New interview with Jean-Michel Jarre via Strumenti Musicali .net - 02/03/2022
Jean-Michel Jarre: a journey through the sounds of the Amazon forest
Amazônia is the title of the latest work by Jean-Michel Jarre, the soundtrack of the extraordinary photographic exhibition of the same name by the Brazilian Sebastião Salgado, this time dedicated to nature and to the communities that live in that strip of Brazilian land that occupies the southern part of the Amazonia.
The Amazônia exhibition, set up last April at the Philharmonie De Paris museum and arriving in Italy in October, is made up of over 200 works created by Salgado in six years of stay in those areas. These impressive photos inspired the musical composition that Jean-Michel Jarre recorded for Sony Music on CD, vinyl and in a special binaural version, which immerses the listener in the sound universe of the forest, in a mix of concrete and electronic music at rhythmically pressing strokes, between the cries of animals, the songs of birds and the roar of waters that flow or that descend from the sky in copious downpours. A composition rich in atmospheres, far removed from the stereotypes of ambient electronic music or world music usually used to comment on ethnographic representations.
PC How did this collaboration for Amazônia start and how much did you know about Salgado's work?
Jean-Michel JarreI have always been a great admirer of Salgado's works. The of it are always very hard and crude displays. I remember his wonderful Gold mine exhibit and his spectacular Genesis project of images on the origins of our planet. When I was called by the Philharmonie De Paris, where the premiere of Amazônia was set up simultaneously with San Paolo in Brazil (before moving to Rome, London, Tokyo and New York) I was immediately intrigued by the proposal to make the soundtrack, because it is always very stimulating to compose music for a photo exhibition, as it is a challenge full of traps. You can fall into the trap of composing ambient music as if you were in a Spa or creating word music in an ethnomusicological key, which I don't like or, again, compose something too distant from the contents of the photos ... not to mention the problem of where to place the audio diffusion system within the exhibition path. On the other hand, it was also interesting to celebrate a place like the Amazon at a time when people have little interest in ecological problems because they are so obsessed with the pandemic.
PC It is interesting that this work of yours is somehow equidistant from all genres of electronic music. He understands them all and the elements of concrete music act as a binder.
JMJ For me this is a very special project for the kind of approach I had in composing it. It is an electronic music composition that takes into consideration the fact that the forest is a very noisy place full of ambient sounds that have nothing to do with each other. It's a kind of messy orchestra in which every element, the chirping of birds, the sound of rain, the songs of men and women, are completely separate from each other, but at the end of the day all these sounds make up the great harmony of the forest. It was a very interesting challenge to explore ....
PC You have divided the composition into nine parts, but I would like to know which scenarios each of them refers to, because I found it difficult to understand ...
JMJ You're right and I understand how you feel, because these nine parts are actually one composition. It's all the fault of the fucking streaming platform we have to undergo today. My friends at Sony Music, whom I love and whom I thank, have asked me to divide the composition into shorter parts because otherwise it would have been technically impossible to load it. Today the platform decides how our music should be ... I actually officially communicate to you and your readers that they can forget about the 9 parts!
PC There are a lot of distorted and saturated sounds in the composition with very loud ambient sounds. The electronic parts move from one side of the soundstage to the other as if to represent civilized man walking within a primitive natural environment.
JMJ This description of yours is very interesting. I would start from the aspect that concerns the distortion. I have always been interested in the fact that in nature there are a lot of sounds that are distorted for us only because it is the limit of our ear that identifies them as such. Sometimes the sound of birds is so violent that it seems distorted to our ear, but certainly not to that of the birds themselves. And anyway, I also really like to mistreat the typical new age or world music approach by creating tensions and "incidents" that create different dynamic levels.
PC How did you choose the musical instruments to use for this project?
JMJI often quote Federico Fellini, who said he was not as interested in filming the sea as he was in recreating the idea of the sea in our minds. This is my own dream approach to electronic music. For me it is more interesting to recreate the sound of the wind or the sound of birds using electronic instruments such as analog synthesizers with a hyper-realistic approach, perhaps mixing these sounds with the real ones. I used the ARP 2600 a lot, the same one I used on the old Oxygen record, to recreate the sounds of wind and birds. I also used the EMS VCS3 along with other modular synths, some samplers and also some software plug-ins for granular synthesis sounds. I got a lot of inspiration from films like Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo and Alfred Hitchcock's Birds, where a lot of fake bird sounds were used.
PC Where did you get the real sounds instead, for example of monkeys and human songs?
JMJ I had a lot of help from the Ethnographic Museum of Geneva to which the Philharmonie De Paris is connected. The concept of the exhibition envisaged the use of audio materials from this museum and so I used them to create the sound link with the contents of Salgado's photos. Then I avoided keeping this didactic link to move on to the oneiric approach I was telling you about earlier.
PC How was the binaural mix created?
JMJHonestly, I am not obsessed with binaurality or surround sound, just as I believe that the evolution of modern music in stereo was an artificial process started in the 50s / 60s to expand monophonic listening. Stereo does not exist in nature because every sound is generated in mono. We have our ears with a multi-channel sound environment around us. If you're producing a techno track, probably the most suitable mix is all mono with just a few left and right sounds. The binaural microphone recording is done to simulate listening to a person in real space, but in an electronic music project you don't have to recreate a real environment. For Amazônia I created an environment with several independent sound sources positioned in different points of the space. I went to produce it in Radio France's immersive studio in Paris using a special IRCAM software with which I positioned the pre-recorded sources in space. I am very happy with the result because usually binaural mixes seem like a game, while in this case the feeling is that of being right in the middle of a sound environment.
PC Perhaps precisely because in this case the binaural process is an integral part of the production ...
JMJ I think that creating a binaural or surround listening of a symphony orchestra is a contradiction because we have spent centuries to create a logic in the positioning of the instrument sections within the orchestra and it makes no sense to twist it. On the other hand, it is more interesting to work dynamically on the sounds of the different instruments while preserving their position within the orchestra, which must remain a single voice.
PC Your reality, on the other hand, is completely rebuilt. Not true but likely ...
JMJ And the composition process was quite different from how I've worked in the past. It was like painting for images in an impressionistic way, not with a beginning and an end, but as if I had a canvas to paint on randomly. I tried to imagine sounds in space without thinking of the composition in a linear or vertical way as if it were a score, but of objects in space. It was very interesting because it's a very cool way to approach composition.
PC This is also the reason why the composition frequently changes mood, moving from one theme to another without lingering too long on a scene.
JMJ On the one hand, I wanted to create the condition of nomadism through sounds that appear and disappear within the forest along the way. In addition there is the idea that in nature there is the sensation of a consistency that is not linear. For example, if you are on a beach, you can watch the waves and hear children playing on one side and the wind blowing on the other side. They are random elements that come from the surrounding environment. But you can also focus on the waves that only apparently always look the same. If you sample two minutes of waves and repeat them in a loop, after ten minutes you get bored ... you immediately understand that they are not reality. For this reason I wanted to create something that changes over time, through surprises, accidents and unexpected aspects of life.
Amazônia is a photographic exhibition created in collaboration with the Ethnographic Museum of Geneva. The curator and set designer of the exhibition is Lélia Wanick Salgado.
Source: https://www.strumentimusicali.net/news/ ... 02122.html