(Photo: Jens Koch)
The first sounds on Close Your Eyes, a collaboration with French duo Air, emanate from a bank of oscillators, the kind used by electronic music pioneers Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Schaeffer during the '50s. Over the next six minutes, Jarre and Air build a piece that incorporates tape loops, theremin, a Minimoog, a Vocoder, early sampling synthesizers and digital keyboards. The track ends with a sound created by an app on Jarre's iPad.
"It was kind of a nightmare to get it all together," says Jarre, 67, "but it really works, because you can use the warmth of the analog instruments and the precision, the edgy and crispy sounds of the digital plug-ins."
Close Your Eyes is Electronica 1 in a microcosm. Jarre's first album in eight years, coming out Oct. 16 via Ultra Music, features collaborations with prominent electronic musicians from the past five decades, from Jarre's early contemporaries in Air and Tangerine Dream to new EDM stars Armin van Buuren and Gesafflestein. Other acts on the album include Moby, Depeche Mode's Vince Clarke, filmmaker John Carpenter and classical pianist Lang Lang.
"The challenge and excitement in this project was to merge our DNAs, to find a fair balance between the style of the collaborator and mine," Jarre says.
Jarre has been a top name in electronic music since the 1970s, when his album Oxygène became a worldwide phenomenon, ultimately selling more than 15 million copies. He's also known for staging massive public events, sometimes playing in front of more than a million people.
Jarre dedicated four years to the Electronica project, which will see a second volume released in the spring. "The idea was to gather around me people who are directly or indirectly linked to electronic music, and who have been or still are a source of inspiration to me," he says.
In a time when musicians can take advantage of technology by sending files of their recordings back and forth online, often collaborating without ever meeting, Jarre injected a personal touch by traveling for face-to-face sessions.
"It's quite unusual to start a song from scratch and say, 'Let's share our toys together,'" he says. "Most of the time, when you are in the studio, you are revealing yourself, you're a bit naked. You can express your weaknesses, your awkward way of approaching sound. Sharing these intimate moments is like inviting somebody into your private room.
"It's very different from sending a file in an abstract way. It may work, but, as we know, it's more for marketing reasons to have these kind of collaborations. In this case, it was something I wanted to share with this person in particular."
Some of Jarre's choices were obvious picks, like Moby and Laurie Anderson. Others, like Pete Townsend, were less so. But Jarre says The Who guitarist ranked high on his wish list.
"He was the first guy to introduce sequencers into rock music with songs such as Baba O'Riley," Jarre says. Also, "as one of the creators of the rock opera as a genre, he has an epic approach to performance that's quite close to my approach of performances for big concerts."
The Electronica 1 track on which Townsend appears, called Travelator Part 2, is part of a three-part collaboration Jarre plans to release as a separate EP near Christmas.
While Carpenter may be best known as a director, the film scores he wrote, particularly for 1978's Halloween, did much to popularize electronic music. "People don't realize enough how important and influentical John Carpenter has been in electronic music," Jarre says. "He did his soundtracks by himself, using mostly electronic and analog synthesizers. He's a cult figure with DJs these days for good reasons."
Zero Gravity, the track Jarre created with German group Tangerine Dream turned out to be the group's final recording, as founder Edgar Froese died suddenly from a pulmonary embolism a few weeks after their sessions. Though both acts are considered giants of the scene, Jarre says, "We had never really met before."
Jarre says so many people accepted his offer to work together that he had to write more music, enough to release a second volume in the spring. "It was a like a birthday party where you launch invitations, expecting half of the people to come, and they all join the party," he says.
Electronica 2 will feature pairings with Cyndi Lauper, Gary Numan, film composer Hans Zimmer and director David Lynch.
Jarre expects to play some festivals next year and possibly stage a world tour. "Some collaborators might join forces in certain cities or special concerts," he says. "I'm excited to share the stage with some prestigious people that I love and respect."