Page last updated at 12:20 GMT, Friday, 28 March 2008

Jarre breathes again with Oxygene

By Mario Cacciottolo
BBC News

Jean Michel Jarre
Jarre is perfoming Oxygene on the same equipment he recorded it on

Back in the Seventies, as punk was snarling its way across a world that had not yet gone green, a different sound was heard.

It spread across the world from Europe, promising lush noise and melodic tunes that would prove to be undying. The sound was Oxygene, and its creator was Jean Michel Jarre.

Released in 1976, it propelled this keyboard and synthesiser pioneer to stardom beyond his native France, and some 30 years later he is taking the album on the road, to perform it on the very instruments he recorded it on.

"It's like your first child in a sense," explains Jarre. "I have been through this piece of music a lot and I'm still finding it fresh, I don't know why.

"There is a kind of innocence attached to the piece that is still inside me."

The original album was actually recorded in a converted kitchen at his flat, and it is, he believes, possibly one of the world's first home-produced albums, untouched by the hand of a studio and fashioned with "a bit of soundproofing stuck to the wall".

First Western musician to tour post-Mao China
Entered the Guinness book of records in 1979, 1986, 1990 for largest concerts
Current holder of world's largest concert - 3.5m people in Moscow, 1997
Printed one copy of album Music for Supermarkets in 1983 before destroying it
Sold about 60m albums worldwide
Oxygene has sold more than 12m albums

His city-clogging, record-breaking outdoor shows have wowed millions in London, Moscow, Houston and across China.

Now Jarre has returned to his roots, dusted off his aged but robust tools and for the first time embarked on a tour of indoor venues across Europe.

These keyboards and synthesisers look antediluvian but emit warmth and emotion when in the right hands.

"It's not nostalgia, it's not a retro way of thinking. It's just the fact that these instruments - in the history of music - are absolutely unique, like the Stradivarius, or the Les Paul Gibson 58, or whatever," he says.

"Those instruments are very sensual and organic and you can have a very poetic approach to it.

"The difference between noise and music is the hand of the musician.

"It's the reason why I wanted to present Oxygene, which I've never played before in its entirety in a concert, to share this experience in a different venue, with proximity to the audience, to share the experience with the audience in a different context."

'Who I am'

At the heart of Oxygene's enduring appeal is Oxygene IV, whose famous five notes have become Jarre's signature tune.

Oxygene's haunting album artwork, of a skull appearing beneath a peeling Earth by Michel Granger, was a prediction of where it is heading - first used by Jarre more than 30 years ago, before the words "global warming" had ever passed a politician's lips.

Jean Michel Jarre
Jarre uses a Theremin from the 1920s, which reacts to movement

Jarre says the Oxygene tour has become his own journey of discovery.

"It's like suddenly if I was assuming or understanding why I have done that form of music, that art form rather than something else," he explains.

"In other words, these instruments, and the way I approached them, I know it was totally different and totally specific compared to everybody else, and it's the reason why, probably, Oxygene and the Equinoxe album became that successful worldwide.

"Because I was obsessed at the beginning of my work in music, and still now, but particularly when I started, to not repeat myself, so each sound would be different, everything being made by hand, but being able to reproduce them afterwards.

"These instruments, the way I approached them after having been trained in the classical way and playing in rock bands, I had such a special relationship to them that suddenly, with this experience of the tour, I said, 'This is who I am'.

"What I'm doing on stage is actually my most authentic way of approaching instruments. This is what I want to do, even for the future."

Tuning up

The stage at Birmingham Symphony Hall features a large mirror, offering the audience even more intimacy as they get to see another view of the musicians grappling with banks of antique synthesisers framed by wood and peppered with large black knobs.

Jean Michel Jarre
The equipment being used is at least 30 years old and analogue

At the start of the concert Jarre, clad in black, speaks for a while to the audience about his "sexy instruments" and the "old ladies" that need to be tuned.

He and his three companions then begin coaxing a series of squeals and shrieks from the machines until the opening strains of Oxygene I become familiar.

Jarre is sometimes reminiscent of a mad scientist at work, hunched over, foot tapping, lifting his left hand from one keyboard to dash over and glide his right upon another set of keys, just in time.

But it would hardly matter if he did miss a beat - the point about playing Oxygene this way is that each performance is unique, thanks to the four musicians who explore, experiment and improvise.

The standing ovation given to Jarre is proof, if he needed it, that his work is still as fresh and important as it was when he worked alone in his converted kitchen.

Jean Michel Jarre is playing on Friday at Manchester Opera House and on Sunday 30 March at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Jarre's new dimension
16 Sep 04 |  Breakfast
Jarre backs anti-piracy drive
11 Jul 02 |  Entertainment
Jarre to light up Acropolis
06 Jun 01 |  Entertainment

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific