Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxymore

English Music
A still from Jean-Michel Jarre's video for Oxymore

Jarre is anti-nostalgic. Even when he looks back, he looks forward.

Jean-Michel Jarre has been ahead of the pack for most of his career. In addition to looking eternally young, he has always been firmly up to date on what is going on, both in popular culture, the avant-garde world, in the media and within technological advances. He was among the first to create electronic music, he inspired rave parties, laid the foundation for the visual shows that even DJs tour with today and used synths, sequencers and samplers in a way that inspired a whole generation of musicians who came after him.

With Oxymorehe shows that he is still not standing still. In addition to the music itself, Jarre has created a virtual world that can only be entered with the help of VR glasses, and which is part of this project. He already held a concert in a virtual version of Notre Dame on New Year’s Eve 2019, and has later done other VR concerts. He will also stage more VR-concerts in connection with the album release as well.

Albumomslaget til Oxymore av Jean-Michel JarreBut though he never stands still, with Oxymore he goes back to his roots in musique concrete. This school of music is made using recordings of the sound of objects that are not musical instruments. Whether it’s searching through the frequency waves on an FM radio, recording sounds from the street, messing around with machines and equipment and recording it or sampling it from other pieces of art and music. This is then put together into sound sculptures that can, depending on your intention, can be described as music.

The result can be melodic, like on Jarre’s album Zoolook from 1984, or it can be like Oxymore : An experimental journey where you let yourself fly away on sequences of sounds, samples and electronic music. The entire album is co-composed by Jarre’s old mentor from the Groupe de Recherches Musicales in Paris, Pierre Henry, who before his death created a number of sequences and sound pieces that Jarre has worked with. Jarre studied under Pierre Schcaeffer and Henry, and Schaeffer made music using what today would be called sampling as early as the 30s.

I especially recommend listening to the album with earphones in the Binaural version, where the music gives you a 360 degree feel. The sounds come from the front, from behind, from the side and in the center of your head. This is especially clear in the opening track AGORA, where the rain is used as an instrument  which sounds like it is embracing you. In this piece we can hear Pierre Henry speak and explain parts of his philosophy around musique concrete.

The album is largely divided into different tracks, and does not crossfade, as Jarre’s records usually do, but we de flow into the title track (which Jarre stubbornly claims has nothing to do with Oxygene). This is a track that shows what Jarre is doing here is innovative: He creates musique concrete using the latest technology available on the market, instead of how it all started: With a tape recorder, scissors and cellotape.

Jarre has always compared what he does to painting or cooking: You mix ingredients in a similar way, only that he does it with the texture of sound. Personally, I’ve always liked Jarre best when he plays with sound instead of melody. Because you do find melody inside the collages of sound.

Just take the gorgeous melody that permeates SYNTHY SISTERS, for example. The track SEX IN THE MACHINE is the kind of industrial electronica that Trent Reznor would be proud of. Towards the end of ZEITGEIST comes a melody line that sounds like a doppler effect siren that passes through the catchy rhythms and bass. This would have have worked perfectly on a dance floor with flashing strobelights.

BRUTALISM, which was the first single, sounds like old computer music, only performed with a more modern soundscape, the sequencer patterns on NEON LIPS will make any Tangerine Dream fan close their eyes with pleasure, and the newest single EPICA is just that, epic. What a perfect ending!

And throughout, the processed sounds from daily life (talking, rain, machines, cars, traffic and similar things) are always present, creating a feeling of earthiness in the synthetic landscape.

Jarre is unlikely to get a new million-seller ala Oxygene here. The album needs a bit of work to get into it properly, but the reward is great when you’ve craked the code. And then we can celebrate that Jarre, unlike Kraftwerk, never got stuck in a mire of constant nostalgia. He still leads the way.

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