maandag 12 oktober 2015

Jean Michel Jarre - Electronica 1 - The Time Machine

After the disappointment of his previous studio album "Teo & Tea" (what for the largest part was not much more than a contractual obligation, to get away from his record label at that moment, Warner Music) from 2007, electronica pioneer Jean Michel Jarre took all the time to rediscover himself, by returning to the past.
In the first place with the remake of his international breakthrough "Oxygene" from 1976, and hereafter with the newly in 5.1 surround recorded selection of his greates hits of the past 28 years, with "Aero" (2004). Including the accompanying intensive series of concerts.

Start of the promotion campaign for the
new album, March 2015.
On paper, the project (with working title "E-Project") on which Jean Michel Jarre had been working for the last five years, should already be enough in advance to call the most impressive 'comeback' of musical history. If you might speak of a comeback. Despite the fact that Jarre has never been out of the picture for the fans, and the gentleman never sits still, he also developed high-end audio equipment for his Aero Technologies in the meanwhile, and he is committed to the interests of musicians as president of CISAC.

The new project, which is called "Electronica", tells Jarre's own electronic music history.
Besides this, the content of the album is about the relation between human and nowaday's technology, and the linked social aspects. The project consists of no less than 30 collaborations in total, spread over two albums.
I will be previewing the first part, "Electronica 1 - The Time Machine", which will be released on October 16th. Part 2 is scheduled for early 2016.

The list of artists involved into this project is really impressive. And it is absolutely admirable that Jarre managed to gather all these musical greats, who one by one have been an important part of the electronic music evolution
And indeed it is really fascinating that this lead to an end result where there was found a fair balance between the sound of each individual artist and that of Jarre.
The concept of collaborations also tries to meet the purpose that Jarre has in mind related to gather forces of different artists.
Limited deluxe fanbox.
With the cimate getting more difficult for musicians - especially for the ones who have to make a living of their music -  there has to be invented new and creative ways to sell music to the consumer. By collaborating for example, the range of the music is being expanded.

To stimulate sales, a couple of singles have been released in limited quantities, and deluxe (also limited) hand numbered fan boxsets of the project are available.
I have been looking forward to this project really a lot. In the first place because of the fact that I have always had a big fascination for the music of Jean Michel Jarre. You never know what to expect on a musical level from the Frenchman who recently turned 67. Secondly because of the collaborations with the many artists to be heard on this project. Artist who have also been a very large part of my musical history, apart from this project.

Since it became concrete that my 'hero' Jean Michel Jarre was about to show up with a new album this year, I was caught by the kind of excitement that also took me in its grip preceding the release of "Oxygene 7-13" (1997), and maybe also - but slightly less - with "Metamorphoses" (2000). I haven't had this kind of suspense since then with any other album of any thinkable artist.

Within the last years, internet has been expanded to the ultimate opportunity to exchange tracks, and to establish collaborations worldwide. Without having to leave your chair.
However, Jarre chose to travel and to work in the studio together with the artists in their studios. And this can clearly be heard in the final result.
Besides travelling between Paris and e.g. 150 kilometers outside of Vienna, Jarre even moved to Los Angeles for a while for this project. Jarre did the final mixing of all recordings in his studio in Paris.

The new project comes with high expectations. But are these being fulfilled?
The perfectly thought over and intensive promotion campaign from the past few months (which actually only is the beginning), preceding the album release, suggests positive.
The necessary suspense was being built very carefully, and every two weeks a track story about a collaboration from the project has been published. The first focus was on the solid fanbase, and the special editions are in the first place meant for this targetted group.
Since last month the international press and media have been involved for the real promotional activities.

"Electronica 1 - The Time Machine" contains the first 15 collaborations of this monster project, spread over sixteen different tracks. Vince Clarke has the honor to fill a whopping two places on this album.

Track by track:

Alexander Ridha (Boys Noize).
1) The Time Machine (JMJ & Boys Noize) - 3:52
A Mellotron choir leads in the opening track - which also is the title track of the album: "The Time Machine". This collaboration with the German Boys Noize (Alexander Ridha) is a perfect opener of this album, and immediately comes to the point. The style is typical Boys Noize and desires for more.
Jarre's input is clearly noticable by means of the well-known sound of the Laser Harp (alias the Elka Synthex), glissandi (for example to be heard on "Equinoxe") and a kind of "Industrial Revolution" lead sound. So you might perhaps see this opening track as a time travel, along some passages of Jarre's career.

JMJ & Anthony Gonzalez (M83).
2) Glory (JMJ & M83) - 3:56
This was the first new work to be heard from Jarre's (at that moment still unknown) new project. In the first place as an shortened version during the subtitles of the short film “EMIC: An Interstellar Time Capsule Film”. A collaboration between Google Play and the science fiction masterpiece "Interstellar", directed by Christopher Nolan. And a couple of versions of "Glory" already appeared on the digital download release "Remix EP 1", including remixes by Swedish House Maffia's Steve Angello and 16 Bit Lolitas.
From the first time I heard "Glory" it got stuck into my head.
The track starts with an analog drumcomputer, while the vocals and melody are being introduced. Hereafter the drums are extended and a lot of subtle details are added.
A little past the first minute of the intro, an arpeggio enters the scene, and the percussion increases the suspense. With 1:40 the drums and percussion start the rhythm that will remain the rest of the energetic track. After the single vocals in the beginning, additional vocals and even a small choir set in. This very strong anthem with awesome arrangement of the various vocals would be a perfect track for an opening ceremony of for example the Olympic Games.

JMJ & Nicolas Godin (Air).
3) Close Your Eyes (JMJ & Air) - 6:25
First you hear a continuous high note, generated by a sound generator from the time of the in 1958 established GRM (Groupe Recherche Musicales; the research centre of sound and electro-acoustic music, under guidance of Pierre Schaeffer), of which Jarre once was part of. Then, a tape-loop sets in, which functions as rhythm. This evolves into a rhythm created by the Korg Minipops. A tranquillent Arp 2600 arpeggio, followed by chords partially from the Eminent 310 (the organ with Jarre's recognisable strings sound).
The typical 'Air'-sound of the piano and vocoder set the trend for the rest of the track. The further progress of the very atmospheric track, recalls the atmosphere of Jarre's "Gloria, Lonely Boy", from the album "Metamorphoses" (2000). The track could easily have been part of the Air-album "Moon Safari" (1998), but perhaps even more of "Premieres Symptomes" (work from the period 1995-1997). Later in the track there can be heard a 'Theremin'-like sound from the EMS VCS3, and some other sounds of which Jarre made a lot of use in the 70s.
One of my absolute favourite tracks, "Close Your Eyes", is one of the tracks on this album on which the styles of Jarre and the collaborating artist / band seem to be perfectly in balance. This track is a must for all Jarre-fans who definitely need a portion of new material with elements of "Oxygène" and "Equinoxe".

JMJ & Vince Clarke.
4) Automatic (part 1) (JMJ & Vince Clarke) - 3:09
"Automatic (part 1)" starts with recognisable Vince Clarke sequences and leads, as known from 'Yazoo' and 'Erasure'. Mellotron strings fade from the distance and bells melody reminds me of the "Aero"-intro of "Chronologie 6".
You can hear from the melody-lines and sequencing that Jarre and Clarke for a large part share the same musical interests.

5) Automatic (part 2) (JMJ & Vince Clarke) - 2:59
After 3 minutes we reach the half of this dual piece. A tempo acceleration takes place, and the track merges flawless into "Automatic (part 2)". The strong main melody is being introduced instantly. The uptempo track sounds like a mix of the title track of "Aero" and "Chronologie 6", and could have easily been part of "Oxygene 7-13" (1997).
After hearing the parts with Clarke, the only question that comes in mind is: When will these two gentlemen join to record an entire album together?

JMJ & Victoria Hesketh (Little Boots).
6) If..! (JMJ & Little Boots) - 2:58
"If..!" is the collaboration between Jarre and electropop singer-songwriter and DJ from Blackpool, Victoria Hesketh (aka Little Boots).
It is a catchy pop song about a friendship (eventually, 'If we have the time, and nothing on our mind') in the current modern time, where everybody is 'busy saying nothing' with their mobile phones, social media, etc.
The track contains some near-shoddy elements, such as a Venga Boys-like lead sound, but on the other hand the composition is more mature than you would expect with the term 'pop song'.
All ingredients for a potential hit single are present, and with the running remix competition for this track, we could suggest the record company selected "If..!" for an upcoming commercial single.
But this has not been confirmed. At least a winning remix will be selected to appear on the upcoming digital "Remix EP 2" before the end of the year.

JMJ & Andrew Hung (Fuck Buttons).
7) Immortals (JMJ & Fuck Buttons) - 4:30
This track sounds like a transition and sort of moment of rest, in between the first and second part of "Electronica 1".
Dark and grainy pads are to be heard at the beginning of "Immortals". Then, an arpeggio is introduced, which nears the sound and structure of Guru Josh's house classic "Infinity" from 1990.
Despite the fact that Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power are already active as Fuck Buttons, since 2004, I am barely familiar with the work of this experimental music duo, which also come from the same city as the (further on mentioned) pioneers of trip-hop, Massive Attack.
The lingering beat and arpeggio are murmuring nicely, while the energy within the track is being increased in a subtle way, for the largest part by progressions within the drums.
Halfway there is a break containing sounds from something like a rusty hammock chair. Hereafter the last part of this track goes loose. Optimally making use of the energy of the energetic drum-breaks and the exciting course of the pad-chords, to let the track work towards a climax.

JMJ & Moby.
8) Suns have gone (JMJ & Moby) - 5:47
Who loves Moby's albums "Play" and "18", is perhaps also going to appreciate "Suns Have Gone". Although this again is another wicked track, it lacks a directly noticable musical input from Jarre.
The construction of the track and sounds are for a large part typical Moby. Besides the use of electronica, the famous veganist from New York is playing guitar, and takes care of the vocals. The effect processing of the vocals results into a dramatic and melancholic character of the track. The vocal line is telling a story, and prefectly alternates with the instrumental parts within the track. While the story about the less happy side of love progresses, the vocals are getting more intense and more exciting, leading to a climax. Moby ends with the words "I loved everything that was here", after which the chords fade away.

JMJ & Mike Lévy (Gesaffelstein).
9) Conquistador (JMJ & Gesaffelstein) - 3:07
The second single of "Electronica 1" is a collaboration between Jean Michel Jarre and - the for me unknown - Gesaffelstein. He made remixes for artists like Tiga, Miss Kittin and Lana Del Rey. He also produced for Kanye West. No little names.
Mike Lévy (aka Gesaffelstein) is fellow-hometown compatriot (both were born in Lyon) of Jarre. He also is the youngest collaborator (30 years) on this project.
"Conquistador" points to the Spanish term for 'conqueror', which was a soldier, explorer, and adventurer from the 15th-17th century.

This track starts ominous and immediately exposes a dark and exciting atmosphere. Almost from the beginning there can be heard a slow techno-beat, which for a large part sets the tone of the track.
The strong melody line repeats itself through the entire track, and variation in the sound of the melody (a fat lead, alternated with a synth-choir, some transpositions (round 1:00), and a break (1:35) only containing a gated choir and a high sounding sequence which could already be heard in the beginning of the track, result into the necessary variation within the track.
"Conquistador" is one of the three limited 12 inch singles that has been released.

JMJ & Pete Townshend.
10) Travelator (part 2) (JMJ & Pete Townshend) - 3:06
For me, the collaboration with Pete Townshend is one of the most surprising to be heard on this album.
When you think of electronic music, you wouldn't instantly think of one of the co-founders of the rock band The Who. But with the rock musical "Tommy" (1969), Townshend and company were one of the first who made use of synthesizers in rock music.
The convincing and expressive vocals of Townshend, combined with the techno electronica and the catchy melody lines, make "Travelator (part 2)" a real great track.
Which leaves me very curious about "Travelator (part 1)".

JMJ & Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream).
11) Zero Gravity (JMJ & Tangerine Dream) - 6:46
Although I lost my interest in Tangerine Dream after "Tyger" (1987) and "Lily on the Beach" (1989), I was really delighted to learn about the collaboration between Jarre and Edgar Froese with his Tangerine Dream. Where collaborations with artists like Vangelis, Kraftwerk, Klaus Schulze or Mike Oldfield doesn't seem to belong to the possibilities, I also didn't foresee this one coming up.
A lot of classical Tangerine Dream elements from the period with Johannes Schmoelling (which is without any doubt my favourite TD period), like the sequences, melody lines, solo leads, and loose sounds are featured on this "Zero Gravity".
A slow, but secure progress - on which the founder of the Berlin School of electronic music seems to have a trademark - carries the track.
At 1:35 the sequencer starts in, and during the progress of the track more layers are being added, in the typical Tangerine Dream style.
A slow bass slightly boosts the track. At 3:20 random soft drum hits seem to add some more energy, but in less than a minute these already seem to have disappeared, and we are heading to the outro.
A track without a climax, but enough details and musical progress could be heard, which makes it an interesting track.
British DJ's Above & Beyond made a remix of the track, which is also featured on the single.
"Zero Gravity" is one of the three limited 12 inch singles that has been released.

"Electronica 1" is dedicated to Edgar Froese, who passed away on January 20th. The track was already completed at that moment.

JMJ & Laurie Anderson.
12) Rely On Me (JMJ & Laurie Anderson) - 2:57
Every 15 years a collaboration between Jean Michel Jarre and Laurie Anderson is being established. The first track together was the wonderful "Diva", from Jarre's album "Zoolook" (1984). Then, "Je Me Souviens", from the album "Metamorphoses" (2000) followed. And the third collaboration now also is a fact for "Electronica 1".
The atmosphere in "Rely On Me" reminds me of Madonna's sensual "Justify My Love". The well-considered speech and intonation of the words actually near most the earlier mentioned track "Diva".
Anderson describes the relation with a telephone. Partially spoken, partially sung, which causes her extravagant style being clearly present on this track.
The suspense Anderson creates with her voice, combined with the minimal instrumentation, makes this in my opinion one of best tracks of the album.

JMJ & Armin van Buuren.
13) Stardust (JMJ & Armin van Buuren) - 4:36
As a Dutchman I am slightly proud that 'we' are also involved into this project, represented by Armin van Buuren.
Besides this, it might be nice to mention that I (together with a couple of other fans) witnessed more or less the first meeting of Armin van Buuren and Jean Michel Jarre, after the concert in the Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam, back in 2009. A meeting where promises were made for a collaboration of the two, of which fans thought this would't evolve this fast. In the meanwhile we know better.
Armin made a special trance version of "Stardust", to perform in clubs and at dance events.

The premiere of this track was played by Armin during his dj-set at the Tomorrowlands festival, last summer. The final album version is more modest, but the track still remains very energetic with a great structure and strong melodies.
Jarre's additions can be recognised within the sequences and by means of some typical sound effects. Although a lot of people might not directly relate 'commercial trance' (like Van Buuren's music style might be categorized) to Jarre's music, this track clearly shows the musical styles of both artists are anyhow related to each other very closely.
14) Watching You (JMJ & 3D) - 4:06
Massive Attack is one of my all-time favourite bands, en also made one of the best tracks ever made: "Unfinished Sympathy".
My heartbeat increased when I learnt that two of my biggest heroes joined forces for this project. "Watching You" is the result of the collaboration between Jarre and Massive Attack's frontman, Robert del Naja (aka 3D), and contains the typical and obscure Massive Attack atmosphere. In any case not to compare with earlier mentioned classic track and the older work of the, from origin, three member formation from Bristol, but in the band's (mainly in the person of Del Naja) more recent style.
The featured vocals are very probably sung by Jarre, but have been processed for this track, which makes it hard to confirm if this is true.
The collaboration resulted into probably the most raw and obscure track of the album.
The break around 2:20 is typical Jarre, and reminds of the atmosphere of Jarre's album "Metamorphoses" (2000)".
"Watching You" is one of the three limited 12 inch singles that has been released.

JMJ & John Carpenter.
15) A Question of Blood (JMJ & John Carpenter) - 3:00
The collaboration with director of modern horror, John Carpenter, probably is the most cinematic track of the album. Carpenter is known for the fact that he also records the music for most of his own movies.
"A Question of Blood" sounds like a modern blend of "Les Granges Brûlées" and "Chronologie 3", combined with the necessary Carpenter elements.
Although the gathering of these two peers wasn't really unexpected, it is one of the surprising collaborations on this album for me.

JMJ & Lang Lang.
16) The Train & The River (JMJ & Lang Lang) - 7:14
"The Train & The River" is the final track of the first part of this project and starts with fragments of vistruoso piano playing by the Chinese concert piano player Lang Lang. The only collaborator on this project who doesn't have a direct link with electronics. I have the intention that various short and improvised loose recordings have been made, which in the end have been merged to one track, by Jarre. The piano play seems to contain some minor untidiness, and this is the only track that lacks a clear structure and theme, opposite of the other tracks on this album.

We could explain the track title by means of the various details within the track.
After the piano intro, you can hear water flowing (which later in the track changes into rain and thunder), after which a multi-layered arpeggio is introduced, which we can declare as the rhythm of a train.

As soon as the beat enters, the grand final of "Electronica 1" sets in. Symbolic, the recognisable chords of "First Rendez-Vous" are played, and with 5 minutes, we once again hear the Laser Harp / Elka Synthex. To finish the album around the 7 minutes mark with the longest track of the album with rain and thunder. And if you listen carefully, you might hear some sounds in the background which could be from a train station.
The electronics seem to hold together the virtuoso improvised pieces, which in the end results into a nicely fitting final track of the album.

We can conclude that Jarre in the first place is the conceiver of this project, taking the role of mentor. Besides coming up with the sketches / demos, he took care of the production and mixing in such a way that the wide variety of seperate tracks are matching perfectly.
The typical Jarre sounds are recognisable within the various tracks, but I think the collaborators for a large part put their own stamps on the individual tracks.
Jarre positions in the background, and gave the artists all space and freedom to do his / her thing with his sketches and demos. However, within the set borders of the maestro.

A lot of other collaborators could have been suggested, but all of the current featured artists were carefully chosen by Jarre himself. There has also been chosen to focus on melodic and accessible electronic music. And the music of the collaborating artists have a lot of things in common with Jarre's music.

Speculations were, and actually are still being, made for part 2 of the project. Because the list of potential collaborators from the electronic music scene is huge. I am also very curious if there in first instance have been involved artists, whose tracks didn't make it to the final selections.
Or if there were recorded more tracks / versions by featured artists on the album (like the case is with Vince Clark and Pete Townshend).

All tracks (with exception of track 16) contain a clear musical structure, and are accessible and nice for your ears, according to the Jarre tradition.
In my opinion there can't be noticed any weak track on this album, and most of the tracks know to touch me in one way or another. This also is the album's strength.
"Electronica 1" actually feels more like a compilation of great tracks, instead of a conceptual studio album, which is the case with most of Jarre's album. Even "Metamorphoses", which nears "Electronica" in a certain way by means of collaborations and musical direction, is more connected musically. But this might be caused by the fact of the musical base has been composed by Jarre in its entire. Additions on this album have been made in a way Jarre had in his mind. With "Electronica" things are slightly different. Which is fine, because this indeed is part of the concept.

Despite the fact that there is absolutely nothing to complain about the content of the project, I do have my a critical note about the artwork.
There has been used a nice and speaking photo for the cover, but this only does justice to the project title, content and concept of the project partially.
Why there has to be used a photo of the composer in question (probably because he is the conceiver of this project), where the project's main focus is on the collaborations?
Probably it would have lead to too much expenses aside the payments for the collaborators, to invest in an artist like Michel Granger, who in the past already made many legendary album covers. But why should there be economized with a certain project? In my opinion there could have been made something much more interesting of this.

But you won't hear me complain! In my opinion Jean Michel Jarre surpasses the high expectations with "Electronica 1 - The Times Machine". And that is an outstanding achievement.

The coming time it is very probable that this album will still be stuck into my cd-player. Besides the already confirmed names (including Gary Numan, Hans Zimmer, David Lynch, Boris Blank (Yello), Sebastien Tellier, Julia Holter, The Orb and Jeff Mills) we keep on speculating about the remaining artists who will be part of "Electronica 2".

Special thanks to Sony Music Nederland;

- "Electronica 1" Electronic Press-Kit;
- Wikipedia;
- "Electronica" track stories:
- Arte documentary: "Jean Michel Jarre - A Journey Into Sound"

Photos and pictures:
- All used photos were featured on the social media of Jean Michel Jarre and the collaborators on "Elektronica 1 - The Time Machine", and also contains printscreens of the track story videos;
- Album and single artwork are copyrighted and property of Jean Michel Jarre en Sony Music

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

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