Jean Michel Jarre’snew album Aero is unlike anything you’ve heard. Recorded and fully constructed in 5.1 Surround Sound, it is a submersive experience. Jarre has tirelessly pioneered new technology for the past 20 years, selling 60million albums and playing record-breaking concerts with electronica, video and pyrotechnics from Paris to China to the banks of the Thames.
You sound swamped.I’ve had quite a hectic day. I work very hard. When I go to bed, I dream about getting some sleep.
Is it the music that drives you?Music has always been what I have been excited by, and also frustrated by. But it is the feeling there are so many unfinished works out there waiting to be improved upon that haunts me. I have done many mock-ups in my life – things that I have always thought I might improve upon one day. That is the main engine that drives me.
You sound like a perfectionist.I don’t like the word. It’s got a negative tone. I am a perfectionist in the way that if you build a plane, you just know you have to get it right. You have to be a bloody perfectionist. If you don’t, you kill a lot of people. I’m not suggesting that my music will kill, but…
But it does trigger physical reactions in people…I have always thought music should be elemental – that it should be something you immerse yourself within. It’s organic, sensual – almost sexual. I like music that talks to my body, my tummy, my skin. Music is first physical. Before it is emotional or intellectual, it is physical. In Oxygene, I tried to bathe listeners in sound but the technology wasn’t up to speed yet. It was static stereo and wasn’t ready yet to do what I wanted it to. Surround Sound provided me with the medium I always wanted. It lets me revisit the music and make the version I always wanted to make.
So with Aero, did you improve on your original hits?More than. When I had finished, I thought this is the original. This is the true first version. Before that, I knew they weren’t finished the way they were meant to be.
It’s a dangerous thing re-upholstering history…I know and I trapped myself a little in this project. I wanted to make entirely new music but I ended up reconforming some of my existing tracks. I was so into the process of listening to my music for the first time, with all those fresh feelings.
The medium (5.1 stereo) is definitely exciting, but isn’t it elitist?No, no it’s not elitist. More than 25million families now have home cinemas with Surround Sound, and the number’s growing. I parallel it with the move from mono to stereo and then stereo to CDs. I always believed that with CDs we lost something at an emotional level. CDs weren’t as generous or warm or sexy as vinyl. But with Surround Sound, it has all that warmth and high definition. DVDs aren’t just for watching films, there’s a wealth of musical possibility we can tap into.
Are we ready for the next generation?Yes, our senses are ever-evolving. In the 21st century, we have higher expectations than our grandparents. If we saw the next Ridley Scott movie and it was a silent movie shot in grainy black and white, I think he would have trouble finding a distributor. Likewise, after you have listened to Surround Sound, it’s hard to go back to stereo.
You’ve always put on big, free music extravaganzas. Is it important to be democratic with your music?I blame it all on a socialist mother.
Why all the fireworks?Basically, when it’s just a guy behind a laptop twiddling knobs for two hours, you need something more, non? My parents used to say they were going to ‘hear’ some music and there would be a quartet up on a stage and that was enough. Today, people say they are going to ‘see’ some music. There are visual expectations inspired by the opening up of it as an artform and I always strove to put electronic music on the stage and make it exciting. If you have some visual stimulus, it makes for a better listening experience. It invites people to share more fully.
Do you get a buzz from performing?I love that there’s no second chance in performance art. There’s a complicity with the audience and a magic to the whole thing. When I used to go with my grandparents to the village square, we would watch the circus. They would come, pitch their tent, set up shop, perform and then be gone the next morning. It was cloaked in mystique and I love that.
Which has been your best concert?There have been so many. But I’d have to say the best was in Lyon, my home town, a few years ago. I put on an event at exactly the same place where the circus used to perform in the market place. Exactly where they pitched their tent. It was a strange feeling. Very special for me.
What is your greatest fear?Being ill and losing my health. I don’t have many fears actually. I have doubts and anguish but not real fear. I have dissatisfaction too with much I have done, and I look forward to being satisfied with something. Does that qualify?
More than. What advice would you give your younger self?That being an artist is wonderful but it may not be the easiest way to be happy. Your life will be full of passion but full of frustrations, too. It’s not always great for your private life. You may end up double-booking children and relationships with work. Perhaps, if being happy in life is really your priority, you shouldn’t go the artist route.
What should you be?I’m not sure. Perhaps a carpenter? Yes, a carpenter would be good.