Seeking the light - Issue 121 - Magazine | Monocle

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Watching Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey the whole way through in a dark cinema can leave you feeling space-travel sick. The camera angles are disorientating, the score unnerving and, with its orchestral overture and intermission, it lasts for 164 minutes. A single viewing is enough for most people but when it arrived in European cinemas in the autumn of 1968, French composer Jean-Michel Jarre felt compelled to go and see it six times.

“When I started making electronic music I was one of the pioneers of the genre. I had few influences and my inspiration came from films,” he says from behind dark glasses. “Did you know Kubrick sent sound engineers around the world so they could record seven different types of silence to replicate the soundlessness of outer space?” No, we didn’t.

An early proponent of electronic music, Jarre found fame with his 1976 album Oxygène: six tracks of techno mastery that he drummed up in his kitchen using hacked synthesisers and lots of sticky tape. It has sold some 18 million copies, making it one of the bestselling French albums ever. But Jarre is as much a performer as a composer: his shows are grandiose affairs with lights, smoke, projection mapping and keytars (it’s a shame the laser harp never caught on).

“The relationship between sound and visuals really impressed me,” he says. “I always considered this part of the electronic-music performance, because electronic instruments are not made for performing like drums, bass or electric guitar.”

Now 50 years into his career, cinema continues to be a source of inspiration for Jarre. Every evening (he works mainly at night) he decamps to a wing of his Parisian loft apartment to take in films on a huge projector. “I have always felt regenerated by visuals,” he says. “I seem to be rejuvenated by light. It’s a different kind of light to the sun but it still seems to provide nourishment.”

With his current schedule Jarre needs all the nourishment he can get. After an uninspired period in the 2010s he is collaborating, experimenting and writing with more zeal than ever. Last year saw the release of new album Equinoxe Infinity and he is involved in a long-running project called Electronica, which has seen him produce music with a wide array of artists from Air to Pete Townshend. His most unusual collaborator? “Edward Snowden,” he says with a wry smile. When it comes to finding inspiration, Jarre always seems to know just where to look.

The CV:

1948 Born in Lyon
1969 Joins the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (grm), an organisation dedicated to electronic music
1976 Releases Oxygène, his first major success as a composer
2018 Releases 20th studio album

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