19 July 2013
Lars Brandle - Journalist and Billboard Magazine's correspondent for Australia.
I chatted with Jean Michel Jarre about...well, lots of stuff. He's coming to Perth for starters.
Jean Michel Jarre
Artist and President, the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC)
Jean Michel Jarre is passionate about music, whether he’s making it or protecting it. The Frenchman is a towering figure in the electronic music world, with 80 million career album sales to his name. Without his music -- which include the analogue masterpieces Equinox and Oxygène and later, Magnetic Fields and Zoolook -- today’s electronic music scene would be a much different beast. Perhaps “trance” would have never happened without his input.
Jarre has always pushed the boundaries. In 1981, he became the first Western musician to perform in China, an event that was captured for The Concerts in China double-album. His open-air concerts are the stuff of legend.
In June of this year, following CISAC’s General Assembly, Jarre was elected as president of the confederation. It’s a big responsibility with a mind-boggling job-description; he’s acting as the voice of the authors’ community worldwide, defending and championing the interests of CISAC, its 231 member societies and the 3 million creators it represents. At CISAC, Jarre succeeds another artist, the Bee Gees’ Robin Gibb, who passed away in May 2012. The confederation was founded in 1926 in Paris, where its worldwide headquarters remain. It’s not Jarre’s first “industry” role. From 1998-2000, he served as European artist spokesperson for the IFPI.
You have a great responsibility with CISAC. How will you go about it?
JMJ - First of all, when it was discussed, I said having my own activities in the music scene and working on my next album and next tour, I obviously can’t be available on a day-to-day basis. It’s not an organization that is requesting that. What they’re trying – and it was the case with Robin Gibb -- is to have somebody as a public image, a public figure in the world of arts to be able to carry a message and ideas. That’s on their side. On my side I think it’s time to give-back not only to the audience but also to the societies. The hundreds if not thousands of people working for all of us, all artists. Authors rights companies have a rather negative image all over the world. There’s confusion around the term of intellectual property; its something very few people understand. Because on one side you have those giants of the Internet being considered “trendy” and a symbol of modernity. And on the other side, you have publishers and producers being considered as people looking back into the past and sitting on their pots of gold. It’s obviously not as simple as that. It’s actually untrue.
What are the biggest issues facing authors and composers?
JMJ - People don’t really understand what intellectual property is. They think it’s normal to download creative content for free. This is obviously a very naïve approach. We’ve been talking about this for 15 years. The idea is, first of all, to probe and talk with a much clearer message. Every kind of work deserves remuneration and being approached with a link to an economical system. Again, this is far beyond just a matter of finance. It’s a matter of rights and identity. By that it’s facing global issues like the giants of the Internet. We must find a global answer. And the global answer should be through all the different art forms, and joining forces. Composers, filmmakers, and photographers, graphic artists, journalists and media people. Today we’re all in the same boat. We need to join forces geographically. It’s not only a problem between Europe and the United States. It’s far wider than that. If you take, for instance, the Aborigines in Australia, many communities having created through centuries very valuable patterns and designs, sounds, and music styles. It’s constantly being stolen by the advertising world and fashion designers, who in many cases don’t even realise they’re stealing something that has been created by a community. Intellectual property is one of the keys of the identity of a community. Intellectual property is one of the key elements of democracy. It’s not only a problem for musicians, but it’s the same for all modes of expression and artform. The beauty of CISAC—the “sleeping beauty” – is that nobody really knows what it is. I hope that will change in the future.
So how do you plan to shake it up?
JMJ - We should seriously consider an eternal copyright, a timeless copyright. Why should the rights of something stop after 50 or 70 years? It’s because in the 19th century one guy in France said, “OK, we have to protect the rights of the creator so lets take the lifetime of a human being” at the time. These days we could easily consider that after a certain period of time all rights generated by any kind of creation in the world could go toward a worldwide fund to be distributed in a way that should be organized, obviously, but should be worldwide and timeless. I’m not saying we should do it, I’m just saying you can’t reduce the problem of intellectual property on the fact that today Google is the ultimate answer. Those giants of the Internet didn’t exist 15 years ago. They grew so fast that they didn’t realize the collateral damage they’re creating. They’re not necessarily devils, but actually if they’re not devils they’re not gods also. Historically, the artists and creators have been the people with a vision for the future, shaking society, putting questions to the country, the political systems they’re living through. It’s not people manufacturing cables and telephones that could replace artists, in terms of credibility for innovation and creation.
When you’re listening to a radio station, it’s not illegal, because rights have been paid before it has been broadcast. There is a system. We need to find a regulation, a system. That is something that today must almost be considered as environment or ecology. When I was writing Oxygène, we were considered dreamers; no political parties and no politicians were interested to hear what we had to say. Then step-by-step we succeeded to put in the mind of every citizen on the planet that finally it’s important to take care of the planet, it’s important for the future generations. Then every political party had to integrate environment and ecology into their programs to be elected. It should be the same for intellectual property. Intellectual property today is like ecology and environment 30 years ago. It’s the same thing. In every family you have a child dreaming of being an artist. Most of the time if those teenagers want to do that today they need to get a job on the side because today you can’t live on your artform. One of the priorities that CISAC should do is be more visible and with one word in mind – education. Education within the creators and artists but also for the public opinion.
The Hadopi law in France was dumped recently. I understand it was unpopular, but perhaps it was popular and brave?
JMJ - The answer is actually in your question. It was unpopular, awkward, but brave. It was important for one country -- and France being a country always conscious of human rights -- to stand up and say, “we’re going to tell society that downloading for free is illegal.” This is the most important aspect of Hadopi. Punishing people for downloading illegally is, in my opinion, a mistake. If you take the music industry, how can you imagine people having invented pirate radio wanting to put pirates in jail 25 years later? Immediately when we did that, we really sent a negative message to the kids and the teenagers. Whatever happens we have to find a way to work together. It will be much easier when the public opinion will understand what we’re talking about. Which is not the case at the moment. This is all very fragile. We are fragile. And [the Internet giants] are as well. I bet that the punk of the next generation could reject the internet as being the biggest marketing machine of all time. Take for instance what happened with MySpace. It was the next big thing eight years ago. It’s almost non-existent at the moment. And look at Apple since Steve Jobs is not around anymore. It’s a much less trendy company than it used to be, and it just took one year.
What’s also fragile is the business of subscriptions models. Spotify has been in the press this past week because Thom Yorke doesn’t support the model and the lack of royalties that come back to the artist. What are your thoughts as a composer?
JMJ - It’s a tricky, complex question. In one sense I quite agree with Thom Yorke and his thoughts on a system like the one developed by Spotify. At the same time, Radiohead has almost a tendency to have an ambiguous attitude with the internet and using that for their own image. It’s something that’s more complex than that. I would agree with Thom Yorke about the fact that it’s not the answer. Having said that, (Spotify) is trying to bring some solution.
Which countries are leaders in copyright reform and protection in the digital economy and which need to improve?
JMJ - We need to have the big emerging countries like China and India being involved. I was in China a few weeks ago, where I have lots of connections. China for the first time in its history seems quite keen to recognize the concept of intellectual property. It’s the same with India, which is just starting to create a set of regulations to protect intellectual property in its own country. That’s a big step forward and very encouraging for us. We have key, international people at CISAC, and we have ambassadors in each country who are able to lobby and push the right button at the right moment. If that means we have to go to Washington or Brussels for one issue, by pushing the button you can get 50,000 signatures in one day. We are much stronger as artists and creators from the media world than we think. It’s a hell of a strong voice, much stronger than any kind of manufacturer of cables or gadgets. We must reverse and go back to what artists are. We are the trendy part of the creative world.
You mentioned you’ve got a new album coming?
JMJ - I’m working on two different album projects. I’m recording my next album, and the other is a special project on the Internet. My main project album, I’m recording it to be ready for the end of the year. And that will be accompanied by a brand new tour with a new visual concept. I’ve also a project in Australia, in Perth. That should happen at the end of 2014. It’ll be quite a big outdoor concert and we’ve been discussing it with the city for quite a while.
That will be your first performance in Australia?
JMJ - Yes. Australia is a country I have a lot of love and respect for. And also, Australia is linked to my own range of favourite instruments. The Fairlight, the first sampler ever made, came from Australia. It’s a great, great instrument. I’m very interested and involved with the Aboriginal culture, from a music and graphic point of view. I’d love to mix all this in the concert project in Western Australia. I like touring, but I also like these one-off projects. It’s like you have no second chance for yourself or the audience. You have no repetition. Even if it’s on YouTube, it’s still something unique in the fact its one concert, one time, one night. It’s something which for me is the ultimate. I’m looking forward to it.
Do you hear your music influencing contemporary electronic music?
JMJ - It’s an interesting point. I have many links with the electronic scene and part of my upcoming projects are based on creating bridges with people who say they’re influenced by my work and the other way around, artists I’m inspired by. Some music is quite timeless. I can feel some elements in my music is quite timeless. And I can feel some part of my work hidden in some new compositions. I like the idea. Art is like that. We’re all sponges, constantly recycling and remixing.
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