Jean-Michel Jarre: For Rebellion’s Sake

Jean-Michel Jarre moves from collaboration to solo work

Whether alone for 1977’s prayerfully, atmospherically melodic, multiplatinum Oxygène and its follow-ups (including his recent Oxygène 3) or his collaborative Electronica series of 2015 and 2016, classical pianist-turned-synthetic-godhead Jean-Michel Jarre is a man fond of sequels. “I love the George Lucas idea where a cinematic story is written as a series; not only those in the future but prequels,” says Jarre. “Maybe I try that next: musical prequels.”

Experimentation is Jarre’s stock-in-trade. Rather than make electronic music that stands as a still life—distanced, cool and removed—this son of a French Resistance-fighting mother and a father in the business of composing Hollywood soundtracks (Maurice Jarre) has always forged electronically induced (or rather, seduced) muzik that gets up close and heated in a clinch; “sensualist, as in sex, taste, touch,” he says quietly.

Beyond that, another thing that holds true for the keyboardist/sequencer is that he’s game to try anything, like the vivid, beyond 3-D visuals (“the usual 3-D of film and funny cardboard glasses is boring”) that will accompany his current tour; or pairing Oxygène 3 with its equally moody predecessors for a new vinyl boxed set (“That album, made at a time of rebellion, still speaks to me,” says Jarre of the original); or, gathering electronic contemporaries (“Please, make that heroes,” he says, “inspirations, even the younger ones, especially the younger ones”) such as old friend Laurie Anderson (“a true artist in every medium”), Gary Numan, Pete Townshend, Air, Erasure’s Vince Clarke, Armin van Buuren and more for the double Electronica sets. “We are all part of the same DNA,” he says of Electronica’s fellaheen.

Ask him about the move from the lonely and solitary to the globe-hopping, travel- bound collaborations that fill his dueling Electronica  albums, and Jarre says, “It’s not about age or time; rather, the collaboration— or communion—I seek now relates back to when I was with dozens of other crazy kids in France working on bizarre machines. For me, it was like the student revolution that ran wild throughout the ’60s: against the political system, against everything. Going electronic, for us, was a way of railing against the system, against classical traditions in music. Even the establishment of rock was fair game—especially that.”

Rather than merely rebel for rebellion’s sake, Jarre went one step further—just as he does on Oxygène 3. He relies on simple, intense, richly contagious melody, rather than rhythm and tone, rather than timbre, to make his beauty mark. “I wanted to make the sound of the wind, the sound of the rain,” he says. “I was working as would a painter but with melody, the song, being a large part of my palette. I am obsessed by melody—the idea that I could experiment with both space and noise, along with melody. This is crucial, to be able to sing out.”

Creating the abstract and the direct is key to Jarre’s work—not just with his Oxygène records, with their numerical titles, or his Electronica albums, but with everything in between, such as his epic series of live recordings in China, his avant-punky Zoolook of 1984, his  often  operatic concerts (“Less is more  now,”  he  says of his 2017 excursion) and such.

“All that I have done, just go far beyond Jarre,” he says with a laugh.

Vive la révolution.

—A.D. Amorosi