vrijdag 2 december 2016

Jean Michel Jarre - 40 years Oxygene

Somewhere at the end of the 1960s, a certain Frenchman in his early 20s gets involved into electronic music, and pioneers as member of the Musical Reserche Group of inventor of the Musique Concrète, Pierre Schaeffer.
In between the late 60s and halfway the 70s this Jean Michel Jarre releases some obscure synthesizer LP's, which pave the road to a historic masterpiece that would become one of the most influential electronic music compositions of all time. This iconic music piece from 1976 is called "Oxygene".

"Oxygene" seems to be milestones away from the music Jarre recorded shortly before, such as "Deserted Palace" and the soundtrack of "Les Granges Brûlées".
It is not necessarily the music that is different, but the big difference can be noticed in the production. This is from another order and way ahead for its time.
Where Jarre did the production of his music himself before, he involved sound engineer Michel Geiss for this project. Which also might be the main explanation of the album's rich sound.
Recorded on an 8-track tape recorder in his kitchen in 6 weeks time, it seems that there was no real intention to create a commercial successful album.
Francis Dreyfus - who owns a renowned jazz label at that moment - decides to invest in Jarre and his new project, and releases "Oxygene" in December 1976.
The not so mainstream electronic music is not widely accepted in first instance, but in the summer of 1977, the album becomes a real hit, selling 15 million copies worldwide since then.

Jarre couldn't have chosen a better subject than he did with "Oxygene" for this synthesizer based record. With the instruments he uses, it is possible to create sounds and effects that could impossibly be created with any other instrument.
A typical sound that would become Jarre's trademark from that moment, was generated with an Eminent 310 Unique chamber organ. The characteristic strings sound processed by an Electrohamonix Smallstone Phaser creates a 'spacey' ambience.
As a result of this, the Dutch organ manufacturer started to sell huge amounts of their instrument. Afterwards the firm declared that they were not amused at all that Jarre used their instrument in a way it was not intended to.

The atmospheric sounds with which "Oxygene" opens, are innovative for the period in which the album sees the light. The over-all sound is fresh and takes you to an unknown universe.
Despite this, the output is very melodic and, as a result of this, very accessible.
"Oxygene 4" is Jarre's breakthrough. If you analyze this track, the success of it can be explained by the typical structure of a popsong, with a verse and chorus.
A lot of people might recognise this tune, without knowing Jarre is behind it.
"Oxygene" contains a cross-over of various musical influences, which join in a wonderful way.

The accompanied carefully chosen recognisable and confronting artwork by Michel Granger shows an torn globe, under which a skull is being exposed. As well the album as the artwork have achieved a cult status. 

In 1997 it is decided to release the follow-up of the classic album: "Oxygene 7-13".
For the occasion of current 40th anniversary, the album got back its original title (although never released this way) of "Oxygene 2", to fit into the trilogy box. Also the colors of the artwork (also a meaningful litograph by Michel Granger) have been adjusted to the first "Oxygene".

This 20th anniversary sequel is entirely in line with the "Oxygene" tradition. Blending typical sounds to be heard on the original album with modern new sounds from the 90s. This results into a perfect fitting into the zeitgeist, respecting the roots.

An "Oxygene 7-13" 'world'-tour follows, and Jarre enters the charts again with the singles "Oxygene 8" and "Oxygene 10".

With the 30th anniversary of Jarre's classic album in 2007 there is chosen to have a re-recording of the original material of the first album. With the addition of some variations in between some of the tracks. This version with the new parts are not included into the 40th Anniversary.

With the 2007/2008 "Oxygene Live In Your Living Room" concert tour, Jean Michel Jarre integrally performs the entire "Oxygene" suite (including the new variations) for the first time ever. On stage he is accompanied with a backline of 50 rare and analog synthesizers. Including the instruments that have been used on the original album.

Jarre always said he wouldn't repeat his successes. However, 40 years later the unexpected third and final episode of "Oxygene" is a fact.

During the interview I did with Jarre back in 2011, he spoke about a new project with a lot of analog gear. It could easily be that the first ideas for this new "Oxygene" were already there at that moment.
The French synthesist approached "Oxygene 3" with a total different look at the process of the original album. With a 6 weeks recording period as only similarity.

The first fact of the new album was premiered during Jarre's "Electronica Tour" concert in Cardiff, on October 4th: "Oxygene 17". A couple of days before Jarre's official announcement of the new episode on his social media on October 12th. Since then this track is included with the following concerts of the tour.

October 26th, German mailorder JPC publishes the first sound clips from all the album's tracks. These expose classical elements from the precedors of "Oxygene 3". But it also suggests a more 'dance' oriented musical style. With this, Jarre doesn't seem to aim on copying what he has already done before. After the approach of "Electronica", this makes me even more curious to the entire album.

November 3th, the entire studio version from "Oxygene 17" is released on Spotify.
Three days later "Oxygene 18" appears as part of an ambient mix by Raphaël Marionneau (https://www.mixcloud.com/abstrait/abstrait-ambient-1/ - from 7:20).

Bit by bit there are 'leaked' longer exerpts from the album, followed by the official video release of the album's single "Oxygene part 17", on November 23rd. A day before an "Oxygene 3" listening session for a selected group of people at the Palais de la découverte, in Paris. With Jean Michel Jarre's presence.

And right before the end of 2016's "Electronica Tour", Jarre performs "Oxygene 19" for the first time live during his concert in Nantes, on November 29th.

And then there finally is the album, on December 2nd.
"Oxygene 3" is physically released as single cd, lp, and as part of "Oxygene Trilogy" (3 cd-set) as well as the "Collector's Box" (3 cd's, 3 lp's and a book).

But what does the new album sound like?

"Oxygene 14" starts with low bass tones, followed by an straight synth arpeggio. A Rhodes lead sets the tone and introduces the album. A synth counter-melody takes over, and again makes place for the electric piano melody. While the first 3 minutes don't contain too much progression, the second part gets layered with more arps and sequencing. A string pad adds some drama and creates the necessary atmosphere. With the addition of the laser harp at 4:13 the track gets the same atmosphere as the opener of "Electronica 1", "The Time Machine" (with Boys Noize).

"Oxygene 14" continues flawless into "Oxygene 15". A gated sequencer line sets the overall atmosphere. The sound and loop evolve later during "Oxygene 17". From the beginning the famous Eminent 310 pads create a typical Jarrean atmosphere.
From 1:30 an minimal analog Minipops rhythm is added.
A lot of references with his recent "Electronica" project. This track reminds me of the track "The Heart of Noise" (with Rone).
Halfway the track contains a intermission, after which the main gated sequencer takes the lead again. More and more sound effects are being added. However, the musical lines remaining minimal. At 5:20 a more aggressive sequencer accelerates, and seems to predict something heavy. One minute later it just fades away.

"Oxygene 16" is perhaps the track that fits most into the classic "Oxygene" cyclus.
A lot of recognisable sound effects, chords from "Equinoxe 3", and sounds could have been from the "Laser Harp" track from the "Concerts in China" album.
At 1:24 again a beat is introduced. It looks like Jarre decided to keep it all uptempo.
When the beat is at full blast at 2:20, you are invited to get your feet off the floor. The energy reminds me of Yello's "On Track".
A subtle soft synth story telling melody, combined with the different and detailed layers definitely make this to one of the most interesting tracks of the album.
The last part of "Oxygene 16" is constructed in the same way as "Oxygene 3". Both prepare for the album's single. 

"Oxygene 17" could be called the "Oxygene 4" of the 2010s. All clichés are present in this rhythmic track: from the glissandi and the flangered pads to the wind/noise sound effect as well as the song's development and structure (which is nearly the same as of the anthem from 1976). The song's main melody is played by a staccato synth sound, the chorus lead sounds like the one from "Geometry of Love part 1", and the main chords, as well as the countermelody, are played with the Eminent 310.
Another nice detail of this track (as well as some of the other album tracks) are the melody lines, which seem to be more complex compared with the minimal approach to be heard on the original "Oxygene" album. Which add some more immersion.

"Oxygene 18" can be best described as an ambient / lounge / chill out transition. Again, an electric piano story line. It is a nice intermission, and although it breathes in a certain way, it is not at all in the line of the original "Oxygene". The track could easily have been part of Jarre's e-jazz experiment "Sessions 2000". It marks the transition to the second part of the album, which is slightly darker.

Then it's time for another atmosphere. Like Jarre mentioned, the album is devided into two parts. The second part starts with "Oxygene 19". The filtered strings feel like the beginning of "Second Rendez-Vous". At 0:50 a trance-like arpeggio starts in. From time to time interesting chord changes are to be heard. Around 2:00 a soft Moog-lead sounds reminds of "Oxygene 4" sets in. Subtle sequencer lines are added.
A short break at 2:50, building up the sequencer lines again, like in a trance track.
At 3:40 the melody returns. The heavy dance beat stays away, where you would expect it.
The chords fade out. Some staccato notes set in and continue into the album's final track.

A heavy, dramatic and distorted church organ reigns the first minute of "Oxygene 20". From 1:25 "Oxygene 6" enters from the depths and sweeps from left to right. It fades away one minute later. Thunder can be heard in the background.
We set up for the finale. Still part of "Oxygene 20", but this could easily have been "Oxygene 21". Low tones, joined by an emotional and heavenly pad playing chords progressions.
At 5:30 a crying synth lead sound leads in a slightly sinister mood.
The atmosphere turns darker when thunder returns. This time including rain. 
Only the final chord brightens the entire darkness. This coincides with the last remains of a camp fire smoldering while the wind blows.

The series which were once announced as "The Complete Oxygene" back in 1997, is finally concluded. I had the privilege to listen to "Oxygene 3" for the past 3,5 weeks.
Strangely enough it took me at least 2 weeks to notice the essence of this final chapter.
Every time I listened to the album, each of the tracks became better bit by bit. All seem to fell into place in the end.

In first instance I was a bit sceptic about this project.
When having a look at the liner notes in the booklet, it becomes clear that a large part is dedicated to the featured instruments. Which definitely is required to create at least a part of the "Oxygene"-feel. But there is needed more than specific instuments to make another epic music piece.

Together with the fact that the six-weeks period in which Jarre recorded the original "Oxygene", has also been adapted for "Oxygene 3". Because this was explicitely mentioned, I had my doubts in advance. My first impression was that Jarre had some weeks 'left' after the accomplishment of "Electronica". Combined with some pressure by the record company, to last-minute create or collect some masterial for the 40th anniversary of his debut. We will probably never know if this really had been the case.

Jarre covers these preconceptions in advance, by connecting the musical process with the artwork in a logical way.

The original cover artwork by Michel Granger is adapted to a 3D-model, en turned to a side-view. This represents an other vision on the original recording process.
With this underlying meaning Jarre could manouver into all possible directions.

The only remark might be that the original artwork suggests the music on the record is closer to the original than actually is the case.

When you expect the style of the original 1976 album when listening to "Oxygene 3", or its 1997 successor, there's a big chance that the album dissapoints. At least in first instance.
Until a week ago I was not conviced that "Oxygene 3" would be a valuable addition to its two classic precedors. In the meanwhile I am a lot more positive.

I can conclude that "Oxygene 3" is a beautiful and balanced album. There can be heard many similarities, and links can be made, with the first episodes of the trilogy, as well as Jarre's older works.

While due to the concept Jarre couldn't profile his current style prominently within "Electronica", he got all space and freedom to do so with "Oxygene 3". Where I first had mixed feelings, this seems to be a concept album which grows by the time. In the typical Jean Michel Jarre tradition as we actually haven't heard since "Oxygene 7-13". Which is excellent news for the real fans!

 Time will tell if "Oxygene 3" will ever be as iconic as its precedors.

- www.jeanmicheljarre.com;
- Jean Michel Jarre's official social media;
- "Oxygene 3" artwork. 

- All used photos were taken from the social media and website of Jean Michel Jarre;
- Album artwork is copyrighted and property of Jean Michel Jarre en Sony Music.

Thanks a lot to Erik Guillot, Frank Bloemen and Lotte de Boer from Sony Music Nederland.

The original Dutch version of this album review is written exclusively for www.jeanmicheljarre.nl. Read it here.

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