Jean-Michel Jarre
Future Music|Autumn 2021
The pioneering musician who introduced generations to futuristic sounds the first time around is at it again. He joins Matt Mullen to talk experiments in VR gigging, spatial audio and more...
Matt Mullen

Jean-Michel Jarre likely needs no introduction to Future Music readers. As one of the most prolific and successful composers to work in electronic music, it’s no exaggeration to say that he’s played a pivotal role in the development of the genre over the course of the past five decades.

Aside from his recorded work, it’s Jarre’s magnificent, record-breaking live performances that stand out as landmark moments in his career, which have seen him bring millions of spectators together in the same place, while developing innovative sequencers and imaginative instruments specifically for use on-stage.

On 31st December 2020, Jarre masterminded a spectacle like no other. As the clock approached midnight, he performed live from his Parisian studio, projecting a digital avatar into a VR Notre-Dame, populated by a virtual audience streaming the show from around the world. The 50-minute performance enlisted the talents of a hundred artists and technicians and was ultimately viewed by over 75 million fans. Now, Jarre is releasing the binaural audio from the event as a live album, Welcome to the Other Side.

Ahead of the album’s release, we spoke with Jarre about his approach to living performance, his interest in VR and AR technology, and how embracing uncertainty yields fascinating results.

What is it about live performance that captures your interest as a musician?

“It’s a main counterpoint to the studio work. Being a musician these days is a schizophrenic activity: you work in the studio then after a while you want to go on tour, then when you’re touring, after a while you want to go back to the studio. It’s like walking with two legs as a musician.

“Having said that, we know that lots of people are writing music and not touring. This is actually a wider issue – these days, in terms of economy, everybody says that the music industry can only survive because of living performance. Which, when you think about it, is quite unfair – you have lots of people who are great songwriters, great musicians, but they don’t have the ability or don’t want to perform on stage.

“This is something that, because of the pandemic, we should really think carefully about. Not giving the responsibility to the streaming platforms, to the economy of the internet, but also to ourselves. We should stop considering music to be as free as the air we breathe.

“The fact that for a while we were not able to perform – I hope that it will allow us to change our priorities a little bit, to recognize that music in itself, that you can listen to apart from the live performance, has a value of its own.”

Do you remember the first time you performed live? Where and what were you playing?

“When I was a teenager, I played in some local rock bands when I was 13, 14 years old. Playing live was the only way to share music, of course, it was really fun. I remember the first time we had a performance – it was a very humble attempt, with very rough equipment, some amplifier that one guy had built for me, for my guitar.

“In those days, my grandfather was an inventor and an engineer. He actually developed one of the first mixing desks for radio stations, and also he invented one of the first portable turntables, the ancestor of the iPod. He gave me, at 11 years old, a second-hand German tape recorder. I was obsessed, recording everything.

“One day I played the tape backward and I thought that aliens were talking to me [laughs]. From that moment I started to experiment, processing sounds with some of my guitar or organ, with tape effects. Even for these first performances, I was doing, I had these old tape recorders to create these strange sounds.”

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