On the heels of his last two projects – Oxygène 3 (2016) and Electronica (2015-2016) – French electronica artist Jean-Michel Jarre is bringing his not-to-be-missed stage spectacular to American audiences for the first time in three decades. Over the course of his forty-plus year career, Jarre has remained at the cutting edge of electronic music and stage productions, and his Electronica Tour is no exception.
Jarre, a four-time world record holder for largest concert audience, is no stranger to large-scale spectacle. His first record-breaking performance, for a crowd of 1 million in Paris in 1979, now seems quaint by comparison to more recent shows – in Moscow, 18 years later, Jarre put on a show for a crowd of 3.5 million spectators.
Known for his “land-art” performances – shows performed in public venues, often at landmarks or places of historical importance – Jarre’s knack for visionary production and futuristic technologies transform everyday spaces into venues for visual and auditory extravaganza, and a live Jarre experience should be at the top of any music lover’s concert bucket list. In his most recent public performance last month, Jarre staged a show outside of the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana, in Potes, Spain.
The Electronica tour marks Jarre’s first North American tour ever, and his first appearances in the United States since a 1986 NASA celebration in Houston that drew a crowd of over 1.3 million. Ahead of his stop at the Greek Theater in Berkeley this Friday, Jarre spoke to The B-Side about his current tour, his creative process, and the future of music and technology.
B-SIDE: How has North America been treating you so far?
JMJ: I would say that I am really pleased with the way the audience [has been] welcoming me. Radio City [Music Hall] in New York – the venue was fantastic, and the audience also. It’s a bit strange – always a bit of bizarre chemistry between two entities, the stage and the audience, whatever the scale is. It seems that with this project so far…the chemistry seems to work quite well.
B-SIDE: How does your approach to shows on tour differ from your approach to the large-scale, land-art type of productions you’re known for?
JMJ: Actually, this project is quite special to me, because talking about scale, it has been sold as a kind of modular concept. I was playing three weeks ago in the desert close to the Dead Sea, in Israel, for a big outdoor concert…I’ve played in arenas such as the O2 in London, [in] Radio City in New York…and each time it’s the same production, but the modular aspect of it seems to work really well. It’s what I’ve had in mind for quite a while, to try to carry with me a kind of stage project, which could fit in a lot of different contexts. I’m playing…the Greek Theater, such a legendary, fantastic venue – obviously a big privilege. But also it’s very interesting on an acoustic, sound point of view, and also on the stage point of view
This show, Electronica, is a project I really wanted to share with the American audience. I’ve been one of the first artists, probably, to involve such visuals in my stage work, now a lot of people…are developing visuals, especially in electronic music. So, I was coming to America with the ambition to try to push the boundaries a little more, a little beyond. I conceived a kind of 3D-stage design without glasses, something I had in mind for quite a while. [I’m] trying to express what I like – in my music I like to express architecture of sounds and…different layers of textures in a dynamic way.
I’ve been blown away with my team doing the rehearsals. The feedback we have from the audience…on both sides of the pond [has been] very encouraging, and I must say that I am looking forward very much to playing the Greek Theater in Berkeley.
B-SIDE: Is the performative quality of your music – the visuals, the large-scale experience, the unique venues – something that you take into account when composing and recording new music? Or do you see your composition and performance as occupying separate spaces, with separate processes?
JMJ: When I compose an album, when I write the music, I have some visual in mind, but not at all the visual I may use in future performances. When I am in the studio I really think about the music and about the studio work. And then, when it’s finished, I like very much to transpose what I’ve done on stage, creating…a second project – almost like a second part in the creative process – the visual that could come from the music after.
That is actually the case for Electronica. I really composed Electronica and also Oxygène 3 as a purely musical project, and then said, “OK, I would like to tour with this. How could I…create some visual trance with the whole thing?” Then I created a set list and…what I want to share with the audience in 2017.
B-SIDE: Why did you decide to return to Oxygène?
JMJ: You know, when I did the first Oxygène, it was a kind of manifesto about culture and climate change as a concept. It was also…with no titles – just 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. It was a bit like a novel, and different chapters of a novel. And while I was doing it, I was thinking that I would like, later on, to do a sequence. I love sequence in movies, also on TV of course, and it…never really happens in music. And I kind of wanted to approach [Oxygène 3] keeping the same kind of sounds, or the same kinds of actors – instruments, in my case – and putting them in different context, different scenarios. In a sense, Oxygène 3 could be considered as “Oxygène Season 3.”
The creative process is a mixture between frustration and hope – the frustration that what you’ve done is not exactly what you wanted to achieve, and the hope that next time it will be better…You have your own world, and I suppose – I’m not making a comparison – but if you take Quentin Tarantino, or Coldplay, or The Beatles, or Picasso, they are telling us the same thing – an exploration of their own world. And I think the artist is like this.
Obviously, I approach electronic music in a certain way. And what was really creative and interesting for the Electronica project was to merge DNA’s – my DNA with others – to try and approach composition with different angles…It shows in a trans-generational way that electronic music is everywhere today, but has a kind of legacy, and as a medium, has a kind of future as well.
B-SIDE: You often work in large, immersive experiences, but a lot of technology today, specifically virtual reality, is focused on scaling down experiences to a personal level. How do you view the intersection of electronic music and hyper-individual experiences?
JMJ: You know, I’m a big fan of VR and also…artificial intelligence. [It’s] the largest and most important revolution for the 21st century for having access to music and visuals. I hope that when you are at one of my shows…it is a kind of VR experience, but shared with the audience shoulder to shoulder. And I think it’s more or less the same thing, but you are still in your own environment, you are still in your own world. When you are watching a show these days, like one of my shows, I’m quite sure that every spectator has it’s own experience, it’s own personal experience, and takes the music I’m doing on stage like the soundtrack of the movie, film, or story he or she can create from that concert experience. So, in a sense, virtual reality [has existed] for a long time. This is what we experience when we go to a concert, to a movie, or to a theater.
I think artificial intelligence is going to go even beyond this by the fact that one or two generations from now probably, you will have machines – computers – able to create some music, some novels, some movies in a very creative way. I don’t think that we should be scared about it because we should just have to adapt our brains and our lives to this new situation.
Jean-Michel Jarre plays the Greek Theater this Friday, May 26. He will conclude his North American tour the following night at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
Written by Jordan Aronson