Jean-Michel Jarre: Organic meets Electronic

"I have an organic approach toward music but I've always been interested in electronics," says Jean-Michel Jarre, whose luxurious electronic pop conquered the world in 1976 with his hit album Oxygène. Even today, Oxygène's bubbling tones and saturated textures provide a blissful sonic experience. "I love jazz because of its organic approach to sound, and I've been influenced by that. I always thought that jazz and electronic music have much more in common than we think."

After planting his electronic-music flag, Jarre has enjoyed a level of success shared by few, having sold 80 million albums in a recording career of nearly 50 years. Along the way he's performed record-setting concerts, including some in unusual locations and venues, and received many honors, including the Stephen Hawking Medal for Science Communication, Music & Arts.

In 2018, after 22 studio albums that shared a loosely similar sound and feel, Jarre has updated his sound, and even more his vision, with his latest release, Équinoxe Infinity (Columbia).

There's no denying the beauty of Jarre's original Équinoxe (1978), his fragrant melodies and dream-infused electronica creating the template for the ambient and new-age music to come. Borrowing from Kraftwerk's brilliant sounds of electronic alienation, then adding colorful tones and meditative beats, Jarre made electronic music that a wide range of listeners could love. Pioneering the use of such exotic analog synthesizers as the EMS Synthi AKS, ELKA 707, the Mellotron, and the Oberheim TVS-1A, Jarre created a classic of electronic music.

But while Équinoxe Infinity mirrors the sonic environments of Équinoxe, it's a different work released in a world far different from the one of four decades before. Revisiting the original album's cover art, Jarre reinterprets the binocular-wielding "Watchers" as our guides to two possible futures incorporating artificial intelligence (AI), one friendly, the other dystopian. Using classic analog synthesizers and modern modular keyboards, he succeeds in creating a soundtrack that combines dread and delight.


Ken Micallef: What is the theme of Équinoxe Infinity?

Jean-Michel Jarre: It's the idea that these creatures [on the cover], these "Watchers," could be whistleblowers toward environmental issues and AI and the evolution of technology, and that machines are learning from us. People are spending more time today watching their smartphones than watching their own life, their partner, their family—like zombies. But this technology is also watching our private lives, and studying us to sell us products that we don't necessarily need. This is the dystopian side of AI and the evolution of technology. We're going into a world that's man and machine, and we're going to become closer and closer.

Micallef: You've played a role in the span of electronic music, from its origins to today.

Jarre: And as someone having lived fully more with machines than human beings, I feel like these people who have spent their lives working with dolphins or elephants, and who developed special relationships with them. I love the idea that I succeeded in taming, a little bit, these machines around me. Because of that, I don't necessarily have only a dark or dystopian view of the future.

Micallef: You're a renowned electronic musician with ties to classic American jazz.

Jarre: My mother, Francette Pejot, was a great figure in the French Resistance. [Jarre's father was film composer Maurice Jarre (1924–2009).—KM] After the war, her best friend opened the most famous jazz club in in Paris, Le Chat qui Pêche (The Fishing Cat). John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Don Cherry, and Chet Baker played there. As a child, I shared moments with these guys in the club all the time and had no idea who they were. For my ninth birthday, Chet Baker sat me on the upright piano and played for me for five minutes. That was my first physical experience of how sound can affect you. I remember the impact of his trumpet sound on my chest as a child. Chet Baker told me two things. He said, "Jazz is not only about melody. Everybody thinks it's about the melody, but it's about escaping from the melody to try to get the sound." Sound is more important, and it's exactly what electronic music is all about, following this kind of organic approach, almost like cooking—and in that sense, jazz is like that too. Jazz is about trying to find the ultimate sound. Chet Baker was obsessed by that. Miles Davis, too. And that's the reason why you can listen to 30 seconds of Miles's or Chet Baker's music and you know it's them.

Micallef: Your new music still sounds like you. You haven't tried to update it or make it sound like contemporary electronic music.

Jarre: Somebody else who had a great influence on me was Federico Fellini, the Italian director. Nino Rota is my god. [Rota composed the scores for many of Fellini's films.—KM] I met Fellini at the end of his life, in Cannes. He said, "Jean-Michel, when I look back I always thought I was making a totally different movie each time. But then I realized that I always did the same movie, just variations of myself." I think that, for any kind of artist, there is nothing new in life because we are repeating the same thing. If you look back—take Miles Davis, take the Beatles, take Stanley Kubrick—they're all saying the same thing to us. It's just a variation of what we call style. Whatever you do, you can't escape.

Micallef: In the electronic press kit for Équinoxe Infinity, it looks as if you're using a lot of modular synths.

Jarre: The new modular things are quite interesting because they're developed by these young guys in a very craftsmanship way. The fact that you're mixing all these different elements not necessarily conceived to work together can create something quite random, quite interesting. These synths are actually the hardware versions of plugins. For a long time, plugins emulated hardware, even the look on the computer screen. Now hardware is imitating plugins, the modules. The young generation are attracted to these modules because, in a sense, they are modules you can touch and feel. In the late '60s, I sold my electric guitar, my amp, and my electric train to get the money to buy the first EMS synthesizer. I used that synthesizer in all of my albums.


Anton's picture

I'm crazy for "Love Is Like Oxygène."

Love is like Oxygène.
You get too much,
you get too high.
Not enough and you're gonna die...

misterc59's picture

Written by Andrew Scott / Trevor Griffin
Album: Level Headed 1978


Anton's picture


Bogolu Haranath's picture

Sweet is ......

"Sweet Child O' Mine" ......... Guns N' Roses :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Or, could be a .........

"Fox On the Run" ......... The Sweet :-) .........

monetschemist's picture

... inspired me to dig out my Polydor LP of Oxygène, run it through the Spin Clean and play it. I had mostly forgotten what a fine album this is. Not sure I've played it since 1980 or so.

Nice to see it's also available on 8 Track and Cassette :-) according to the back cover.