Jean Michel Jarre

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Jean Michel Jarre is a French electronic musician and multimedia performer. He was born in Lyons in 1948 as the son of the film score composer Maurice Jarre (Doctor Zhivago) and a former Résistance member.

His musical career began in the late 1960s with two bands, one of which covered the Shadows and the Spotnicks with Jarre as as Strat-toting Hank Marvin stand-in and appeared in a nowadays obscure French movie. His first release was the single La Cage in 1971 which is so rare that it has grown more expensive than many synthesizers. It was followed by the not less rare album Deserted Palace (1972) and the movie soundtrack Les Granges Brûlées (1973). Over the 70s, Jarre did a couple of jobs in the music industry including TV and advertising music and composing the music and/or writing the lyrics (!) of French chansons/pop songs, partly in the wake of the disco era.

These jobs seem to have paid him enough to gather together a decent home studio—in a time when there were practically no home studios at all as opposed to today, and when all equipment including the synthesizers was hardware—and record his 1976 breakthrough album, Oxygène. This album, together with its 1978 successor Equinoxe, defined Jarre's Signature Style of electronic music that did not sound as though it had been made with machines (as opposed to Kraftwerk, for example). The major labels saw no chance in instrumental electronic music being commercially successful, though, so Jarre released Oxygène at a small jazz label where it reached gold status in no time. Since Jarre's music didn't fit into any established musical genre, the hit single "Oxygène 4" managed to top the U.S. pop, jazz, classical music, and country charts all at once; not bad for a French musician.

The people who bought Oxygène and Equinoxe have never gotten over Jarre leaving his Signature Style in The Eighties, moving on with the development of electronic instruments, and trying new styles. Zoolook (1984, featuring Laurie Anderson, Marcus Miller, and Adrian Belew, just to name a few guest musicians) was heavily based on vocal samples from dozens of languages, Revolutions (1988) had more Roland D-50 written over it than anything ever made by Enya, Waiting For Cousteau (1990) was Jarre meets steel drums.

The 1993 album Chronologie saw Jarre on his way back to the roots with the dance styles of The Nineties combined with some analog synths and sounds used by Jarre in his more popular albums from The Seventies; besides, it was Jarre's first album with all tracks given the album title and the track number as titles since Magnetic Fields (1981). Oxygène 7-13, released in 1997 (intended to be a 20-years-on-Oxygène anniversary album but delayed by several months) was thoroughly analog and an almost complete return to Jarre's Signature Style, weren't it for some more contemporary dance beats in some parts.

Metamorphoses (2000) was Jarre's first and only album with the majority of tracks having vocals and lyrics and being sung for a change, only two out of twelve tracks are Instrumentals. Once again, though, it didn't sound like anything Jarre had made before. Sessions 2000 (2002) was made of recorded electronic jazz-like jam sessions which Jarre put on a CD because he had to fulfill his album quota before he could get out of his record deal. His subsequent original releases (Geometry Of Love, 2003, Téo & Téa, 2007) turned out so weird that Jarre hardly ever played anything out of them at his concerts. Instead, he revived older material twice (he had to because his old recordings remained property of the jazz label). In 2004, Aero was released, a sort of Greatest Hits Album with three new tracks and the rest having been partly re-recorded and remixed in surround sound, and in 2007, Jarre and three of his co-musicians remade all of Oxygène live in one sitting, enabling the whole album to be performed live on stage.

Jarre probably keeps a negative record sales record with his 1983 album Music For Supermarkets, of which only one copy was produced and then sold at an auction.

A description of Jean Michel Jarre wouldn't be complete without mentioning his concerts. Jarre took both light shows and audience sizes Up to Eleven. His 1979 premiere concert with only him and some electronic instruments on a stage on the Place de la Concorde in Paris already gave him an entry in the Guinness Book of Records for the largest concert audience ever—one million. What they saw wasn't just a synth nerd in a keyboard castle but a show of lights and projections of previously unseen dimensions. In 1981, the British Embassy in the People's Republic of China got him to play five indoor concerts in Beijing and Shanghai as the first pop musician ever. Jarre's next live show in Houston, Texas, in 1986 was blown out of any proportions imaginable when he used just about all of downtown Houston's skyline as the backdrop (as in he had lights, laser projections, still images, and even movies shot onto the facades of several-100-feet-tall skyscrapers with skytrackers on their roofs and gigantic fireworks even above these) for a concert with which he beat his own record (more than 1.5 million spectators). He played a similar outdoor concert for Pope John Paul II in his hometown Lyons half a year later, he gave a show on a stage floating on the River Thames inmidst the ruins of the Queen Victoria Docks in London in 1988 during a phase of downright extremely bad weather, and he improved his own record a second time on a pyramid-shaped stage in front of Paris' brand-spanking-new skyscraper quarter La Défense in 1990 (for some 2.5 million people).

It took him until 1993 to actually tour for the first time, and even then, he only played a couple of shows throughout Europe because each of the huge custom-made open-air stages took several days to weld together. And it wasn't before 1997—two years after his third big show in Paris, this time under the Eiffel Tower—that he had a tour concept that fit onto existing stages in locations with a solid roof. Jarre's last giant show in a city was part of Moscow's 850th anniversary, played in front of the State University (the biggest building in all of Moscow, and the architecture of the Stalin era was impressively huge) and watched by at least 3.5 million people as the university can be seen all over the city. The millennium celebrations led him to the pyramids of Gizeh which of course were used as projection screens again. The 21st century saw him play a number of smaller single shows in places such as the Akropolis in Athens, a Danish windmill park, Tiananmen Square in Beijing, a legendary shipyard in Gdańsk, and the Moroccan desert; on the other hand, he has been playing one tour per year since 2008 where he keeps shamelessly showcasing unbelievable amounts of mostly highly valuable vintage synthesizers.

  • La Cage (Single, 1971)
  • Deserted Palace (1972)
  • Les Granges Brûlées (soundtrack, 1973, re-released on CD 2003)
  • Oxygène (1976 in France, 1977 worldwide)
  • Equinoxe (1978)
  • Magnetic Fields/Les Chants Magnétiques (1981)
  • The Concerts In China/Les Concerts En Chine (1982)
  • Music For Supermarkets/Musique Pour Supermarché (1983, only one made)
  • Zoolook (1984)
  • Rendez-vous (1986)
  • In Concert Houston-Lyon/Cities In Concert (1987)
  • Revolutions (1988)
  • Jarre Live/Destination Docklands (1989)
  • Waiting For Cousteau/En Attendant Cousteau (1990)
  • Images – The Best Of Jean Michel Jarre (1991)
  • Chronologie (1993)
  • Hong Kong (1994)
  • Oxygène 7-13 (1997)
  • Metamorphoses (2000)
  • Sessions 2000 (2002)
  • Geometry Of Love (2003)
  • Jarre In China (2004)
  • Aero (2004)
  • Téo & Téa (2007)
  • Oxygène – New Master Recording (2007)

Jean Michel Jarre provides examples of the following tropes:
  • AcCENT Upon the Wrong SylLABle: "Hey Gagarin" with vocoded vocals from Jarre himself. Unlike the correct Russian pronunciation, Jarre puts the emphasis in "Gagarin" on the last syllable. Justified in that the whole song is sung vocoded with a strong French accent, and in French, it's always the last syllable that's emphasized, and this happens to other words in it as well.
  • Audience Participation: Revolution, Revolutions when played at a gig in the United Kingdom, Manchester in particular.
  • Author Existence Failure: The NASA astronaut Ron McNair was to record a piece of music composed for this purpose aboard the space shuttle and even play it live at Rendez-vous Houston. Then came the 1986 Challenger disaster with McNair on board.
  • Big Rock Ending: Used to be pulled off with certain songs at live shows, especially "Fourth Rendez-vous" at Rendez-vous Houston.
  • Call-and-Response Song: Done with two synthesizers on "Oxygène 12".
  • Concept Album: Several. Most of them, one could say.
  • Cover Version: Yes, Jarre has been not only remixed, but also covered a lot over the time, and not only by Ed Starink.
    • The best example would be The Shadows. One of Jarre's school-time bands covered the Shadows in the late 1960s with Jarre as Hank Marvin. The Shadows covered Jarre's "Equinoxe 5" (actually parts "5" through "7") in 1980. In 1988, Jarre got Hank Marvin to collaborate on the track "London Kid" from Revolutions. In 1993, Hank Marvin took his Fiesta red Stratocaster and covered "Oxygène 4".
    • Even after Oxygène, Jarre himself isn't beyond covering, although the few examples have been parts of concerts. "Fishing Junks at Sunset", played at most of Jarre's shows in what is China today, is a reworked piece of classical Chinese music, something even some die-hard fans don't know. "Salma Ya Salama" from the millennium The Twelve Dreams of the Sun is a covered Dalida song. And several songs from the Gdańsk show Space of Freedom aren't composed by Jarre either.
    • Jarre's son David played some pieces from Rendez-vous on a small Korg arranger keyboard which his father then mixed into "Rendez-vous 5 Part 2".
    • Jarre was covered a lot in the Commodore 64 music scene, probably moreso than any other artist.
  • Echoing Acoustics: The bass drum of "Calypso 3" has some massive reverb.
  • Epic Rocking: Jarre recorded many oversized pieces of music in his career, some of them being longer than 10 minutes (and epic, all right). "Waiting for Cousteau" takes the cake, though: 46:53 (albeit with no apparent rhythm or composed melody). Originally, it was even longer than one hour, but it had to be shortened.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: Magnetic Fields and Zoolook, the albums made in the early days of sampling. And Jarre used to be a member of Pierre Schaeffer's Groupe de Recherches Musicales which influenced his earliest works. And let's not forget the Nikon camera shutter and motor winder of "Souvenir of China".
  • Everything Is Big in Texas: Rendez-vous Houston was just about the biggest concert in the history of music back then and broke a whole number of records.
  • Everything's Better with Sparkles: Jarre had Synth Sparkles long before the Yamaha DX 7 (which he didn't like anyway) thanks to the EMS models VCS3 and Synthi AKS.
  • Evolving Music: Lots of examples, only a few of which are listed here.
    • "Oxygène 4" had parts of it replaced with a kind of bridge following the same chords from 1990 on.
    • On the same occasion, "Equinoxe 4" got a new intro.
    • "Equinoxe 7" has been cut off before the long ambient ending ever since 1986. From 1995 to the mid-2000s, another chunk was cut out (it came back with reinforcement a few years ago), and a filter modulation was added to the bass.
    • The first half of "Equinoxe 8", also known as "Band In The Rain", has been played on a barrel organ ever since 1993.
    • "Magnetic Fields 2", for example, got a long solo section in 1981, a modified melody in 1988, and an additional bridge in 1990 (the latter two changes were reverted in 2009 for the In>Doors tour).
    • "Souvenir of China" got several solos at the end over the time.
    • Both "Souvenir of China" and "Second Rendez-vous" were accompanied by an orchestra for several years, starting at the millennium night.
    • "Revolutions" had its Turkish flute intro replaced by an Arabian string orchestra playing an entirely different melody and its title changed to "Revolution, Revolutions" in 1990.
    • As for evolution in the studio, "Orient Express" was entirely re-recorded for the Greatest Hits Album Images in 1991, and hardly anything was left as-is for Aero in 2004.
    • The most common live change in the 1980s and 1990s were drums played live, and they were played differently at each concert or tour since the drummer didn't always follow the original drum machine beats. The most extreme changes were probably applied at the Twelve Dreams Of The Sun, not only because the music had to fit a mostly Egyptian audience, but also because this was the only time that Gary Wallis played the drums for Jarre, and he gave them a not-quite-slight The Police touch. Most concerts of those times also had a bass guitar player.
    • Some songs from Metamorphoses were not only reworked, but also renamed. "Light My Sky" used to be "Tout Est Bleu", "Give Me A Sign" was slowed down a lot and became "Hymn To Acropolis" (which in turn had several other titles over the times), and "Aero" can barely still be identified as what used to be "Je Me Souviens".
  • Executive Meddling: It's more like Political Meddling, but Jarre had to replace every instance of "revolution" in "Revolution, Revolutions" for the Twelve Dreams of the Sun because the word "revolution" is banned in Egypt.
  • Fading Into the Next Song: Jarre is famous for this. "Oxygène 1" and "2" are barely separated, the arpeggio of "Equinoxe 3" leads into "Equinoxe 4", a similar connection exists between "Magnetic Fields 3" and "4".
  • Frank's 2000-Inch TV: In the 1980s and 1990s, Jarre played huge outdoor concerts in front of huge buildings such as the skyscraper skylines of Houston, TX, and La Défense (Paris), the Moscow State University (the biggest building in Moscow), or the Pyramids of Gizeh. Most of the buildings served as gigantic projection screens.
  • FIFA World Cup Special: Rendez-Vous 98, a remix of Fourth Rendez-Vous intended to capture all the thrill of a World Cup finale.
  • Frickin' Laser Beams: Part of most Jarre concerts. There used to be laser projections, today there are laser scanners, and let's not forget the Laser Harp.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The album Geometry of Love. It is particularly notable that the cover art made it past the radar.
  • Gratuitous Panning: An old Jarre trick is to divide a delayed sequence by panning the original fully to one side and the delay hard to the other. Examples include "Magnetic Fields 1" and "Arpegiator", both of which came out as late as 1981.
  • Greatest Hits Album: The Essential (1983), Musik aus Zeit und Raum (1983), The Essential (1985), Images (1991), The Essential (again) (2003), Aero (2004)
  • Green Aesop: Especially the "Statistics Adagio".
  • Grief Song: "Ron's Piece" turned into one after the Challenger disaster.
    • At Oxygen In Moscow 1997, "Souvenir of China" was dedicated to Diana, Princess of Wales, who had died earlier the same year.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: "Ron's Piece" has a sampled human heartbeat instead of drums. The piece basically begins when the heartbeat sets in, and a heartbeat sample is the very last note. Also, the album Chronologie starts and ends with synthesized heartbeats.
  • Heavy Metal: The young French metal guitarist Patrick Rondat joined Jarre in 1993 and again in 2005. Rondat went as far as playing a metal rendition of a part of Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons at some of Jarre's concerts in addition to accompanying some of Jarre's own music.
  • Iconic Song Request: "Oxygène! Oxygène! Oxygène! Oxygène!" or "Rendez-vous! Rendez-vous! Rendez-vous! Rendez-vous!"
  • I Have Many Names: Jarre's many pseudonyms before Oxygène.
  • Improv: Sessions 2000, period. Also happens a lot at certain points of certain pieces when played live. Recent examples include Theremin or breath controller intros.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: The literal French translation of Magnetic Fields would be Champs Magnétiques. The French album title (actually printed on album covers, by the way) was Les Chants Magnétiques (The Magnetic Chants) which is pronounced exactly the same. Face it, it's impossible for a Jarre-related pun to be lamer than this.
  • Instrumentals: By far most of Jarre's music.
  • List Song: "Millions of Stars", both versions (musical chords and celestial bodies, respectively), and "Revolutions"/"Revolution, Revolutions".
    • "Sale of the Century" isn't really a song of itself but an interlude from the 1993 Europe In Concert tour based on the end of "Chronologie 5", but otherwise it counts.
  • A Little Something We Call "Rock and Roll": The China concerts 1981. The people in the post-Mao People's Republic of China didn't know any contemporary Western music, let alone electronic music, until shortly before, and they had never attended concerts with electronically amplified and thus considerably loud music. Nevertheless, they went absolutely wild.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: Jarre Live before it was renamed Destination Docklands, Waiting For Cousteau with a yellow ear on a blue background, and Aero with the title and Jarre's eyes on a white background.
  • Modulation: "Second Rendez-vous", for example, changes among F minor (parts 1, 2, 4), D minor (parts 1, 2), and C minor (part 3, which is entirely different from the rest of the work).
  • My Nayme Is: Jarre dropped the dash that would usually belong between his forenames. It's "Jean Michel" instead of "Jean-Michel".
  • Myspeld Rokband: Vizitors (Jarre and Tetsuya "TK" Komuro).
  • New Sound Album: Anything released after Equinoxe, to the degree that no post-Equinoxe album sounds like its respective predecessor. Waiting For Cousteau and Metamorphoses probably took the cake. Goes together with They Changed It, Now It Sucks.
  • No Export for You: Taken to the extreme with the Oxygene Moscow DVD, of which only two versions were released in the USA and Brazil respectively. Also, the Concert pour la Tolérance LaserDisc was released in France only, and the concert itself has never been available on any other media, neither video nor audio.
  • The Not-Remix: Aero mostly contains a mixture of original studio footage and newly recorded elements mixed in 5.1 surround sound. But they're not declared "remixes"—in contrast to late 1990s' habits when fans found themselves speaking of electronic cover versions of Jarre's music as remixes due to a flood of actual remixes.
    • In fact, this already applies to "Equinoxe 5", which was remixed and apparently partly re-recorded prior to Equinoxe's CD release. The latter is more well-known today, and people are often puzzled when they stumble upon the original version.
  • Numbered Sequels: Oxygène 7-13, the sequel to the six-track Oxygène.
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: The few seconds of "Equinoxe 5" allowed on the album Aero sound like coming from a constantly bent music box.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: The end of "Digisequencer".
    • Subverted by the beginning of "Chronologie 8" which is almost wedding compatible.
  • Organ Grinder: At concerts, "Band in the Rain" (actually the first half of "Equinoxe 8") is usually played by Jarre on a barrel organ.
  • Orient Express: An actual track on The Concerts In China, later re-recorded for Images.
  • Pun-Based Title: Les Chants Magnétiques.
  • Rearrange the Song: Several Jarre classics got partly new accompaniments and especially drum parts for the Twelve Dreams of the Sun, some of them to sound more Arabic. Also, the dance-pop/trance version of "Magnetic Fields 2" from the 1997 Oxygène Arena Tour.
    • "The Overture" from The Concerts in China is a re-arranged version of "Magnetic Fields 1" with the main sequence played back at half speed.
  • Repurposed Pop Song: Jarre's music has been used as themes of several TV shows, and parts of the album Oxygène went into the soundtrack of Gallipoli.
  • Rerelease the Song: "Oxygène 4", the original studio single recording from 1976, was re-released at about the same time as Jarre Live (a live album) in the late 1980s with a brand-new video.
  • Retraux: Oxygène 7-13, the 2007 Oxygène remake, and to a certain degree Chronologie.
  • Rockumentary: Making the Steamroller Fly.
  • Scatting: The human voice samples on Zoolook.
  • Signature Song: "Oxygène 4".
  • Signature Style: Defined by Oxygène and Equinoxe. Some expect Jarre to always sound like this.
  • Similarly Named Works: Jarre played a two-part piece of music named "Aero" at the concert of the same name in Denmark 2002. Two years later, the album Aero was released with an entirely different track named "Aero"—and the live version of "Rendez-vous 4" played right after "Aero" at the concert.
  • Single-Stanza Song: "Bells", "Rendez-vous à Paris".
  • Song Style Shift: Happens in several of Jarre's works, for example "Night In Shanghai", "Ethnicolor", "Calypso 2", "Digisequencer". Some of them are divided into subparts by fans to tell the sections from one another, especially if only one of them is played live (for example "Oxygène 5", "Equinoxe 8", "Magnetic Fields 1", "Oxygène 7", "Chronologie 1").
  • Spoken Word in Music: The weather forecast verses of "Tout Est Bleu", the original verses of "Millions Of Stars", "Je Me Souviens" and "Love Love Love" as a whole, parts of "C'est La Vie", the "project explanation" bits from "Téo & Téa", and understandable samples of Chinese in "Souvenir Of China" (the voice samples on Zoolook might or might not count). The lyrics of "Revolution, Revolutions" have always been spoken into the vocoder at concerts after 1990. And then there are the spoken interludes from the Europe In Concert tour.
  • Technology Porn: The 2008 Oxygène Tour seemed to focus on gear. Loads of vintage gear. He even used special rectangular spotlights to illuminate synthesizers individually or in groups for a while. Tour merch included T-shirts with synth close-up images. The two following tours toned this down only slightly.
    • This.
    • Many of Jarre's albums include lists of the gear used to record them. Rendez-vous goes as far as listing who of the musicians involved used what on which track.
  • Theremin: Claimed to have been played on Oxygène 7-13. This instrument did in fact appear at the Oxygène Arena Tour the same year and at every Jarre concert ever since. Jarre has actually learned to play it meanwhile.
  • The Something Song: "Digisequencer" is also known as "Sequencer Song".
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: Overdone in "London Kid" with modulations of "multiple" semitones. Twice.
  • Unplugged Version: "Band in the Rain" played on a barrel organ.
  • Unusual User Interface: The Laser Harp. Instead of strings, it has laser beams which, meanwhile, are powerful enough to slice your hand if you put it in them with no protective gloves on. And yes, the laser harpist does insert his hands into the beams. The maximum number of 10 beams used by Jarre isn't much of an obstacle since different notes can be assigned to the beams.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "Millions of Stars" seems to have these, at least it had them before the verses were rewritten with stars and planets. If you're a musician, though, you will find out that they're chords. The first line in the first verse (see below) is actually even played at that time during the song.

Gm, Dm, Cm⁹, Gm

  • Xenophone: Subverted in a sense by many instruments designed for Jarre. The Laser Harp is a perfect example—even today, many people don't believe it is actually playable.
    • M. Jarre has had more than one laser harp since he started using them - they have been upgraded and replaced as technology has improved (for instance, earlier models were built into a podium with an overhead truss to intercept the beams). The current models may well function as implied, but some of the older ones plainly didn't (c.f. the London Docklands concert, where one of his hands drifted out of its beam without affecting the sustained note he was trying to hold).