(NB: I used Google translate)
"Stereo is a scam"
The pioneer of electropop has new music ready. A conversation about the accusation that he makes pleasing utility music and his theory that audio freaks have gotten something completely wrong for decades.
Published: 04/14/2021, 12:00
With “Amazônia”, Jean-Michel Jarre composed the soundtrack for a photo exhibition.
Photo: Getty Images via AFP
The album "Oxygène" made Jean-Michel Jarre world famous, and with it he ushered in the age of electronic music. Over the decades he ignited further career stages with daring events and self-invented technologies. His 1997 open-air show in Moscow, with 3.5 million listeners, is the best-attended concert in the world to date. He also provided great entertainment with the jet set stories about his stormy liaisons with Charlotte Rampling or Isabelle Adjani. Jarre has now composed the soundtrack for “Amazônia” for the new exhibition by the photo artist Sebastião Salgado about the Brazilian rainforest.
On New Year's Eve, an avatar controlled by you played in a digital 3D reconstruction of Notre Dame. 75 million people logged in. Is that the future of entertainment?
Virtual reality shows will never replace live concerts, they work completely differently. It is bitter irony that the pandemic is now acting as an incubator for them, but it is effectively beneficial to technology. Stories like the Notre Dame action still remain a risk.
Where is the risk?
It quickly becomes a political issue when you juggle heavy symbols. If our very clever Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo had not understood and supported the concept immediately, it would not have worked. She put it perfectly: We have created a symbolic connection through art, between us as a nation that is wounded by the pandemic and the destroyed cathedral. To thank you for her courage, I let Madame Hidalgo play as an avatar.
You can find a similar idea in your music for the «Amazônia» exhibition. You build a virtual rainforest out of sounds. Have you been there yourself?
Never! But is that a problem? I have to think of a conversation I once had with Federico Fellini in Cannes. "Filming the real sea, the real beach, that doesn't interest me at all," said Fellini. “If I want to film the sea, I recreate it in the studio, with water, wind machines and a painted sky. My works are about my idea of the world, not about the things themselves. " I sign that. And that's exactly how you should hear «Amazônia»: as my idea of the rainforest.
You did your research. Some sounds come from the holdings of the Ethnography Museum in Geneva.
When it comes to rainforests or similar exotic locations, it quickly becomes dangerous. You fall into the world music trap, you end up in the New Age music limbo, and so on. Rationality doesn't do any harm. So: what is the sound of the forest? A bird is singing here, trees rustling there. Another animal screams back there, natives pass by singing a song to the left, and then another plane flies overhead. All random events, but the human brain tinkers a harmony out of them, an invisible image - music. That's why I mixed two versions. One in stereo, one in 5.1 surround sound.
Aren't these surround versions just gadgets for hi-fi freaks?
I beg your pardon? Shall I explain to you what an unbelievable fraud the stereo system is?
After all, it is the principle behind the headphones that is sure to be used to listen to most music.
Which doesn’t change the fact that it’s a ridiculous trick that the industry established in the 1950s to sell the illusion of all-round sound. But tell me: is there anything in nature that is stereo? A chirping bird? Mono. A passing car? Mono. I am mono when I speak to you. A really immersive sound can only be created in real rooms, not through two fixed speakers or headphone buttons. The 5.1. Systems, which you consider to be gimmicks, are the only way to hear music in three dimensions that is half true to the original. Stereo, on the other hand, is fraud.
Music like “Amazônia” now has the reputation of being a sound wallpaper for meditations and dinner parties. What do you think of the accusation of making music for everyday use?
An ugly accusation, but guess what? If you want, you can use any music in the world - heavy metal, classical, jazz. You just have to turn them quietly enough. I hate background doodling of all kinds, it distracts me and drives me crazy. At my request, speakers in restaurants have to be removed if they are hanging over my table. Idiotic ambient music!
Many artists in their genre work with samples, i.e. with fragments from existing recordings. You practically never do that. Why do you refuse sampling?
I don't refuse, I just work differently. I see the whole thing in a more universal way anyway. If you will forgive me for the somewhat pathetic-sounding words: Artists sample life. In my heart I sampled Miles Davis and Claude Debussy, Salvador Dalí, Werner Herzog, Stanley Kubrick, precisely at the moments when their works of art touched and stunned me. They are all present in my music, even without direct quotations.
"In the end, two huge piles of grass had gathered behind me."
Now and then you think you can hear other influences. What role have drugs played in your creative process?
None, never, and unfortunately there is a tragic reason for this. When I was a teenager, I went to a party with a very good friend. There we received a large dose of LSD without our knowledge. My friend got stuck on the trip and he never came back. That triggered a trauma in me. However, I know that I have brought the international drug trade nice growth rates with my records.
Is that what you suspect or do you know?
I had similar experiences. For example, in the late 1970s in San Francisco. There was an autograph session in a Tower Records branch. A huge line of people, every second said: "Thank you for your music, Mister Jarre, I have a present for you." They gave me little bags of cannabis. That was about 300 people, in the end two huge piles of grass had gathered behind me. "We can't let that go to waste," said the guy from the record company. We packed everything in his trunk. The lid barely closed. I was the most popular person at headquarters that afternoon.
Jean-Michel Jarre: “Amazônia”, 2020. As a sound carrier or on streaming platforms.