The keys to my success: Jean Michel Jarre
12 January 2008
Jean Michel Jarre recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of his best-known work, the 12 million-selling Oxygène, with a ten-night run at the Théâtre Marigny in Paris.
The album, consisting entirely of electronic instrumental music, recorded at Jarre's home, was the surprise hit of 1977, producing a memorable single, Oxygène (Part IV).
In Paris last December, Jarre performed the entire work using the original equipment, including more than 50 vintage synthesizers, and he is due to bring the show to London's Royal Albert Hall this March.
It will be a relatively intimate event for Jarre, who is better known for huge, globe-straddling multimedia events.
The first was before a million people in Place de la Concorde in Paris, in 1979. The most recent was the Water For Life concert in the Sahara in 2006. Then there have been historic one-night stopovers such as the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, the Acropolis and Tiananmen Square.
The 59-year-old French composer has had four entries in the Guinness Book Of Records for concert attendances, breaking his own total three times ? the largest being in 1997 when he performed to 3.5 million people in Moscow.
Jarre was married for 20 years to the English actress, Charlotte Rampling, before they divorced in 1998.
They have one son, David Jarre, an internationally renowned magician.
Oxygène was turned down by all the record companies.
It was like a UFO ? it was made in the middle of the disco and punk eras and the record companies said, "What is it? No singer, no proper song titles? And, on top of that, it's French!" Even my mum asked, "Why are you giving your music the name of a gas?" Yet people talk of Oxygène now as my "masterpiece". When it became such a success, it was strange ? a very exciting period and kind of innocent. You find you have a lot of new friends around you and it's almost as if they want the success to continue more than you do.
Making my music is like being a chef.
It's no coincidence that Oxygène was recorded in my kitchen in Paris.I had to find the right ingredients, bringing everything to the right temperature. don't like the preconceived idea about electronic music that it is cold, futuristic or robotic. I want my music to sound warm, human and organic. I'm not a scientist working in a laboratory ? I'm more like a painter, Jackson Pollock for example, mixing colour and light, experimenting with textures.
I'm really playing those instruments: I don't just click a mouse and sit back.
They are not fake instruments. The beauty is that you can create the sound of the Moon, the sound of light. Nothing is repeated. It's music that breathes.
To me, the original VCS3 synthesizer is like a Stradivarius.
All these old analogue instruments are very poetic.I have a huge emotional relationship with them. My first synthesizer was the VCS3. I got it in Bristol in the late Sixties, long before Pink Floyd used them. I had to sell an acoustic guitar and an old reel-to-reel tape recorder to raise the money. You can do fantastic things with modern computers but you cannot use them in the same intuitive, spontaneous way you can a VCS3. You also have the Minimoog, which is very famous, and a Dutch invention called the Eminent, which was patented in the late Sixties. The sound of Oxygène is based on the fantastic string effects of the Eminent.
To play some of these old instruments you need the Force to be with you.
The theramin, for example ? it's totally intuitive. It looks like a Thirties radio with two antennae ? just by moving your hands towards the antennae you control the volume and the pitch, producing this fantastic sound like a soprano vocal. Stravinsky used one, as did the Beach Boys on Good Vibrations. It's very tricky to play.
I own some of the world's most unusual synthesizers.
They include the ARP 2600, a huge modular synthesizer. That's the instrument Pete Townshend created The Who's Baba O'Riley on. There are only about 30 left.
Back in the Seventies we had a romantic, poetic vision of the future, like it was in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
It felt as if everything was still ahead of us. Today, it is all behind us. That is not to say that my music is attached to sci-fi. I see my music as more attached to the biosphere than the stratosphere.
I collect robots.
They're mainly Japanese, American and especially Russian ? small robots, big robots and old toy robots made between 1910 and the Fifties. That period was all about futurism, from the art of Kandinsky to crazy guys building strange robots and sci-fi creatures, utopian-type things. In those days there were lots of dreamers about the future.I got into all that.
Going to the US or China and hearing your music on the radio is like signing your soul to the devil.
You can start to lose your own identity when your image becomes bigger than who you actually are. There are so many temptations, so many excesses, it can kill you. America is the worst. I was voted People magazine's Man Of The Year in the Seventies, and the women? well, you have to be clear in your mind what these things mean or your brain will implode.
Pope John Paul II had big feet.
The first thing I noticed when I met him was the size of his shoes. I thought to myself, "My God, this man has his head in the sky but his feet solidly on the ground."
I'll never forget the day of Princess Diana's funeral.
We had been quite close friends, and on that day I was doing a concert in Moscow for 3.5 million people. I knew she was keen on one song I'd written called Souvenir Of China. So I decided to dedicate it to her and ask the audience for a minute's silence. You can imagine the scene in Moscow with more than three million noisy people, the amount of vodka, craziness everywhere? But the entire city remained silent. It was so moving that everyone started crying. The tears were running down my face so much I couldn't even start to play again. Even now, just talking about it makes me emotional.
Why do I play these big events?
First, it's the fact that electronic instruments are not really made for live performance, so long tours are not feasible. And I became inspired by Italian opera, working with carpenters, painters, costumiers and, in my case, video artists, light-show specialists and architects. Also, because I've always considered my music to be attached to the immediate environment, I wanted to perform outdoors, to hijack one whole place for a night ? something where, as an artist, you have no second chance. At the Place de la Concorde [in 1979], one guy came up afterwards ? he had a long beard like Fidel Castro's ? and he said, "I've never seen anything like that before in my life." I thanked him and someone said, "Do you know who that was? Mick Jagger"
My favourite concert nearly didn't happen.
I thought it was a joke when Lech Walesa phoned me to play at Gdansk in 2005. I just didn't believe him. The concert was a kind of Blade Runner experience because it was in exactly that spot that the world had changed, leading to the eventual collapse of the Soviet system.
Arthur C Clarke thought aliens would respond to my music.
He told me, "We must do something in outer space ? perhaps a concert on the Moon." He thought it would be a good point of contact.
My favourite thing to spend money on used to be cars ? especially old British and American ones.
I had a Bugatti, which I bought in England, an old XJ140 Jaguar and a Cadillac Eldorado, which I bought in the US. I had cars all over the world. I drove them all, including the Bugatti. I was keener, though, on the XJ140 and the Cadillac. I'd put the family in them and off we'd go. Of course, you had to stop from garage to garage, because they kept breaking down, but I didn't care.
Oxygène made me rich ? but not as rich as you might think.
Back then managers and record companies were getting too much money. Having said that, I was able to buy a large house in Paris where I built my own studio, plus a house in London.
It has been very moving playing Oxygène again.
In Paris I was playing to small audiences of only about 500. I love using all the old equipment.
It's been quite an experience.
"Oxygène: Live In Your Living Room", the 30th anniversary