to my success: Jean Michel Jarre
UK’s The Mail on Sunday
Oxygène, Jean Michel Jarre’s seventies synth music
classic, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the work.
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
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
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
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
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
It's been quite an experience.
"Oxygène: Live In Your Living Room", the
30th anniversary DVD, is out now.