This is your father's electronica
January 1, 2020 9:05 PM   Subscribe

French soundtrack composer Jean-Michel Jarre burst into the public mind in 1976 with the release of his synthesizer album Oxygène. Presented here in two sides, as originally released. Side A: Oxygène (Part I), Oxygène (Part II), Oxygène (Part III) [18m45s] posted by hippybear (48 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
I mean, it's not MY father's electronica. I'm an old. But this was a major groove for me way back when. It still holds up, IMO.
posted by hippybear at 9:07 PM on January 1 [10 favorites]

I could swear we did this just recently, but I am not complaining at all. Every beat of this album is welded tight in my memory, hard to believe that this was so long ago. It still sounds like the future to me.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:27 PM on January 1 [3 favorites]

[Also son of soundtrack composer Maurice Jarre, of Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago fame (among others)]
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 9:28 PM on January 1 [2 favorites]

It's never been my favorite, but this is basically the Electric Ladyland of synth music, though without the chart performance.
posted by rhizome at 9:42 PM on January 1 [1 favorite]

Without Jean-Michel Jarre, how could we have ever had 1980's news shows' opening credits?
posted by fairmettle at 10:27 PM on January 1 [3 favorites]

This is what the cool teens got high to in the 70s.
posted by morspin at 11:27 PM on January 1 [2 favorites]

Hydrogen XII.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 11:31 PM on January 1 [1 favorite]

Back in the piratical days of file sharing, I was looking for some Magnetic Fields (the band), but instead found Magnetic Fields (by Jean-Michel Jarre). It was refreshingly pleasant compared to most things that were going into my ears at the time.
posted by cult_url_bias at 1:12 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]

posted by growabrain at 1:22 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]

though without the chart performance.

Umm really?
France 1
UK 2
Sweden 3
NZ 3
Holland 4
Norway 9
Austria 10
Canada 65
US 78

Certainly here in NZ Part IV was played to death on radio for 77/78
posted by mbo at 1:22 AM on January 2 [5 favorites]

I bought a cheap turntable about fifteen years ago, and a bunch of second hand records at a record fair. I got home, got the table hooked up to speakers, and put my first record on (I'm old enough that my parents had records and a table when I was a kid, but they didn't make the move to Hong Kong with us when I was six, so I mostly grew up with tapes until we got a CD player). It was Oxygene, which I hadn't ever heard, except for part IV. I listened to the first side, then flipped it. Only then, with Oxygene part IV going did I notice anything amiss: I'd listened to the entire first side at 45rpm. With the instrumentation being entirely synthetic, there hadn't been anything that sounded specifically off since I didn't know what the songs were supposed to sound like.

Anyway, that's my "oh those silly millennials" story. This is a great album and I have listened to it many many times (at the correct speed!) since.
posted by Dysk at 1:56 AM on January 2 [7 favorites]

Let's Smoke a Joint and Drive Out to the Lake. Available on 8-track and cassette.
posted by pracowity at 2:24 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]

Producer and keyboard player Dr Mix recreates Oxygene Part 4 using some modern equipment (and a decorative lava lamp). He also talks about the original devices used.
Interesting to recall that Jarre wrote and recorded this at 20 years old. Here is Jarre doing a live performance of Oxygene from 2013 all equipment original
posted by rongorongo at 3:31 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]

Oh hell yeah. Cool kids were also getting high to this in the 1980's, and also doing diy laser shows in hotel rooms during conventions. Or so I've heard.

cult_url_bias: I had a similar experience in reverse. Back when my now-wife and I first started dating, she was a big fan of the Magnetic Fields (band) and I was very familiar with the Jarre album. There was a bit of confusion until we figured out we had very different assumptions in the conversation.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:19 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]

Oh! This is why Jarre seems so current for MeFi. There was a FPP about the Dr Mix recreation of Oxygene IV rongorongo noted previously
posted by rmd1023 at 5:22 AM on January 2

Ah, Jarre. Nothing was cooler to 11 year old me than seeing the TV recording of Rendezvous Houston on the tiny TV I had just been given for Christmas, staying up late with headphones on a super long lead to reach the end of the bed. That was the future, right there. Still feels that way, tbh.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 5:34 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]

I remember being in the Neshaminy Mall Sam Goody digging through the cut out bin for all of the punk rock when this was released, and they put it on in the store. It was a transcendent moment. That was when I discovered there could be music other than punk rock, that I might love.
No, of course I didn't stop listening to punk rock, don't be silly.
However, I did start looking into this electronic thing on the sly, and didn't tell any of my friends, after all, I didn't want anyone to think I wasn't cool and not let me go to their parties and do their drugs.
I saw him, finally, a couple of years ago. He did a tour and came to Denver, well, I think Brighton actually, way out in the burbs. It was really good and there's a lot of kids who found there way to it through modern electronica.
A good time was had by all.
posted by evilDoug at 5:48 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]

This is such an amazing album even if you don't have nostalgia for the time when it came out. I only learned about thus album like 5 years ago and it still fricking kills.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:44 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]

Well, if you like what you hear, then maybe you should check out this and this.
posted by evilDoug at 6:45 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]

Ah, Jarre. I love electronica in all its diverse forms but his music is just so gormless. I think I understand why, finally; he's missing a beat. Any beat, really, even a click track. It's not like he forgot the beat, or lost it somewhere, it's that so much of his music seems written in complete unawareness of what dance music would sound like in just a couple of years. That's OK, but it sure sounds dated to me. Same, if I'm being honest, of most of Wendy Carlos' original music. Or Tomita.

The no-beat thing isn't entirely fair, Oxygene kinda gets rolling around 8 minutes in with a One of These Days kinda bass line and the drums click in around 10 minutes. But so much noodling around in the clouds first. It's not quite ambient, it's more forward than that, but it sure ain't Moroder.

But I will forever be thankful for Jarre for the 1986 Rendez-vous Houston (previously on MeFi). I was there, along with like a million other Houstonians. It was a huge event! I'll quote my comment from that last discussion
It's useful to understand this context in terms of the price of oil, which had fallen heavily by 1986. Houston's economy was and is largely oil driven, so falling oil prices meant hard times in the city. Things got so bad all the city could do was print little bumper stickers that said "I'm Houston proud!" and everyone tried to ignore all the empty buildings that had been built and never occupied. That concert was a big moment for civic pride and happiness in an otherwise fairly bleak time for Houston.
posted by Nelson at 7:01 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]

My favourite part was always the seagulls
posted by Naib at 7:05 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]

This is what the cool teens got high to in the 70s.

Just to be clear, this is also what the extremely uncool teens got high to in the 70s.
posted by The Bellman at 7:06 AM on January 2 [5 favorites]

See, I always thought Jarre managed to keep it on the right side of rhythmic and atmospheric, at least in his early works. Tangerine Dream on the other hand, I swear my older brother made mixtapes of the only bits that ever went anywhere like Dominion, cutting out all the album sides of gormless noodling. Like, there's a reason most bands reserve their deep cuts to unreleased masters & b-sides and not just pressing a 3rd album in a year. I suppose the counterpoint is that JMJ went back to the Oxygene well 3 times? 4 times?

(My big complaint about Jarre was that the concert videos I managed to see always felt a little _too_ "look at me, I am a music god!" for their own good, but that probably says more about me than Jean-Michel.)
posted by Kyol at 7:55 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]

He's missing a beat. Any beat

Yes. Others got the beat earlier.
posted by meehawl at 8:15 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]

This is what the cool teens got high to in the 70s.

I can confirm that.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:23 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]

Yes. Others got the beat earlier.
MDMA had first been synthesised back in 1912- but first recreational use not until the early 70s Not knowing this, the seated audience responds to Kraftwerk by sitting down and clapping like they were in the Coke ad. You know an artist is ahead of their time when the corresponding drugs to appreciate them have yet to arrive.
posted by rongorongo at 8:59 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]

This is what the cool teens got high to in the 70s.

I can confirm that.

hmmm? not looking for a fight, but I seem to remember being annoyed by Oxygene. It was just a little too easy to listen to. At least it wasn't like Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon that you pretty much had to listen to when you got high. Man, I got sick of that. Still can't stand to be in the same room as it.

So what did I listen to when I got high? Probably some pre-pop Genesis or Yes at their most evisceratingly esoteric. Also Nektar, Triumvirat, Camel, Jethro Tull ...

But then I wasn't cool in the 70s. That wouldn't happen until at least 1983 or 84 ... by which point we had a different sort of Jean Michelle Jarre epic to reconcile.
posted by philip-random at 9:08 AM on January 2

Ah, hippybear, thank you so much for this.

Uncool kid hear, grooving on this in the early 80s. Jarre filled my imagination then. Gorgeous.
posted by doctornemo at 9:09 AM on January 2

My big complaint about Jarre was that the concert videos I managed to see always felt a little _too_ "look at me, I am a music god!"

he has been known to go BIG on occasion.
posted by philip-random at 9:12 AM on January 2

The key moment in that BIG video (the Houston concert) is 8:40, when he plays the laser harp. A freakin harp made out of freakin lasers! That thing was total HYPE. My memory from the Houston publicity was that this was the First Ever Laser Harp performance but that's probably wrong. Perhaps it was merely the largest and most awesome ever.

(BTW, playing music by palming thin air turns out to not have much groove. Like a theramin, only with no fine control over pitch or volume.)
posted by Nelson at 9:21 AM on January 2 [5 favorites]

A tape of this and Equinox, was one of the first pieces of recorded music I bought for myself. Definitely the one with the most influence, listened to endlessly on a walkman borrowed from my father. I can still hear it now without really trying.

Having a little trouble stopping it now. OK, this is serious, going to need to immerse myself in it for a while now...
posted by inpHilltr8r at 9:26 AM on January 2

Wow… thanks for the links to Rendez-vous Houston. I remember a bunch of us drove down from Austin and managed to find a spot along Allen’s Landing to watch. It was a traffic nightmare and totally packed but once the show started, everyone was having a good time. Watching downtown lit up with images and fireworks accompanied by the music was amazing. Someone made a tape of the event for me but I’ve never seen the youtube.

I would have to rank this as my all-time greatest concert experience and I’d forgotten about it until this post!
posted by jabo at 9:28 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]

Oh and sort of the irony is that in the intervening years I've come to appreciate artists who go that extra mile and make their concerts look more interesting than they would otherwise have been. Whether or not JMJ was playing live or just miming to a MIDI track, eh - lights and drama and costumery! You got what you paid for, not just 90 minutes of someone hitting play on a DAT at the right time.

But as young adult with just the wrong temporal (~10 years) and physical distance (so Euro!) from the recorded concerts they were sort of goofy seeming.
posted by Kyol at 9:36 AM on January 2

Yes and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis were definitely my early go-to soundtracks for getting high, along with Tull, The Who, King Crimson, Queen, and Zeppelin. Wish You Were Here was by far the superior Floyd album for getting stoned to. But I still enjoyed Jarre and Tomita, too. Probably depended on the cultivar being consumed. Although the best thing to listen to was Beethoven's 9th.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:40 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]

Jesus, Jarre really knows how to hook up with incredible women, at various times married or involved with Isabelle Adjani, Charlotte Rampling, Anne Parillaud, and Gong Li. Dude!
posted by e1c at 10:05 AM on January 2

Yea, welp, Jarre was OK in his day. Part 4, way ok.
Kraftwerk? A cupple gud choons. Mostly Autobahn.
Tomita, amazing technician. And the workmanship. Hai!

But then, along came Endtroducing and Geogaddi, and ... forget all that!
Now what's to rave about?
posted by Twang at 10:15 AM on January 2

Unfortunately the tape we had of it in the 1970s had been left in a hot car, and faded on every spool turn. Despite this, we played it to death, along with the album of prog that Richard Harvey made for ICL.

There's also a theme from Oxygene which reminds me of Popcorn but with every other beat missing
posted by scruss at 10:15 AM on January 2

an artist is ahead of their time when the corresponding drugs to appreciate them have yet to arrive

I am skeptical of pure biological determinism. No doubt that music which is wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats sounds better with MDMA. But a lot of things sound better with MDMA. Techno dance culture relies not just on the amphetaminergicity of MDMA, but also on the acculturated response of large groups of people primed through imitation and social cues. It takes time, and luck, to develop a culture. The 1960s had tons of readily available amphetamine (and related substances) and even MDA AKA Adam" or "Hug Drug" with similar entactogenic effects to MDMA. Gay clubs by the late 1970s had MDMA freely available. So the drugs play a part, yes, but there are also cultural shifts. It may even be that changing drug fads over time reflect shifts in cultural tastes.
posted by meehawl at 10:40 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]

I'm kind of disappointed that I don't have this LP in my collection. In my defense, however, I offer Tangerine Dream which I wore out in High School...I guess I was born a decade late.
posted by Chuffy at 10:49 AM on January 2

My older brother was into Isao Tomita. I picked up the soundtracks to "Sorcerer" and "Thief" on cassette from the cut-out rack at a K-mart. That got a younger brother going on Tangerine Dream. I bought "Oxygene" on vinyl based on a combination of a recommendation from somewhere and the cover art. I like it, and I'm pretty sure I also picked up either "Equinox" or "Magnetic Field" but not both, and nothing further. It 's fun to listen to "Mars, bringer of war" performed by a symphony, then Isao Tomita's version, then the Emerson, Lake and Palmers version.
posted by coppertop at 12:10 PM on January 2

"It's not like he forgot the beat, or lost it somewhere, it's that so much of his music seems written in complete unawareness of what dance music would sound like in just a couple of years."

...because this isn't dance music. Would you complain that Beethoven's Fifth lacked a waltz?
posted by jordantwodelta at 1:02 PM on January 2 [5 favorites]

OK, I realize that the whole point of the Stranger Things soundtrack is to ape the style and even instrumentation that are reflected in Jarre (among others) but I'm nevertheless struck by how from about ~15:50 on in the 1st YouTube link is essentially indistinguishable from some portions of the ST soundtrack.
posted by wildblueyonder at 2:36 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]

This album absolutely blew me away - in the 00s, not the 70s. I was plenty familiar with contemporary electronic music, and 90s electronic music, but what I knew about 70s electronic music was basically Kraftwerk. All respect to Kraftwerk but their whole schtick is built around the roboticness of their grooves and the slight chintziness of their synth sounds. It's very self-conscious aestheticization of their technical limitations, and at no point is one inclined to forget that it is "early" electronic music. Oxygene wasn't like that. It felt so organic - I have more context for it now but at the time it almost felt like an alternate road not taken in the history of electronic music.

Interestingly one of the things that actually makes this album sound unique is the mileage that Jarre got out of special-purpose synthesizers like string machines and combo organs - and even cheesy drum machine presets. When I heard it I thought it sounded like nothing else, but really a lot of the magic is in the orchestration.
posted by atoxyl at 2:46 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]

I mean, part of it is those VCS ocean textures, but he also knew that there's nothing wrong with leaning on the sound of a string machine through a phaser pedal.
posted by atoxyl at 2:50 PM on January 2

If you need to dance to your JMJ, you need to check out Zoolook.
posted by bink at 6:13 PM on January 2

Did Equinox come before or after Oxygen? I love them both but Equinox is a better album you have to admit.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 10:09 PM on January 2

Équinoxe is the studio album immediately after Oxygène. Zoolook was two albums later, after Magnetic Fields (Les Chants Magnétiques) and a one-off "music for supermarkets" art project that has been widely pirated, Musique pour Supermarché.
posted by hippybear at 10:23 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]

And he's still out there recording new albums. Oxygène 3 came out in 2016 and he did a grand US tour.

I see now that he has just released an iOS app for endless ambiant called EōN
posted by notmtwain at 11:42 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]

« Older Looking back at the past decade, plus the last...   |   Codpiece thrusts its way back into fashion Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments