From "Oxygène" to "Oxymore": There are not only more than 40 years between the albums, but also worlds. With his instrumental synthesizer melodies, Jean-Michel Jarre revolutionized the music world in 1976 - and made his international breakthrough as the godfather of electronic music. In 2022 he composed one of the first albums in so-called 360-degree sounds: sounds and melodies that come from all sides - from above and below, from right and left.
New sound systems, metaverse, virtual reality: the musician and composer, who turns 75 this Thursday (August 24), has always been ahead of his time. In an interview with the German Press Agency, he said he felt privileged to have been a witness and actor in three revolutionary moments in music history. And performed: the beginnings of electronic music, the emergence of the digital age and the beginning of immersive sounds.
He was always ahead of his time
Jarre has lived up to its name as an avant-gardist for more than 40 years. There are people who dare not leave their comfort zone, he told the Nice-Matin newspaper. He has no interest in doing something he did twenty or more years ago.
And so the artist, who was born in Lyon in 1948, always has his nose way ahead: in times of disco and punk rock, he composed and produced an instrumental album of serious music called "Oxygène". It was published in France with a small first edition in December 1976, and then worldwide in July 1977. Today, with over 18 million albums sold, it is the most successful French record of all time. Since the beginning of his career he has sold over 85 million albums.
"Oxygène" was followed by "Equinoxe" and "Magnetic Fields", million sellers. He showed himself to be more willing to experiment in "Zoolook" from 1984. For the first time he worked more intensively with scraps of language from different ethnic groups, which he alienated and processed into sound collages.
Also new was the use of guest musicians - something he would later use on Electronica 1 and Electronica 2, released in 2015 and 2016, respectively. He brought together important artists such as Massive Attack, Pete Townshend and Moby. As he told the "Planet Interview" portal, he had a very personal idea of these musicians that he wanted to make sound.
He was one of the first to make headlines with mega concerts in unusual locations. "Going to a concert and watching someone standing behind a keyboard or a laptop is neither sexy nor visually impressive," he told dpa.
And so he was the first western musician to play in China after the death of Mao Tsetung in 1981. On the occasion of the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1986 he performed in his native city of Lyon and in Egypt he played in front of the pyramids of Gizeh. His gigantic music and light show spectacles attracted millions of spectators, such as in 1990 in the Parisian banking and high-rise district of La Defense. The more than two million people stood up to the Parisian triumphal arch.
He dives into virtual worlds as an avatar
The sound master attracted a record number of spectators with his Notre Dame live reality concert on December 31, 2020. "Welcome to the Other Side" was the name of the 45-minute virtual concert event. Jarre performed live from 11:25 p.m. in a studio not far from Notre-Dame, while his avatar also appeared in the 3D reconstruction of the Gothic church that was damaged in a major fire in April 2019.
Jarre believes in virtual reality as its own and fully-fledged mode of expression. Today, virtual reality is to live shows what cinema was to theater in its early days. "When cinema was invented 125 years ago, the actors weren't acting and speaking directly in front of an audience either," he said.
For his album "Oxymore", which was released in 2022, he created the imaginary city of Oxyville, where you can stroll around, dance and experience Jarre as an avatar on the keyboard. It was fascinating and also confusing how quickly he forgot the avatar aspect and dived into the virtual world, Jarre said.
"Oxymore" has little to do with Jarre's classics "Oxygène" and "Equinoxe". Instead of poppy electronic sounds and pleasing organ phaser sounds, transformed voices and rough sequences ring out from all sides. And yet his latest album has come full circle, so to speak: with his 360-degree sounds and virtual concerts, Jarre remains a pioneer.