Jamie Goes To Hollywood
Zoolook exclusively previews The Symphonic Jean Michel Jarre
The announcement of the release of a symphonic Jarre album came quite out of the blue, rising questions, rumours and doubts. JM´s first encounter with classical music actually dates back to 1986, when a large orchestra joined on stage to perform tracks from his then latest album Rendez-Vous. The orchestra became more and more a frequent part of his shows, acquiring a permanent place on stage from 2000 on, when a full orchestra under direction of Yvan Cassard joined on stage to add immense power and an oriental touch to the live music performed during the concerts in Egypt. Most recently, Jean Michel collaborated with the Baltic Symphonic Orchestra, performing arrangements by Claude Samard, taking orchestral arrangements to a higher level. Adding additional arrangements by an orchestra seems to fit quite well in JM´s work, though, when the announcement of a fully symphonic album came, quite a few fans were not too sure if this would work. Time to release your breath, we guess.
Both James Fitzpatrick (the producer) and Nic Raine (together with Gareth Williams one of the arrangers) -the ones responsible for the realisation of this project- have been in the music industry for a long time.
James: I´ve been in the music industry since I was seventeen, working in record stores, then as a record company representative, then forming twenty years ago (with Reynold da Silva) the British record label Silva Screen Records which specialised in recording and releasing both new film soundtracks and re-recording classic scores like Lawrence Of Arabia, The Big Country, The Lion In Winter and so on. In the time with Silva I produced over 300 albums of film and classical music. Four years ago I left Silva Screen to start my own record label Tadlow Music as well as expanding my other activities as Music Contractor: basically someone who books the musicians for any give recording, mostly original film TV and video game scores. In the last few years I ahve worked with composers like Elmer Bernstein, Gabriel Yared, Rachel Portman, Van Dyke Parks, Kevin Kiner, Carl Davis, Stephen Warbeck, Debbie Wiseman, Tom Scott, Karl Jenkins and Craig Armstrong.
Nic: I began my career in music on the management side, working with the London and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestras. I then decided to use my creative side and trough being a music copyist ´graduated´ to becoming an orcestrator and conductor. I have been working as such since 1980 and feel privileged to have been involved with some of the great Hollywood composers: Maurice Jarre, Elmer Bernstein and Miklos Rozsa as well as today´s contemporary and up-and-coming composers.
Besides being recognized in the contemporary ´modern´ music industry as a pioneer of electronic music - Jean Michel´s repertoire is not left unnoticed by the worlds most renowned classical composers either.
Nic: JM´s music was introduced to me by friends when it came out. I was immediately impressed by it´s freshness but, because of my love of orchestral music, I wasn´t a dedicated fan. But I think it´s interesting how the music has stood the test of time because now, having become immersed in it, I am a true fan! There is a joy, a celebration of melody, a wit and lack of pretension in it which speaks across generations and musical taste.
James: I´ve always been an admiring of Jean Michel´s work-which probably came about because of a great love for the music of his father Maurice Jarre. Like many people I have Oxygene, Equinoxe etc.. in my album collection but kind of lost touch with his music after those. I always thought that a few of the compositions would make ideal orchestral pieces.
"Jean Michel introduced me to the possibilities of synthetic music and extended the boundaries by a whole series of superb albums"
And so it did. We´re not talking cheap coverartist stuff here, rather the opposite: the worlds finest arrangers and musicians try to make Jean Michel´s work for a symphonic orchestra. Flattering! Though - the announcement quite came out of the blue, which may explain the attitude of doubt of a few fans.
James: He introduced me to the possibilities of synthetic music and extended the boundaries by a whole series of superb albums - When The Queen Symphony became such a success a few years ago, I felt now was the time to do a symphonic treatment of Jean Michel´s work. However, I had very specific ideas: I did not want to treat all the works purely orchestrally as I knew this would not work with every cue. In the past I have found some of the orchestral treatments of rock music to be rather lack-lustre and pretentious. I wanted to keep to Jarre´s original song format and combine symphonic orchestra with, where appropriate, additional elements both acoustic and synthetic. In this way I hoped to maintain the excitement of the original tracks with the added power and dynamics that only a full symphony orchestra and choir can achieve - In addition I felt that after embarking on such an ambitious project I should not announce it until I was completely happy with the recording and until Jean Michel had had the chance to listen to the recording himself. So, I managed to keep it quiet for over two years with only those closely involved in the recording and the publishers, knowing anything about it.
When mentioning such an album, a few tracks come to mind that would obviously make it onto the tracklist. Souvenir Of China, Second Rendez-Vous, Chronologie Part 1; but still, it will be hard to fill an entire album with purely orchestral based tracks. Of course the addition of a few of JM´s most well-known tracks seemed inevitable, but there´s room left for some more remarkable choices, specially since we´re talking about a double-album here.
The music - In short:
The album opens with a majestic and very powerfull version of Chronologie 1, which makes for a good rendition aside the original. Chronologie 2 is to follow, with a remarkable instrument for the lead melody, and a string section playing the solo from the closing bars. Chronologie 3 seemed an obvious track for a classical arrangement. Though, gone is the contrast between hardrock guitar and soprano vocals. We´re left with a very sensitive orchestral arrangement that is nevertheless a pleasure to listen to. Gloria Lonely Boy is arranged in a way very close to the original track. So to those who´d expect the orchestral version as played during a few of Jarre´s past concert, too bad. As opposed to this orchestral live version, the album version is an almost ambient aria for strings and soprano vocals. Besides Gloria, Equinoxe 4 is another highlight of the album, a powerfull rhythm driven by heavy percussion, sequences and bowed instruments. A very remarkable track to appear is Fishing Junks At Sunset, as this is originally performed by a traditional Chinese orchestra and synths. Though - this new orchestral arrangement does not fail at all to come close to it´s original predecessor, and neither does Souvenir Of China, which comes with a very interesting percussion part and a rather modest strings part. Magnetic Fields 5 is another of those remarkable tracks that made it on the album, performed in a small chambermusic setting, the track could even considered better than the original. Tubular bells, heavy percussion and brass imitate the industrial clanging of the Industrial Revolution Overture. Even the solo is impressively replicated by the violonists. The rest of the Industrial Revolution is to follow, complete with chasing sequences and percussion: very, very close to the original; At least as glorious and heavy. Onto the next CD we go. This one opens with a fresh and inspiring sequence of percussion and bass to evolve -with the addition of the choir- in a great arrangement of Jean Michel´s 1990 classic Eldorado. Next is Oxygene 13 - which appears in a slightly heavier version, compared to the original, which is a rather simple song. The phaser sound is impressively imitated by the orchestra as continuous crescendo/decrescendo effect. This makes for a very sensitive and almost tragic version.
Magnetic Fields 1 may be considered as another remarkable choice, as it´s filled to the brim with sequences and synth sounds. Apart from the sequences which remained synthetic, the other parts are faithfully reproduced by violins, choirs and brass parts. You would almost think the original lacks power and energy when listening to this...
Whereas in some tracks, the synths couldn´t have been left out, The Emigrant shows the opposite in a version that is almost completely re-orchestrated and may be considered as one of the tracks that remained closest to the original. Oxygene 4 is Jean Michel´s major hit and should be on the album too, and it is. It´s actually the first track where I have slight doubts, gone is the ´drive´ of the staccato sequence and subtle rhythm, in are legato strings and brass instruments. As much as Oxygene 4 could not have been left out, neither could Second Rendez-Vous, which was based on orchestral music in the first place, be it replicated on synthesizers or not. Well, this time it´s the other way round, and that works unsurprisingly well. The arrangement doesn´t lack any of the power of the original, though, whereas most of the synthetic effects are thrilling and very well used, some sounds may sound weakly programmed in the ears of critic and demanding fans. Another track that made me frow my eyebrows was Fourth Rendez-Vous. Although most of it is covered by clever use of percussion, distorted electric guitar chords and rapid violin arpeggios to fatten up the overall appearance, it does sound a little as if a fanfare is marching trough town, but this may be explained by the original rhythm too. Moving on, we find a tremendously replicated version of Akropolis, which was in fact never recorded before in a studio. The last track on the set is Computer Weekend which is as close to the original as you can get, and maybe even adds extra swing to this specific innocent mood.
Not quite a short list if you´d ask me.
James: Well, I spent many hours going through each and every album and the final selection was basically and mixture of the most popular tunes plus those which suited a symphonic treatment. Also, there were a few lesser known tracks that I really loved like ´Gloria, Lonely Boy´. Originally the recording was only going to be a single CD-but after editing we found we had recording some 90 minutes of music. So, the thought then was to record 3 extra tracks to make it the best part of two hours. After Nic met with Jean Michel he suggested that we record Akropolis and I chose the additional tracks of Chronologie 3 and Oxygene 13, which we recorded at the beginning of this year.
Nic: James listened to all the available material and made a (not so short!) shortlist. He, Gareth Williams and I listened to them all and gave our opinions as to each one´s suitability for the concept. Some tracks had to be included because of their popularity but the general criteria was to make the titles work with orchestra - I told JM what a ball I had making the arrangements and he said he feels that comes across. I would like to think that we´ve also added a sense of classical grandeur that appeals to a different kind of listener.
James: Many other tracks were considered too but by and large we kept with all our original selections plus the 3 tracks recorded this year...
Both James and Nic have connections with Maurice Jarre, one of the worlds most renowned and most famous film score composers and above all, Jean Michel´s father. This link is easily made and you´ll easily start to think it was Maurice who´s behind this, specially when bearing in mind the two had re-united during JMJ´s wedding last year. But none of it is true.
Nic: I last worked with Maurice in 2001 on a movie called ´Uprising´. He has had no participation in this project.
Still, the link is there. Both are artists of fame, although a seperation has kept them apart for a few decades. If there´s anyone who could tell if the two influenced each other in a musical way... it´s you.
Nic: Well, I would say that JM has not influenced his father. JM has inherited his father´s gift for melody but he has taken that and used the musical language of his generation to speak through. Of course they share a common interest in the use of the synthesizer but I couldn´t say whether there has been a cross fertilisation of influence.
The synthesizer and classical orchestra are two very different instrumental groups. Although used together in some occasions, the synthesizer is mostly considered as part of the todays electronic music scene, whereas the orchestra is connected to a rather classical genre. Two different genres which ended mixed up on this album. Surely interesting for a lot of JMJ´s fans to hear those new arrangements. But would this work for people who are into classical music but don´t know or don´t like Jarre´s work?
Nic: I think so. I think with Gloria Lonely Boy we have created a new classical aria which will appeal to a whole new audience.
James: In selecting the tracks we hoped to achieve a balance of works that would appeal to fans of JMJ but more importantly had a wider appeal for the so-called ´Classical/Pop/Cross-over market´ - The aim is to appeal to all walks of life, all generations-as I believe this music is universal and timeless. And I´m extremely happy with all of Nic and Gareth´s arrangements as I believe each one displays the full potential of the music when arranged for orchestra.
Nic: The intention was to retain the spirit of JM´s music but also to add a new dimension to it. I have made cuts in certain places to tighten up the form of pieces. I was always conscious about serving the music as best as I could and also tried not to offend long standing fans. I hope I have been successful in that and hope they will grant me some artistic license.
¨I think we´ve added a sense of classical grandeur that appeals to a different kind of listener¨
This makes up for a great challenge. Two very different worlds blended into one. In one world where (fans of) electronic music consider the orchestra as old-fashioned and serious and in another where the synthesizer is considered as a gadget instrument without any musical expression.
James: It is the great versatility that I think is challenging. It can be used in such a great many ways and is always being developed to meet new criteria. I must say I do love it when combined with acoustic instruments or orchestras. That is why I love film music so much because of composers like Jerry Goldsmith, Hans Zimmer or Maurice Jarre who were given the freedom to experiment with the most interesting combinations of instruments.
Nic: I think, in the right hands, it is an instrument in its own right. And the Prague musicians did us proud. I´m not sure how many of them know the originals but they appeared to be having fun playing them. It was actually physically arduous in some instances. Violins in particular had a tough time on Industrial Revolution Part II playing a repetitive sequence which was not always the same, thus forcing them to concentrate(!) and appeared to give them cramps in their bowing arms!
James: The orchestra involved were The City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. I have been producing albums with them since 1989 and never fail to be amazed at their professionalism and most of all enthusiasm for every recording session, no matter the style of music. They seem to bring a freshness to their performance in a recording session where other orchestras might sound tired and jaded. The Jarre album presented many musically technical challenges, especially for the strings, but there effort was always unstinting and achieved with great spirit and musical flair.
Nic: I know that already there has been some debate as to whether we were wise to include both acoustic and synthetic instruments on what is called a ´Symphonic´ album, but I strongly believe that we chose the correct track as not everything part of JMJ´s music could be done orchestrally and by combining these elements we have kept true to his original intentions and created new and exciting and most of all dynamic versions.
Imitating acoustic sounds using synthesis is daily bread and butter, but the other way round seems to be less common. Though, one can clearly hear the delayed echo in Chronologie 1 and the phaser-like sound in Oxygene 13, to name but a few.
Nic: The only imitations I would attempt are when it is obvious what the synthesizer is trying to be. If I think I hear a choir sound then why not have a real choir? But sometimes I would go the opposite way. An orchestra cannot imitate an electric guitar but the nature of a particular rift would lend itself sometimes to the strings (the closing bars of Chronologie II) or maybe the brass (Industrial Revolution II).
Where imitations of synthesized sounds can sound impressive and appropriate, there also some hard choices that have to be made. For example, there´s no organ sound for the lead melody in Chronologie 2.
Nic: I used an Organ chord in a couple of places where JM had used one. The other instances, which I presume you have in mind, I think are served well by the woodwind and brass (without strings) which I think create a kind of organ sound.
As for synthetic sounds in general. Shouldn´t they be left to a minimum when we´re talking about a symphonic project...?
Nic: Some of the pieces, Rendez-vous 4 for example, depend on that kind of rhythmic drive. Remember my previous comment about being faithful to the spirit and the fans?
Everybody has his/hers preferences. You?
James: Day to day I keep and changing my mind. At the moment I love Chronologie 3, Gloria Lonely Boy, Fishing Junks and Rendez-Vous 4, but somedays I prefer the more ´Pop´ tracks. That is why I believe we have a great selection and variety of material to please all ears.
Nic: I like Chronologie I and II because they are symphonic in stature. Also Industrial Revolution Part II because of the mixture of orchestra and driving rhythm from the electronics. But I also like the chamber music quality of the Magnetic Fields Rumba.
"I think there is something for everyone here!"
To cut 3 pages short: a definite must-have for anyone who is either into Jean Michel Jarre or into diverse and inspiring classical music.
Live perfomances are mentioned and negiotiated as well. Quite a few european orchestras showed interest, and the concerts are likely to feature a laser and light display synchronized to the music. There are no concrete plans or decisions taken regarding this subject.
The Symphonic Jean Michel Jarre album was recorded troughout last year upto early this year, with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and the Crouch End Festival Chorus under direction of Nic Raine. The Orchestra was -for this particular project- made up of: 14 first violins, 12 second violins, 10 violas, 10 celli, 5 basses, 3 flutes (including piccolo) 2 oboes, 3 clarinets (including bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (including contra bassoon) 6 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, 2 piano/celeste/harpsichord, 6 percussion players, 1 harp, 1 Hungarian cimbalom, 1 bass guitar and 1 electric guitar. Add to that, a 100-voice choir including a solo soprano.
The album is to be released on the Silva Screen record label on the 2nd of October 2006 troughout Europe, in 2 different formats: the regular 2 CD double album and a limited edition that offers both 2 CDs as well as a DVD-A which is mixed in 5.1 surround sound. Both sets are available for pre-order, priced respectively €12.95 and €19.95.
GeeJee likes to thank James Fitzpatrick and Nic Raine
More info can be found here:
Tadlow Music | www.tadlowmusic.com
Silva Screen Records | www.silvascreen.co.uk
© 2006 GeeJee