Jean-Michel Jarre on the evolution of music technology: Part 2 | Native Instruments

Jean-Michel Jarre on the evolution of music technology: Part 2 | Native Instruments

November 19, 2019 81 By Kailee Schamberger


My first instrument has been a tape recorder and a microphone. I remember that when I was, I don’t know 13, 14 years old, I had an old Grundig tape recorder that my grandfather gave me, or a Telefunken, I think
it was. I used to record what we were playing and play it reversed or slowed down. And then I went to the Groupe de Recherches Musicales, the Music Research Center, headed by Pierre Schaeffer. And Pierre Schaeffer became my mentor. Who actually is our father, or the grandfather to the whole
electronic music scene. Approaching the music with a total revolutionary
concept by saying just the simple idea that music is not only made of notes or harmonies, it’s made of sounds. It’s where I’ve been in contact for the
first time with electro-acoustic music – with what was going to become my life as a musician. My first approach has been really what later on we called sampling. At that time, we are talking about musique concrète. It means that you do music with concrete, organic and natural sounds. In those days, we were all dreaming about
a machine that could ease the process of recording and then creating your samples. And then one day the Fairlight came along. And it was like watching a plane for the first time or a car for the first time. Because suddenly, instead of spending hours doing your own samples on tape, you could just record your dog and play your dogs on five octaves. And that changed the whole thing. Suddenly this instrument gave me the idea, the concept, for one of my albums called Zoolook, where I said, okay, I really would like to do a vocal album but without singers. And the idea was to go all over the world and record – sample – some voices and some different vocals, process them in such a way that the vocal elements would be part of the orchestration and the arrangement itself. And that obviously is something I could only achieve with the Fairlight. When I see the Fairlight today, I see it with lots of affection and love. Because when you think that you could record and sample only 0.8 seconds was the maximum – in 8 bits! And we did so much with this instrument. And then these kinds of vibratos coming from the machine were creating something really great that you obviously couldn’t conceive without the limits of the instrument. And then, the old sampling concept became suddenly a modern way of doing music. And it created really the vocabulary for the future. The other sampling machine that was even more sophisticated, it came just a bit later on was the Synclavier. It was in those days like Mac and PC. You had the people from the Fairlight tribe and the people from the Synclavier tribe. Two different tribes. And I chose the Fairlight. So actually the next stage of sampling after the Fairlight has been probably the Emulator. Because the Emulator – three models – were in 12 bits and you were able to sample longer sounds. And it changed a lot. It was still quite raw. And then very quickly you started to have some other sampling, obviously, and the S1000 from Akai went and that killed almost everything else. I’m still using the Fairlight or the Emulator because they have such a specific sound. I mean, it’s like a guitar, actually. It’s
like if you take a Les Paul from the early 60s. It will have a specific sound that even the best Les Paul today wouldn’t have, as we know, as guitar players know. The same thing with sampling instruments. Because of the fact that it’s in 8 bits or 12 bits, you do something else. It has a definite different sound. You have a few steps in the history of sampling. If I could make a very rough resume of it, the Fairlight was one, and KONTAKT was the other one. It has been a big new change in music. So KONTAKT is not only a sampler, it
is also the platform from which you can create new instruments. So it’s only for musicians, it’s also for developers. And that’s the beauty of KONTAKT. I’m from Lyon, and there’s a big tradition
of cooking. And I approach sampling techniques like cooking. It’s exactly the same thing
– actually electronic music is like cooking. Instead of dealing with spices and veggies and all that, you deal with frequencies and textures and mixing them together. And actually an instrument such as KONTAKT is something that, it’s a concept… it’s like an oven for sound. It’s cool, it’s great. Sampling yourself
is very refreshing. I mean, after a while you are lazy and you say you have a great
sound of a cymbal; you have a great sound of this or that. And I’m using existing presets, taking sounds from the library. But it will never replace your own sound. Never. Even if it’s not as good technically, it will have something personal which can’t be replaced. So my advice definitely would be do your own sampling as much as you can. Now it’s time for me to talk about delays. My first instrument was the tape recorder. Maybe my second instrument is an echo chamber or delays. And my unbeatable delay – and I’m always coming back to it – was two Revox’s with tape and doing delays with tape and doing delays with analog tape. because This sound is actually probably 50% the sound of Oxygen, because 50% of it was made with delays. I’m obsessed by the sound of delays, and for years I’m trying to get a digital and a plug-in able to fulfill my needs. And it never happened. The digital delays were too automatic too mechanical. Until I found one, which is REPLIKA. When you are talking about textures and having the real richness and harmonics when you are creating a delay, and you want that that delayed sound, an event, has the right harmonic content. Very difficult digitally, very difficult in terms of plug-ins. And now actually even on finished tracks from the album before mixing the final mixes, I replaced some of the plug-ins I had with delays from other brands with REPLIKA. Because suddenly it gave the clarity and space, also. Because I’m using delays actually really to create some space, not necessarily to create the rhythmic effects. And I was always going back to the Revox and the analog process, the analog tape because it was the only one able to give me this kind of width. It was like a stereo enhancer for
me. And I found this with REPLIKA. Working with plug-ins makes your life so easy in terms of changing orders, changing things, changing the chain of the effects. And also the chain of parameters within the plug-in. Plug-ins allow you also to be extreme. The worst in any kind of art form is actually to be trapped by your own habits, to go back to the studio and do the same thing. Native Instruments is constantly offering me different solutions and also challenging myself. It’s exciting. I’m really like
a kid in front of new toys. Except that when you’re growing up, your toys are becoming maybe more serious. But it should keep their fun aspect.