S’oxygéner

French electronic music composer and showman extraordinaire Jean Michel Jarre was born on August 24, 1948. He’s best known for his 1976 album Oxygène. Jarre recorded it in his home studio and it sold 12 million copies, making it the best-selling French record of all time. I remember my brother listening to this one when it was just released. Jarre’s concerts are massive affairs – sometimes topping 1 million attendees. He’s sold over 80 million copies of his 18 albums and has held and then broken the record for the largest-ever outdoor concert.

As a young musician, Jarre took in all sorts of inputs – the jazz of Chet Baker, the lyrics of Ray Charles, the dissonance of Stravinsky, the art of Pierre Soulages, the antics of street performers – and added in formal instruction on the elements of composition at the Conservatoire de Paris. When he joined the Groupe de Recherches Musicales, led by Pierre Schaeffer (identified as the founder of musique concrète that mixes electronic, synthesized, and natural sounds), Jarre discovered the Moog synthesizer, which totally changed his sound.

Jarre is definitely a successful French export. When he performed in Beijing in 1981, he was the first western performer allowed in for decades. It was clear that the show would require more electrical power than the grid could handle, so Chinese officials simply cut the power to surrounding areas to divert sufficient juice to allow the show to go on. Now that’s an international relations coup! His concerts are monumental affairs, involving specially built screens and stages, hundreds of projectors, search lights, and fireworks. The Eiffel Tower was lit for his 1995 concert in Paris, which led to the installation of a permanent light display at the site.

Today’s word, s’oxygéner (socks-e-zjen-ay) means “to get some fresh air.” It made me think about Mannheim Steamroller and Fresh Aire, which came out in 1975, another favorite album of mine. I remember my father-in-law saying, “You call that music?” when we demonstrated our new stereo system for him by playing Fresh Aire. Well, yes we did, as a matter of fact. Oxygène and Fresh Aire are such complementary sounds. It makes me wonder if Chip Davis (the MS founder) and Jean Michel Jarre were influenced by one another. Two incredibly creative albums that defined a new sound for a new era.

Oxygène

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About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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One Response to S’oxygéner

  1. Pingback: Legendary Instruments – Jean-Michel Jarre « mostly music

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