Thursday, 15 October 2015

Electronica Part 1 / -2: The Concerts in China

Continuing our look at the music of Jean Michel Jarre in the run-up to his new album Electronica 1, we look at the artist's first live album

Disques Dreyfus, 1982

During his concerts in the Orient in 1981, Jarre achieved two remarkable things: firstly, he was one of the first Western artists to perform a live concert of modern pop/rock music since the Cultural Revolution, and secondly manage to get his particular hardware-heavy and guitar n drum-lite music onto the live stage. Despite all manner of difficulties in both senses, the concerts were a huge success and are well documented here in this double-LP.
Red Square: Jarre's first live album.
Despite having released three studio albums, Jarre's repertoire was still surprisingly limited, at least for a live audience who wanted good (Western) entertainment and whose attention had to be kept throughout. Such was his musical skill, however, that as well as re-arranging a range of pièces from Equinoxe and Magnetic Fields (amazingly there is nothing from Oxygene!) Jarre also composed and arranged four new tracks for the shows bringing in new features such as the legendary laser harp, the Simmons drum kit and, crucially, elements of Chinese music.

While the opening Overture is a variation on Magnetic Fields 1, Arpegiator is a lengthy new track, showing off some snazzy equipment, followed by a much boosted Equinoxe 4 (thanks above all to the electronic drum kit), followed by the traditional Chinese Fishing Junks at Sunset, just to keep the native crowd and the authorities happy. Band in the Rain is a variation of the organ first heard in Equinoxe 7, but this time segued into its parent track. Recorded travel sound effects (musique concrète?) lead us nicely into another "inédite" Orient Express, also released as a single. Perhaps unsurprisingly the latest studio album is featured the most here, although the listed MF1 is merely a recording of ping-pong balls ping-ponging across a ping-pong table (but much appreciated and applauded). MF III/IV are pretty much as per the studio recordings so Laser Harp and Night in Shangahai bring welcome new material to the stage. The Last Rumba (aka MF5) has a nice fin-de-concert almost unplugged feel to it but it's the rousing MF2 that seems to bring the crowd alive, literally, as the Chinese announcer at the beginning appeals to the audience to clap their hands in time to the music (* a Chinese lasy told me that). Naturally one and all oblige.

But after the applause and cheering has died down it's the closing Souvenir of China that one of the album's highlights. More musique concrete recordings set to a theme which Jean-Michel's soundtrack-composing dad would surely have been proud of. Au revoir Chine .. à la prochaine.

Where to hear it:
The Concerts in China is now available as double-disc CD (single disc editions also exist) on Sony / BMG.
The full concert can be watched here (unofficial), or streamed via Spotify.

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