When the history of electronic music comes to be written, Jean Michel Jarre’s name will feature prominently.
Jarre began creating electronic music in the 1970s, and turned something fringe and experimental into music for the masses. His huge audio-visual productions combined innovative effects using lasers and pyrotechnics, and his use of synthesizers and keyboards together in orchestral melodies met with phenomenal success.
In 1979 he conquered Paris’s Place de la Concorde with a show for a million people that placed him in the Guinness Book of World Records and catapulted him into the top tier of musicians.
Jarre was surrounded by music from the day he was born: His father, Maurice, composed music for dozens of movies, including Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago, for which he won an Oscar.
Jarre studied classical music from an early age, rebelled in his teens and formed a rock group, and fell in love with electronic music at some point in the 1960s.
“When I began making electronic music the only thing I was thinking about was creating music that I really liked. I didn’t think about what effect it would have, I was busy doing it,” Jarre noted in an interview with Ynet several weeks after launching his Aero album in Israel, and before the Israeli launch of the DVD of last year’s performance in Poland marking 25 years since the founding of Solidarity.
“I was looking for a sound you could get lost in, that would have something organic and sensual, almost sexual, and electronic music has all of that,” he noted. “I wanted to go in more experimental directions than the classical music I come from, and than the rock I had done.”
What attracts Jarre to electronic music is that the music is viewed as sound. “This means that you can make music from tones and sounds. The difference between noise and music is in what the musician does with the sounds,” says Jarre.
“This is a new and different way of looking at things, which approaches music not necessarily from the intellect, but in a certain sense as you would approach the preparation of a meal. In the ktichen you put your hands in a bowl and knead the dough. With electronic music we knead the frequencies and the sounds.”
Are you making a connection between classical and electronic music?
“Absolutely. Because electronic music, like classical music, does not have lyrics, it leaves room for the listener’s imagination. That is why electronic music is almost visual, as it allows everyone to create a film in his head.
"It is interesting that electronic music developed in Europe. That is, as opposed to pop music and rock, which were very much influenced by America, in electronic music there are many French people, Germans, Israelis, and Eastern Europeans and Spaniards. I think that this is because of the classical background, which was always about textures and tones.”
Where does your music begin, in visual images or in feelings?
“It begins in the conversation we’re having now, in the noise of the rain that beats upon the window, it could be a scene in a movie, a line in a book, or a conversation that brings something up. All these things that percolate within me become musical ideas. I am like a sponge that soaks up feelings, and then takes them apart and reconstitutes them into sounds. The music starts with life."
Does a dialogue with other types of artists interest you?
“Very much so. One of the first things I created was music for the Paris opera’s ballet troupe. That was the first time that electronic music was played at the opera. I really like the relationship between the music and the choreography. Dance fascinates me, and it is perhaps the most enriching audio-visual realm for a musician. Film-making also fascinates me.
"What interests me is the potential for spiritual connections with other people. We modern people think that we connect easily through the Internet and satellites, but in fact we are cut off and isolated much more than people in the past that went on journeys and met physically with people and with other cultures.
"The virtual world has many advantages, but it is also a handicap in that it doesn’t actually bring about a meeting with the real world.”
Could it be that your strong connection to the visual comes from your father?
“Perhaps. For me, making music is like drawing. I see the music. In my concerts the visual aspect is very strong, both because I think that the audience wants a show put on, and because the tools of electronic music are not really sexy. It’s not like the guitars and drums in rock concerts or the grand piano and large orchestras in classical concerts.”
The “Aero” disk was recorded during the concert in Gdansk that marked 25 years since the founding of Solidarity. Do you view art as a political act?
“Art is connected to politics because it is created within a society and from life. Israeli art would certainly be different from Argentinean art, and each would be influenced by life in the society and the period in which it was created. It was important to me to do the concert in Poland. One of the biggest mistakes of the 20th century was Soviet Communism, and the Solidarity movement made a significant contribution to stopping it, which is relevant to all of us.
"Last year was the year that John Paul II, the Polish Pope, died, so this concert had special meaning. The concert was clearly conceived in a political context, but the music itself and the three hours of togetherness that was created there were like a love story between two entities—the audience and the stage—and were not a political act. It was an artistic event in a political context.”
Any chance you’ll perform in Israel?
“It’s funny that you ask since for years I’ve dreamed of coming to Tel Aviv, but every time something comes up that makes it impossible. This is a project I very much hope to accomplish in 2006 … I really love Israel and I feel an emotional attachment to it. I have not appeared in Israel, but I’ve been there as a tourist.
"My grandmother was Jewish, so I have a familial connection to Israel as well. I am very much interested in Israel from both the human and the professional point of view. I have a lot of reasons to come to Israel.”