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Interview: Jean-Michel Jarre invites us into his Time Machine (Includes interview)

French icon Jean-Michel Jarre exploded into the collective consciousness of music fans everywhere in the mid-1970s with his groundbreaking experimentation and genre-transcending brilliance that has since become the 67 year old’s often imitated, though rarely bettered trademark.

Showcasing the distinct beauty of the analogue synthesiser, Oxygene, the multi-talented multi-instrumentalist’s third LP, was the one that ensured longevity in what is a notoriously fickle industry, going on to sell over 12 million copies worldwide following its initial launch in 1976.

Electronica 1: The Time Machine is the title of Jarre’s latest work, the opening act in an ambitious, two-part saga that features duets with a number of other established artists.

Big names appearing on this really rather wonderful first instalment, the star’s 18th studio album, include Armin van Buuren, Tangerine Dream, Air, Moby, Vince Clarke, M83, Laurie Anderson, Pete Townshend, Fuck Buttons, Boys Noize and Victoria Hesketh, better known as Little Boots.

“I’m actually talking to you and preparing the release of the album, and at the same time I’m finishing the production and the mixing of the second part,” explains the forerunner of many of today’s top dance acts.

“The idea was to gather around me artists who are an inspiration to me and to cover 40 years of electronic music. When I started this project, I had no idea that everybody would say yes and it grew far more than my expectations.

“Then, like a movie, I had to divide it – for a question of time – into two parts. Album one is going be out in October and the second part in early 2016. I’m working on finalising part two.”

Who can we look forward to seeing on Electronica 2? “They are different artists, but all linked to the electronic music scene, directly or indirectly. I’m not going to obviously give all the names because I would like to keep it a surprise. But some of them are Gary Numan and David Lynch, and Hans Zimmer also… I will reveal more around Christmas time.”

Impressively, in this age of widespread Internet usage and file sharing, Jean-Michel actually travelled extensively to ensure his musical alliances were more personalised face-to-face affairs.

“There’s a trend, as we know, to send files to people around the world that you will never meet, in a rather abstract way” he observes. “Somebody will add a top line or a spoken part, or whatever, and most of the time this happens for marketing reasons…

“In my case it was really with the idea of meeting people, travelling and spending time with them. So I went to Germany to meet with Tangerine Dream and Boys Noize. I went to Richmond to meet with Pete Townshend, to London to meet with Fuck Buttons and Little Boots.

“I also went to Brooklyn to meet with Vince Clarke and New York to meet with Laurie Anderson… In Paris I met people such as Gesaffelstein, Air and some others.”

The album, 16 tracks with 15 different duet partners (Vince Clarke plays on two songs “Automatic Pt. 1” and “Automatic Pt. 2”) has been at the planning and putting together stage for a while now.

“I started four years ago” says the Lyon-born composer, “and it has been quite long because of the agendas of the artists, but also because everybody said yes, so I had to write a lot of music. My respect for the artists meant that I composed especially for them, thinking about them, their world and their style – and also leaving enough space, obviously, for them to change whatever they wanted. Most of the time we kept the original idea.”

I pointed out to the Frenchman that some fans might be surprised to see Pete Townshend on there. “Pete Townshend was very high on my wish list for several reasons… He was the one who introduced synthesisers and sequencers to rock music with songs like ‘Baba O’Riley.’

“Pete always had the ambition to push the boundaries by creating rock operas like Tommy and Quadrophenia. That’s also something we have in common because I always wanted also to push the boundaries of what performances on stage could be like, by using scenography and visual techniques.”

On getting to work with so many well known figures from within the music community, Jarre states, “As you understand, every collaboration is very special and there are no secondary tracks… I would say that one quite extraordinary experience I had was with Lang Lang.

“Lang Lang said, ‘Why Lang Lang?’ He is not only a classical pianist, he has a very organised approach to his instrument and its sound. When he plays the piano, he explores the sound and experiments on it. All that makes this track quite special, but I wouldn’t say that I prefer this one over any of the others. This was one of the most unusual tracks to conceive.”

Along with his breathtaking creative prowess, Jean-Michel Jarre is also widely known, as mentioned earlier, for his record-breaking live shows that have seen him put on stunning audio/visual extravaganzas in vast public spaces in cities like London, Paris, Moscow and Houston.

Does the influential musician have any plans to stage any more of these epic events, perhaps somewhere where he’s never been before?

“At the moment I’m really focusing on the music,” he replies. “I would like to approach the concept of festivals. It’s an interesting equation to go somewhere where the audience isn’t necessarily there for you… I’m planning a world tour and on the way maybe we’ll have some projects outdoors.

“But these days unfortunately, with threats and terrorism and security issues, doing shows outside is not like before. It’s not that easy to find the right place, but we’re working on it.”

Electronica 1: The Time Machine will be available from October 16 on Ultra Music. A few of the tracks can be downloaded here.

For more information on the legendary Jean-Michel Jarre, visit his official website.

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