https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/jean ... -qnhqszzp5
Paywall link, so here's the full transcript and a link to the archived page:
Jean-Michel Jarre, the electro-whizz of Notre Dame
The electronic composer Jean-Michel Jarre tells Sarfraz Manzoor how his avatar will play live in the cathedral on New Year’s Eve
Jean-Michel Jarre explains how his avatar will play live in the cathedral on New Year’s Eve
Jean-Michel Jarre at Microsoft theatre in Los Angeles in 2017
Saturday December 26 2020, 12.01am GMT, The Times
Jean-Michel Jarre is recalling the dream that changed his life. It was 1976, Jarre was 28 years old and he had spent the previous ten years making music with little success. The Frenchman often heard music in his dreams, but on this particular night he dreamt he saw and heard five musical notes hanging suspended in the air. The notes would become instantly recognisable as the signature motif for his album Oxygène.
The record, which featured a cover of planet Earth peeling to reveal a skull to emphasise Jarre’s concerns about climate change, was released in December 1976 and would go on to sell about 15 million copies. It turned Jarre into a superstar of electronic music.
“It’s almost like I was not responsible for it,” Jarre recalls via Zoom from his home in Paris. He is wearing dark glasses despite being indoors, and at 72 he could easily pass for 20 years younger. “I had this conversation with Paul McCartney when we had Christmas together with our families and he was talking about how Yesterday came to him in a dream. It’s scary that you feel like you’re not really responsible.”
Oxygène was followed by other landmarks of electronic music — Équinoxe, Les Chants Magnétiques and Rendez-Vous — that have sold in total in excess of 80 million albums.
Jarre, who has been married four times including a 20-year marriage to Charlotte Rampling that ended in 1997, became associated with ever more spectacular live shows in front of gigantic crowds. He was the first western performer to be invited to perform within the People’s Republic of China and when he played at Place de la Concorde in Paris to celebrate Bastille Day in 1979 the audience of a million earned him a place in The Guinness Book of Records. He would later top his own record with 2.5 million attending a show in Paris in 1990 and 3.5 million seeing him in Moscow seven years later.
These are unimaginable numbers — how did it feel to play to such a large crowd? “I was at the bicentennial of the French Revolution and two and a half million people were there,” he says. “I remember turning my back to make sure that it was not a mistake — that it was not someone else they were all looking at.”
The notion of such a massive crowd is particularly unimaginable in this time of Covid but Jarre, ever the innovator, is embracing the possibilities of virtual reality for Welcome to the Other Side, a New Year’s Eve concert in Paris. Jarre will be in a studio close to Notre Dame and multiple VR cameras will film him performing a 45-minute set featuring music from his recent album Electronica as well as new reworked versions of his classics Oxygène and Equinoxe. The footage will be converted in real time into an avatar version of Jarre who will appear inside Notre Dame cathedral. Viewers can watch on a normal screen as they would a filmed live performance, but also by putting on a VR headset they can walk into Notre Dame, stand where the audience would normally be and see Jarre on stage in front of them. The performance will be free to view and available for replay for 24 hours.
My assumption, based on this past year, is that anything with the word “virtual” attached to it is likely to be a crushing disappointment. Jarre doesn’t see it quite like that. “I think VR today is exactly what the cinema was at the beginning of the 20th century. It is a new mode of expression. It’s never going to replace the excitement of shoulder against shoulder at a music festival, but people who are isolated socially or geographically can gather through their avatars in a VR world,” he says. He recalls his first VR performance two years ago. “I was on a stage playing, but when I put my VR goggles on I was in front of an audience — one guy was from Louisiana, one girl was from Shanghai, one guy was in Manchester, one guy was from Chile and we were all in the same room and within five minutes I had forgotten that these guys were avatars with the heads of foxes, dogs and cats. It felt like being in contact with a new dimension.”
The first time Jarre felt that feeling of new possibilities was when he was ten years old. He was living in Lyons, his parents had split five years earlier and his father, Maurice, a composer for films, had left for America. Jarre was given a tape recorder by his grandfather. “I would spend hours on the balcony in Lyons recording the sound of the street, and then by chance one day I played the tape backwards and, to me, I thought that an alien was talking to me. And from that I started to be obsessed with changing sound.”
Jarre’s first concert at Place de la Concorde in Paris on Bastille Day, 1979
DOUGLAS DOIG/HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES
Jarre studied classical musical composition and briefly fronted a proto-punk band called the Dustbins before becoming fascinated with the possibilities offered by electronic music. “I was always interested in trying to create a bridge between experimental music and pop, and I have always loved the idea that simplicity can hide melancholia and sadness.” It was while dwelling on that link between melody and melancholia that Jarre had the dream that led to the recording of Oxygène.
The first time I heard that album was when my English teacher Mr Dawson at the Luton comprehensive I attended told us he was going to play some music and we had to write a story inspired by it. This was in 1985, I was 14 and that lesson turned me into a Jean-Michel Jarre fan. “That’s a great honour for me,” Jarre says when I relate that memory. “It’s an approach to culture — to music in particular — that unfortunately the French don’t have. France is more a country of cinema and literature — less music.”
This makes the fact that Jarre and his father achieved international recognition so remarkable. “It’s very rare to have one French musician in a family having an international career,” Jarre says, “but to have two in the same family is surreal.”
Maurice and Jean-Michel had a troubled, distant relationship. “We were like vague friends, it was detached.” When his father died in 2009 Jarre recalls standing over his dead body and saying: “I forgive you. Forgive me for not being able to be loved by you.”
Jarre remembers that the Italian film director Federico Fellini once told him that all his life he thought he was making different movies, but he finally realised he had been making the same movie. “Paul McCartney is a dear friend and I really love him a lot,” Jarre says. “But whatever he does he will not escape from himself. He always writes the same song.”
A virtual reality concert such as the one on New Year’s Eve is very different from his traditional live shows — except it is not. “I was up until five o’clock in the morning working with my lighting designer and some graphic artists and some people in the studio. It is exactly as if I was preparing my next tour. It’s the same thing,” he says.
The night before Oxygène was released in December 1976 the Sex Pistols appeared on British TV where they swore on live television, prompting the infamous headline “The filth and the fury”. The heavily produced synthesized music of Jarre and the raw guitar sound of punk might appear to share little in common, but both, Jarre notes, were focused on the future. “Punk was saying there is no future — and I was more saying, ‘What future?’ ”
Jarre is still looking forward — and wary of nostalgia. “I’m not interested in the past,” he says, “the trigger for me is to explore something new. My appetite and curiosity for VR is the same as the one when I was ten years old and playing with my tape recorder.”
I remind Jarre of that earlier Fellini quote. What was the story of his movie? “I think I was just always trying to push boundaries and being more interested in tomorrow than yesterday and to have a relationship with my own dad.”
That his father composed scores for films such as Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India and Doctor Zhivago has led Jarre to deliberately avoid composing for movies. Yet when I asked Jarre to describe his approach when creating music he tells me that he “always considered that when I’m writing some music I’m writing the soundtrack of the story that somebody can create by listening to the music”.
It seems rather sad that you deliberately avoided composing film soundtracks because you felt it was your father’s territory, I say. He nods. “After a while, you realise that you can never escape from your heritage. Instead of writing soundtracks for movies, I wrote soundtracks for people.
Jean-Michel Jarre’s Welcome to the Other Side live performance starts at 10.25pm GMT on December 31. Viewers can watch on any device, or in virtual reality from jeanmicheljarre.com. The full audio of the performance will be available immediately afterwards on all streaming platforms