Album of the Week: Oxygéne by Jean Michel Jarre
I was carousing the local record store when I came across a used vinyl copy of Jean Michael Jarres’ album Oxygéne. As a synthesizer enthusiast and performer, I keep hearing the name Jean Michael Jarre as a representative for a certain characteristic sound. Admittedly, I have not been acquainted with his work prior to the coincidental mentioning of his name in the synthesizer reviews and demonstrations on YouTube that I often find myself watching for recreational, educational and even consumption purposes.
In the synthesizer world, it’s almost a taboo mentioning Switched On Bach, which is another album I sought out initially because of my developing interest with the technology of synthesizers. I’ve also been a fan of the symphonic synthesizer music in A Clockwork Orange, and have sought similar instrumental synthesizer music to both study and enjoy. The special thing about Switched On was its self-contained use of synthesizers and meticulous tape overdubbing techniques. At the time of this album’s release, people were introduced to a familiar music presented in a completely new (and even perceivably sacrilegious) context. I’ve always a fan of anything that removes or inverts the context from its own convention.
There’s many parallels and similarities with Switched On and Oxygéne. For one thing, they’re both symphonic and they’re both the works of a single musician using synthesizers and overdubbing techniques. The music itself is evocative of the future according to the 70’s and 80’s, which appears (at least to me) to have been among the last generations to date that were fascinated by the idea of the technology of the future, which is where Oxygéne points towards. I found the cover art of Oxygéne compelling, and with the price of the LP it was a no brainer. I took it home, dropped the needle on the record and enjoyed the hell out of myself.
The music is cinematic and melodic without becoming too noisy and experimental, of which electronic music is often guilty. It works very well for ‘background,’ mood or study music. The track titles are boring labels of parts 1-6, but they seem to work. It’s not incredibly far off conceptually from Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells either, which is a work I also appreciate in a similar conscious vein.
I listen to Oxygéne and I hear the characteristics of the synthesizers used by Jean Michael Jarre. About every synth mentioned in the liner notes is now considered a sought after and very expensive piece of vintage analog equipment. The sounds are spacious and organically warm. The arrangements are dreamy without being sentimental and cheesy, although that may be arbitrary because the nature of the synthesizer sound is often videogame-like, which some find cheesy in itself. Despite this, I find this a very modern-sounding album. I hear many artists these days doing very similar sounding music. It appears that Oxygéne has spawned predecessors who are currently working in the vein of electronic chill music and I now understand why that sound is “very Jean Michal Jarre.”