices and… by the way, which is your favourite track on the album.
– All that You Leave Behind, with the harmonica sound in it. It’s almost like Ennio Morricone.
– And also, the last track. It repeats the theme of the opening track. And then goes into this very ambient The Orb like passage, and then you throw sounds and effects all over it. I love that.
– That’s good to hear, from a specialist!
And with that, the conversation was over. Jarre and I pose for a photo, we say our goodbyes and I walk out into a sun-filled Paris. And I realise that the song I have in my head, is the aforementioned Infinity, that I just said I haven’t decided whether I like or not.
What was it Jarre said about the subconscious, again?
But wait! There’s more. Here is a Spotify playlist that includes several of the songs discussed above:
What did you think of the final part? Any good? Or do you have any comments on any of the other parts as well? Something I should have asked? Leave a comment below!
11 thoughts on “The Journey to Equinoxe Infinity – Part 4: Who’s Watching the Watchers?”
Hi, wish you would have asked about those 8 years ins silence. It was a Jarre comand to not ask about it?
Well, it’s not a big secret what he did during those 8 years. He toured a LOT (Oxygene 30th anniversary tour, the indoor tours of 2011) and he worked 4-5 years on Electronica. So it IS covered.
It is very interesting what JMJ says about being stuck mid-project and the idea about becoming a painter instead. In some of his earlier interviews he said he did a lot of painting until 15 y.o. So did he actually resume painting? If yes, did you have a chance to see any? The recent ones? I am very curious. Oh, and thanks for the great and very profound interview!
Thanks for the kind words! No, I didn’t get to see any of the paintings. I know that he painted in his younger days, but I think he was mostly joking when he said that about the process of working on Oxygene 3.
Excellent interview series. I learned a lot. You asked really great questions.
Love the photo too…is it true electronic music keeps you looking young?
Thank you. Very nice of you to say so
What a great read this interview was (all 4 parts). I almost felt like I was there listening. 1 day, all musician interviews will be this interesting – and maybe the musicians themselves will be as open as JM was in this one.
Thank you for deciding to publish it all – a real treat.
I should have commented WAY before now, but this is the best ever interview with JMJ ever. Informative without being overly technical, respectful without being overly reverential. Whenever you get the chance to meet him again, please try and cover the albums from Oxygene 7-13 to the present day in a bit more detail, as you were so pushed for time this time around.
Again bravo sir ! 🙂
Wow! Thank you so much! That’s very kind of you. Glad you enjoyed it
Indeed a very nice and friendly interview! How do I get my own composed/produced music to JMJ?