Jean-Michel Jarre Biography

24 August 1948, Lyon, France. This enigmatic composer and keyboard wizard became the premier exponent of European electronic music in the late 70s and early 80s. The son of film composer Maurice Jarre, from the age of five Jean-Michel was playing the piano and guitar. He studied harmony and structure at the Paris Conservatoire, before abandoning classical music and, in 1964, joining Pierre Schaeffer’s Groupe de Recherches Musicales at Beaubourg. Becoming gradually more fascinated with the scope offered by electronics, his debut release in 1970 comprised the passages ‘La Cage’ and ‘Eros Machine’ on EMI Pathé in France. In 1971, he composed a piece called ‘Aor’ for the Paris Opera ballet. The following year he released Deserted Palace and produced the soundtrack for Jean Chapot’s movie Les Granges Brulées, among others. After meeting his future wife, actress Charlotte Rampling, he set about composing his first full-scale opus, Oxygene, which became a worldwide success when it was released in 1976 and signalled Jarre’s arrival as a commercial force. The subsequent Equinoxe continued in familiar style, exploring the emotive power of orchestrated electronic rhythms and melody.

The first of several massive open-air performances took place in Paris at the Place de la Concorde, with a world record attendance of over one million. However, it was not until 1981 and the release of Les Chants Magnetiques (aka Magnetic Fields) that Jarre undertook his first tour, no small task considering the amount of stage equipment required. His destination was China where five concerts took place with the aid of 35 traditional Chinese musicians. A double album, Les Concerts En Chine (aka The Concerts In China), was released to document the event. In 1983, Jarre produced his most elusive release Musique Pour Supermarche (aka Music For Supermarkets), which was recorded as background music for an art exhibition. Just one copy was pressed and sold for £10, 000 at an auction for charity before the masters were destroyed. The Essential Jean Michel Jarre, compiled from earlier albums, proved more accessible for Jarre’s legion of fans.

Jarre’s 1984 release Zoolook utilized a multitude of foreign language intonations in addition to the familiar electronic backdrop, but an unexpectedly lethargic reaction from the public prompted a two-year absence from recording. He returned with another outdoor extravaganza, this time celebrating NASA’s 25th anniversary in Houston. Viewed by over one million people this time, it was also screened on worldwide television. The release of Rendez-vous the same month was hardly coincidental. The same October he performed a concert in his home city to honour the visit of Pop John-Paul II. His first concerts in the UK, advertised as ‘Destination Docklands’, were also televised in October 1988. Whatever the size of audience he attracted, he was still unable to woo the critics. Revolutions appeared in the shops shortly afterwards, while one of its two singles, ‘London Kid, ’ featured the Shadows’ Hank B. Marvin on guitar.

Jarre’s first album of the 90s, En Attendant Cousteau (aka Waiting For Cousteau), anticipated his most recent update on the world record for attendance at a music concert. This time over two million crammed into Paris on Bastille Day to witness ‘La Defence’. Subsequent musical events included ‘Europe en Concert’, a 1993 tour of 15 European cities, and a one-off concert to inaugurate Hong Kong’s City Arena in 1994. On July 14 1995, in his newly appointed role as UNESCO’s ‘goodwill ambassador’, Jarre staged the ‘Concert pour la Tolerance’ to celebrate the United Nations 50th Anniversary and the Year For Tolerance. The performance in front of the Eiffel Tower was attended by over one and a half million people. Oxygene 7-13, released in February 1997, showed Jarre had been listening closely to recent developments in electronic music. He promoted the album with an indoor European tour, and on 6 September 1997 performed in front of a staggering three and a half million people in Moscow.

While Jarre continues to bewilder and infuriate music critics, statistical evidence shows he is far from short of advocates in the general public. His credibility rose in the late 90s when he achieved a UK number 12 chart hit in July 1998 with ‘Rendez-vous 98’, a collaboration with Apollo 440 that was used as the theme music to ITV’s coverage of the soccer World Cup. Odyssey Through O2 featured several dance music disciples, including Apollo 440, DJ Cam and Hani, revisiting and remixing Oxygene 7-13.

To commemorate the millennium Jarre staged The Twelve Dreams Of The Sun spectacular at the Great Pyramids in Egypt. His first completely vocal album, Metamorphoses, was released two months later. The jazz-tinged follow-up Sessions 2000 contained six tracks, each named after a specific day of the year. In 2004, Jarre recorded his first album in 5.1 surround sound. Aero featured reworked versions of many of his classic tracks alongside three new pieces.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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