Everybody knows Michel Geiss in the Jarrefan world. How many times we dreamed with make an interview with Michel Geiss? Now, the dream is a reality. We have not more to say. Let Michel Geiss speak!
First of all, let me tell you that I have been long-time reluctant answering questions about my work with Jean-Michel Jarre in a public way.
Why would I answer questions as a collaborator? Usually, as a rule, a collaborator has to stay in the shadow of the main artist. However, after having hesitating for some time, I decided going on.
My thinking was that I could share the unbelievable personal adventure I experienced, working with such an intriguing and exceptional composer/musician as Jean-Michel Jarre.
- For those who do not know you, who is Michel Geiss?
I am a musician, freelance Sound Engineer, with a background in electronics, for which I got high school diplomas. I also have a strong interest in medicine, mainly in ear acupuncture, having freely provided many people with ear needling. Among others, Jean-Michel was one of my victims, but if you look at the news, it seems that he survived to my treatment! (smile)
- How were your beginnings in music and sound engineering?
I started learning music theory at the age of 8. Then my choice was to learn accordion playing, just because I was attracted by its sound. Later, I was rewarded in competitions with cups, the usual path… And earlier I also played harmonica. In a way, accordion was an extension of the harmonica, as an accordion is a set of harmonicas in a box! It mainly meant that I was attracted by music at an early age. And when I had developed my knowledge in electronics, I built a small additive synthesizer (apart from a radio transmitter and radio receivers). Later on, I had the idea of designing a new kind of hardware synthesizer. It eventually became the GeissEnveloper. Incidentally, when we were working on Chronology, Jean-Michel decided using an accordion sound on Part 6. As he was looking for an instrument, I called my friend Claude Cavagnolo, one the most famous accordion makers in France, who lent JeanMichel the accordion you can see on videos. My learning of sound engineering was my training on the job, while working with Jean-Michel Jarre, until he entrusted me with the task of mixing his album Chronology, and then, the FOH sound direction of “Europe in Concert”. To me, sound engineering is closely related to music and both need training. As an example, to me, mixing is part of a musical process, an extension of the composition. Classical composers wrote their scores as full mixes, in choosing both the instruments, their expression, and their number. A multitrack recording is like an orchestra and you have to know how to manage all that! Electronic music is more difficult to mix than
acoustic music, as each of the tracks has no natural frequency content. For example, a pad sound can contain both low, mid and high frequencies, whereas in the mix part of its content can blur other parts. When mixing Chronology, I had to drastically cut into frequencies to make the mix as clear as possible. I consider that the musician’s tool is his instrument, whereas the sound engineer has many tools, be them in hardware or software form. During my years as JeanMichel’s collaborator, I also completed my knowledge in reading books and magazines on audio, which is called self-learning…
- What was your first contact with JMJ and how began your collaboration?
When I was working in a big company as an electronics designer, I had access to American magazines. In one of them, I discovered information on the first ARP instruments, and was truly fascinated. I immediately ordered the ARP 2600 user’s manual, which I fully translated by hand, just for myself. At that time, I was a member of the American based “Audio Engineering Society” (AES). When I felt I knew the subject fairly well, not only I wrote a detailed article on sound synthesis based on the 2600 in a French magazine on audio (Le Haut Parleur), but I also offered the AES to do a presentation of the instrument in one of their meetings, which was accepted. I was lent the instrument by the French importer, “Pianos Hanlet” for my demo. It went well, and when I had finished my lecture, someone came to me and said: ” I know a musician who, I am sure, would like to meet you”. A few days later, the telephone rang. I hung up and heard “Hello. My name is JeanMichel Jarre. I have been told that you are one of the very best specialists on the ARP 2600 in France. I would like to meet you.” Then he invited me at his private apartment in Paris, where the same instrument was sitting in a room. I explained him all I knew about the use of this strange and new machine at that time. This meeting, while he was not famous as a composer yet, nevertheless was decisive regarding my next 20 following years
My presentation of the VL-1 and VP-1 for Yamaha (left Manager Yamaha Music France)
- It’s enormously appealing the abysmal difference of quality between “Deserted Palace” or “Les Granges Brulées” and “Oxygene” in just over three years. Even some people claims that, due to this great difference in sound from the early JMJ works with “Oxygene and “Equinoxe”, this two discs were composed by you! and not by JMJ himself!!! Something to say about this? And do you have some theory about this radical change in the quality of JMJ sound in such a short space of time?
It’s amazing what you can see on the web! Just because there is such a difference in sound, doesn’t mean anything in terms of composition origins! When you discover a radical change of the menu in your usual restaurant, do you immediately think that the chef has changed? Let’s be clear, once for all. I am not the composer of Oxygene and Equinoxe! While I am not against some conspiracy theories in politics, I will not give any tiny piece of credibility to that one! Pure untruth! Furthermore, a friend of mine just told me that he had seen on the web the assertion that I am the author of “Les mots bleus”! Amazing! Why not an affair with Charlotte Rampling! (LOL). My explanation regarding the change of sound is very simple. Before Oxygene, Jean-Michel only worked with very basic equipment, mostly a Revox 2 track recorder and an EMS VC3 or AKS synthesizer. He was not wealthy enough to buy more equipment. But when he decided to start his instrumental main project Oxygene, he managed to finance the purchase of a second hand 8 track recorder and a few more instruments. And keep in mind that even if the recordings of Oxygene were made at home, the mix, obviously an essential step in the process, was entrusted to Jean-Pierre Janiaud, a very good sound engineer, at “Gang” a professional Parisian studio. There was not such a professional collaboration on the earlier projects, such as Deserted Palace, la Cage, or Les Granges Brûlées. At this point I find it remarkable that Jean-Michel made such an album as Deserted Palace, only using one instrument! And the sound is really good! To me, the album would deserve a full release on CD, not only excerpts! Putting that in the current context where there are so many software instruments available, it raises a question: is creativity linked to a limited amount of available tools? You guess what my opinion is!
- Do you remember the first time you heard “Oxygene”? I mean the pre-mix or first recorded ideas that Jarre showed you.
It was when I joined Jean-Michel at his studio in Paris while I was at Barclay Studios. Obviously, I was hearing Oxygene while working on the project. I had not been invited to the mixing at Gang Studios, and I discovered the finished record when Jean-Michel showed it to me later. Then, later on, I was highly impressed hearing Oxygene being played in open air, when there was a barge parade with many barges slowly traveling along the river Seine. I was there just to watch the show, as it was explained that it would be spectacular not knowing more about it. I was near Place de la Concorde. The crowd was massive and people were huddling together. There were powerful sound systems on the barges. Many different kinds of music were played. At a moment, I was hearing part 6 of Oxygene in the distance, slowly coming closer and closer. Very strong impression, as I had worked with Jean-Michel on that music earlier!
- About “Oxygene” Jarre told once that there are some pieces discarded and not included on the album. What can you tell us about this? Are there more pieces of other discs that Jarre would not use or even recycled for later albums?
I am not aware of any discarded tracks from Oxygene. Sometimes, Jean-Michel put aside some ideas, which he developed later, but I cannot say more about that.
- In “Oxygene”, “Equinoxe” and “Magnetic Fields” you were briefly credited, but we know that your work was very important in these albums… what exactly was your role?
Oxygene was the start of my collaboration. At that time, I was working during the day in a big studio complex in Paris, “Studios Barclay”. When I was employed at Barclay studios, I was there as a technician. On the upper levels there were the recording studios, whereas I was in the workshop. My body was downstairs, but my mind was upstairs! I felt really attracted by the music engineering side, but was
not really interested by the equipment I was left. In fact, I found my equilibrium when I joined Jean-Michel at his studio at the same period. Every day, when my day at the studio was finished, I joined Jean-Michel in his own studio to work on his album at his request, until I had to catch the last train back home. I remember he called me every afternoon, asking me if I could join. It was back in September 1976, when I returned in a very good physical condition from a bicycle and camping trip of 1 200 kilometres, from Paris to Grenoble, which was quite helpful to help me resist fatigue, as I started my other work early in the morning! That was my first admission as a sound and music collaborator in a studio, which I enjoyed a lot! Jean-Michel also sometimes was asking me my musical point of view on several occasions. I also programmed specific sounds on the ARP 2600, such as the theme sound of Oxygene IV, or the waves sound in part VI. It was a close relationship, in which I felt I was in my right place, much more than being a specialist in electronics before I met him. With Jean-Michel, for Oxygene, my main role was recording him while he was playing his instruments, as he needed someone to do the job. At that time, he also wished expanding his limited range of instruments to get new sounds. I was a frequent visitor of music exhibitions, both in Paris (Salon de la Musique) where I enjoyed Francis Rimbert shows with excellent music demos and a lot of humour and in Germany where I visited the Frankfurt Musik Messe since the early years. Consequently, I suggested having a look at the RMI keyboards, sold in France by Piano Center in Montreuil. He said “OK, let’s go!”. While driving his Jaguar, he said to me: “Listen to this!”. What he was playing was the music of “Clockwork Orange” by Walter Carlos. I felt that music quite strange and frightening! When we were in the music store, he discovered the 2 instruments I suggested: the RMI Harmonic Synthesizer, and the RMI Keyboard Computer, the later using cardboard punch cards as its sound memory. The Harmonic Synthesizer had a truly distinctive sound, had an arpegiator, and proved later to be a key element in the album, notably in Oxygene IV. Whereas my work on Oxygen was a part time occupation, later, Jean-Michel offered me to work on a full time basis on his next project “Equinoxe”, which was a further development to our earlier collaboration. I remember those years as a fantastic musical and creative experience, and I enjoyed very much working with Jean-
Michel. It was even more than a full time collaboration, as I was even sharing a good part of his personal and family life, being fully available as his right hand man!
Working in such conditions cannot be compared with other album recordings for which people compose songs, hire a producer or a sound engineer, book a studio, record and mix, pay the bill and go! Our long hours spent in his studio were fully part of the creative process, which cannot be the case in a commercial studio, where the clock is running and bookings usually cannot be extended! Jean-Michel early understood that sound was a major element for his music. Consequently, much of the time we spent in his studio was devoted to creating sounds. He was really friendly, had a lot of energy and a lot of humour. I felt he had a quite unusual dimension. You know, success doesnâ€™t come from nowhere!
A 10 Euros ticket I got as I was recording trains for Magnetic Fields
For Magnetic Fields, it was different. As I was busy on another project (an album of Jean-Philippe Rykiel), I was much less involved in the album. Nevertheless, I helped as much as I could. As an example I went in railway stations recording sounds of trains. One more anecdote. As I was taking serious risks recording trains passing by half a meter away on a metal bridge, 50 meters above the ground, a railway agent shouted at me with a angry attitude, and drove me to the railway station, where he gave me a ticket of 60 french francs (around 10 Euros), writing as grounds “Was recording the noise of trains with a recorder and microphones for the Jean-Michel Jarre album. “. Later on, Jean-Michel called me to mix Magnetic Fields 2 in his Croissy studio, from midnight onwards, until late in the morning. The mix is the one of the finished album. - How do you feel having worked in an unique album like Music for Supermarkets? I feel that I contributed to a clever marketing idea! The staging was excellent, with a pressing mould destroyed by a blowtorch before bidders! The vinyl record was sold in an auction. Obviously, such an idea, as well as the show, attracted the press. It was back in 1983, July 6 at Drouot Auctioneers in Paris. My role had been limited, as I only recorded ambient sounds in a supermarket: It was near Jean-Michel house and studio, in Croissy sur Seine. The supermarket was called “Champion” at that time, I believe. I had used a digital PCM-F1 portable digital recorder. - There is something curious related to “Music for Supermarkets”. As you may know some parts of that album were used later in “Zoolook” and “Rendez-Vous”, in this last the “Fifth Rendez-Vous” –a piece where you play the Arp2600 and the Matrisequencer-. So the question is did you played some instruments in “Music for Supermarkets” album? If yes, were these rescued parts of “Music For Supermarkets” re-recorded for “Zoolook” and “Rendez-Vous” or taken directly from the same original recording? As far as I can remember, I have not played instruments neither in “Music for Supermarkets”, nor in Fifth Rendez-Vous. I am unable to answer your question about any rescued parts, as I was not much involved in those recordings. What I can say is that Jean-Michel played the first part of Fifth Rendez-Vous on a Seiko DS-250 synthesizer, which I had discovered in Paris at our French music exhibition and suggested to Jean-Michel.
- In “Revolutions” (the track) you also participated as vocal singer, right? The voices in Revolutions come from two sources. One is Charlotte Rampling’s voice, saying “Revolutions” in a vocoder. The other words were electronically generated. For the later, I had bought a voice synthesis card plugged into an Apple II computer. Loïc de Montaignac had programmed the Apple II on my request to get the specific text to speech result. Not related, apart from that, it had been one of my ideas suggesting to Jean-Michel working with Hank Marvin in Revolutions. I was a big fan of the Shadows since longtime and attended one of their concerts at the Olympia (Paris) with my best friend of that time. As I discovered on a CD I purchased a version of Equinoxe 5 played by the Shadows, I used that pretext to do my suggestion to Jean-Michel, who had been quickly convinced.
The Shadows’ Equinoxe 5
The Docklands concert in 1988 had also seen the artistic coordination of Franck-Luc Dancelme, whom I introduced to Jean-Michel back in 1981. Franck had a company owning “Panis” the glass slide projectors. Back in 1987, after other big events, Franck had conceived a giant show on Place de la Concorde named “Place aux mémoires”.
- You made a great remix of “Chronologie 8”. Sadly this remix is not available in official albums or compilations, just only in a very scarce, hard to find and very expensive promotional CD single. A videoclip was filmed with this new version. Tell us about this remix.
At that time, I had so many things to do that it’s difficult to remind. I also like this version very much. The sequence adds a lot to the song, which to me has been improved. Few people know that I also had made a remix of London Kid, which was not been released as a single.
- From “Rendez-Vous” to “Chronologie” you were credited as artistic collaborator and over the fan community exists a real controversy about this role, but what exactly was the role of “artistic collaborator”? Between your duties of artistic collaborator was also to compose a melody or specific theme for the alubm or all the compositional work belonged to JMJ?
Vast question! The mention of “Artistic collaborator” was a way for Jean-Michel to thank me for my global role. It also meant Jean-Michel knew that I understood and shared his vision of his music, and I was doing my best to develop and support his creativity and projects, in the whole sense, even beyond artistic work.
As an example, when we were making Equinoxe, he was recording some of his musical ideas onto a small cassette recorder, as an audio scratch pad. Once, he said to me “This is not good enough. I’ll discard that one”. I said: “You are wrong JeanMichel. It’s a good one. You should keep it!”. And it became Part 7 on the album! Lately, he said to me “Your advice was right! I was ready to throw it to the bin!”.
As another example, from Equinoxe we had creative discussions on the choice of the album titles, trying to choose the most appropriate one, regarding the music style of every album.
Therefore, his meaning of “Artistic collaborator” was his way to give me credit for my understanding and support of his projects, both musical and conceptual.
Further to your question related to my duties, it may be surprising, but I can tell you that I had no real duties, except doing my best to make his projects happen in the best way, both artistically and technically.
As another example, let me tell you another story. When we were beginning recording the first notes of Equinoxe, we were starting using his new updated recorder, which became a 16 track from the earlier 8 track version. The new version was made from second hand components. When we tried to erase useless tracks, we were strongly and unpleasantly surprised to discover that part of the original sounds was remaining on the tape, being only partially erased! Therefore, we were advised that a company could provide the tools to fix it. Jean-Michel and I drove to the address and we came back with strange but simple things. When I understood how to use that, I sat in his kitchen and began polishing the guilty recorder’s erasing head on the marble table, replaced it, and guess what… It worked!
One more story. Back in 1978, as Jean-Michel and myself were in his Croissy house, at the occasion of the yearly “Fête de la carotte” (the carrot fest) we were watching a fireworks display from his garden, fired from the other side of the river Seine. He said to me: “Keep it for yourself, Michel. I’d like to do a surprise to Charlotte (Rampling) for our wedding : a firework display, over the house. Could you get their phone number?” I seized a bicycle and rushed to the firing place and was given a business card of the company, named “Eurodrop”. Then Jean-Michel silently organized the event, in relation with Eurodrop’s manager, Daniel Azancot. The wedding display went very well and was really amazing, with multiple colour bombs exploding over our heads, me being in close contact with nearby locks, trying to avoid an unwanted but possible fire display of a petrol transportation
barge passing-by! Some time later, Daniel was chosen by Jean-Michel to organize such Jean-Michel mega firework displays as those of La Concorde, Houston, Lyon, and La Défense…
I also consider that part of my artistic collaboration was to use my training and knowledge in electronics to build new instruments or modify existing ones to adapt them to his musical concept.
In that respect, when he told me that one of his wishes was to get a sequencer based on a matrix, I started thinking and designed the Matrisequencer 250, which he immediately accepted as soon as I finished it. And it became one of the main instruments in Equinoxe. And then, later, it was the Rythmicomputer.
Another side of my collaboration was to oversee such processes as cassette and CD manufacturing and mastering of albums. For the later, I have been working in Paris (Dyam Music), and in New-York, where I met such great mastering engineers as Ted Jensen and Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound and Masterdisk. A useful experience when I had to decide on a new job.
- What is your favorite album of JMJ? And your favorite song?
It’s a difficult choice! Whereas I like most of his albums, my personal taste goes toward the first ones. I feel really in phase with the music of Oxygène, Equinoxe, Magnetic Fields, where I find analogies with creative painting, transposed to electronic music. Oxygene 7-13 was in a similar vein. To me, there is a lack of that kind of vision in electronic music nowadays. Anyhow, I have to admit that my preferred one in that regard is Equinoxe. And what a chance to have been working beside Jean-Michel on that one!
At Jean-Michelâ€™s studio left to right Michel Geiss, Gerald Ano (house keeper), JMJ, Paul Jarvis , Patrick Pelamourges
- There is a very important person that you knew in those years: Fancis Dreyfus. What was your relation with him?
My relation with Francis Dreyfus has been occasional, sometimes at his office, sometimes at Jean-Michel or another studio, sometimes at one of the concerts. I felt that Francis had a dimension. I was impressed by his caliber and sense of grandiosity. He was bearing that in his self. More recently, I had a moving moment with Francis, when DaniĂ¨le Feuillerat offered me to join at the office. I spent a moment with Francis who hugged me and recalled me things of the past. It was the first time I had such an emotional moment with him since my early days with JeanMichel. A short time later, I was shocked to learn that he passed away. I am sure Francis had been fully aware of my role with Jean-Michel.
Concerts in China: discussing with Jean-Michel
- Curiously enough, the concerts in China, which are among the most popular in the Jarre of the 80′s, is one of the biggest mysteries in the JMJ fan community. Except for the official video (heavily edited) and the double LP (which contains much study work), we have little information on these concerts… can tell you us about your experiences there? As many people suspect the tracklist for the two concerts in Pekin were different to the tracklist of the three concerts in Shanghai? Do you remember or do you save the tracklist of the five concerts in China?
The Bejing and Shanghai concerts happened in october 81. I started rehearsing a few months earlier in Jean-Michel’s studio in Croissy with the musicians. Well… For those concerts, I was in charge of the FOH (Front Of House) mix. I remember that the track list was more ore less open to changes from the moment we left for China. It was more than 30 years ago, so it’s difficult to remember the details. I even remember having been notified by Jean-Michel a new track listing as the audience was entering the stadium in Bejing! The live radio broadcast on Europe 1 starts at the beginning of the Beijing concert with Equinoxe Part 4. Then there was the
Chinese orchestra playing â€œFishing Junksâ€?. In the second part of the broadcast there were Magnetic Fields 5 (The last rumba), Magnetic Fields 2, the laser harp, and Oxygene 4 ending the concert. Europe 1 radio broadcasted the main parts of the concerts. I keep a recording made by my father at that time.
Concerts in China â€“ The chinese musicians
I have one anecdote but Jean-Michel already told it several times. Before living Croissy, he decided to take his coffee machine to China, as he knew that none would be available there. A special flight case was designed to host the said machine. We were lucky being able to drink coffee in Bejing, while preparing the first concert. But as soon as one Chinese worker had a taste of the beverage, it was the start of the end, as more workers came to the machine and had their coffee as well. In a very short time all the coffee stocks were empty! I have to say that before that episode, I was seeing the same workers only drinking plain hot water!
And as Jean-Michel’s place on stage was designed with fluorescent tubes above his head, Dominique Perrier was calling it “la crêperie”! And when musicians were asked to say a word to the audience, Dominique dared saying loudly “En chantier d’avoir fait votre plein d’essence”, a French word game, which had been fully and literally translated into Chinese anyway by the presenter!
There was on stage a truly bizarre instrument, covered with mirrors, flanked by headlights, rear-view mirrors, a registration plaque saying “Electronic Nights” in Chinese. It was in fact an Elka X705 organ, fully customized for the concerts. Perfect for the Last Rumba!
As a last anecdote, when we did the three concerts in Shanghai, I played a short piece of a famous French traditional piece, “Sous le ciel de Paris” from the mixing desk standing on a platform, at a moment during the concerts, with astound Chinese turning their heads towards me while the stage lights were switched off and an giant Eiffel Tower projected with laser beams! That was an idea of JeanMichel!
Playing accordion in Shanghai during the concerts
- As a professional of sound, which is your opinion about the live sound of those concerts?
The quality of the sound system which I had suggested was very good and soft sounding, with the Bose 802 speakers, unlike the usual staked speakers available at that time. At first the sound mix was far from ideal. Jean-Michel, Dominique Perrier, Frederick Rousseau and Roger Rizzitelli were in charge of feeding my mixing console with their own mix, consisting of many different sound sources, which I couldnâ€™t control from my desk. And the sound mix improved from the first concert to the last one, as they were better controlling their setup. Finally, the last concerts were sounding much better. Anyway, the music played on stage would have needed more rehearsals, in real conditions. Not the best concerts I have attended so far.
Concerts in China – The stage with the Bose speakers
- You made the mix of “The Concerts in China” album. There is not much information about which parts of that album are live recordings and which studio additions. Could you specify it?
“The Concerts in China” album was mixed by René Ameline at Ferber Studios. JeanMichel knew René since longtime. I was not involved in the album making, nor in the mix, so I cannot elaborate on additional parts. Anyhow, what is already known is that “Souvenirs of China” was composed after the concerts.
Working on Minitel 3615 JARRE in Jean-Michel’s workshop, Croissy
- Tell us about your memories about the historical concert in Houston.
My artistic collaboration covered a wide range of roles. One more story. Back in summer 1985, as I had not seen Jean-Michel since a while, I decided to invite him to a famous restaurant in a very nice place, in the St-Germain forest, a short distance from Croissy. We had a table in the garden, below the trees, and the weather was splendid. Shortly after we sat at the table, he said to me: “Michel, it’s a very good idea to meet today! I have something big to tell you! I have just been offered to put together a huge concert in Houston, Texas. And the NASA is involved, as they will celebrate their 25th anniversary.
And the city of Houston will celebrate its 150th anniversary”. And so on! I was shocked! And he added: “Michel, I want you to be my partner in the project. And there is a lot to do!”. I immediately became dizzy! That was a major new step in our collaboration. The seed was planted and there was a lot to come!
Later on, he was wondering how to setup a band that would adopt his style of music for the concert. Not a trivial task, as playing electronic instruments is a lot different than playing guitar, piano or saxophone! After we had quickly discarded setting up such a band in the US, though Maurice Jarre had connections with US keyboard players and could have helped, I finally convinced Jean-Michel to work with French musicians. Consequently, I started thinking and proposed Jean-Michel a list of musicians I knew since a while.
Among them, I suggested Jean-Michel calling Francis Rimbert, who Jean-Michel only heard about his demos in music shows. Then, there was Joe Hammer whom I knew since I had worked at Fairlight France, Sylvain Durand, a pianist at the Paris Opera who I knew since we had been doing sports many years before, etc… Christine Durand, his wife at that time was a natural choice as a singer. And so on, Pascal Lebourg, Dino Lumbroso. The only exception was Dominique Perrier who Jean-Michel knew since many years.
- The Houston Concert Band L to R: Joe Hammer, Dominique Perrier, Guy Boucher our stage manager, Sylvain Durand, Francis Rimbert, Pascal Lebourg, Christine Durand, Michel Geiss
About giant images projections with “Panis” (the powerful slides projectors made in Austria), Jean-Michel had previously worked with company “Hold Up” based in Paris, and then with Ere Force (Franck-Luc Dancelme” and was looking for another one, for some reason. As I had seen such projections in Paris with someone who left me his business card, we made a call. It was Arnaud de la Villèsbrunne, who eventually became one of Jean-Michel’s closest collaborators afterwards, besides having been providing the Houston projections.
My involvement in the Houston concert preparation extended to the fact that I visited Ron McNair at his family home during his rehearsals of the music piece he was supposed to play in space.
And it was when I was staying in my hotel in Houston that I had the idea of recording the TV sound in my bedroom. I was quite inspired, as while randomly rotating the channel selector I could catch the sequence your can hear unedited in the “Cities in concert Houston Lyon” CD, after Magnetic Fields: “To celebrate the 150th birthday of the Lone Star State” And: “Jean-Michel Jarre his rehearsing his synthesizer group on the 18th floor of an unfinished skyscraper”.
I also met Michael Woolcock there, the Houston Symphonic Orchestra former musical director, who was, in fact the originator of the whole project (sadly Michael passed away in 2010). He had that idea of calling Jean-Michel to suggest a large outdoor concert to celebrate both the Houston city and NASA anniversaries.
One of his other ideas was to suggest finding a link between the laser telemetry system based at the Mc Donald Observatory and music. At first, it seemed a strange idea, but I was sent there by Jean-Michel to explore the feasibility. Michael drove his car through the desert of Texas, and after a night spent in a ranch of his friends at mid-route, we reached the observatory, near the state of Mexico, without seeing a living soul. A lonely but a fantastic place! After discussions of lasers beams directed to the moon, earth diffraction, atomic clocks, etc…, our conclusion was that whereas the idea was interesting, it was nearly impossible to make it happen in the short period of time I was left. I had to return to France to work on “Rendez Vous”, the album. Anyhow, that was one more amazing experience again!
With JMJ when I received my Platinum Record of Chronologie
However, as I was working with Jean-Michel at his studio in Croissy sur Seine, something terrible happened. On January 28, 1986, as I was in Jean-Michel’s kitchen, the telephone rang. It was Francis Dreyfus calling. He said: “The space shuttle exploded!”. It was like an earthquake! We were only 3 months away from the concert and the main question was “Will the project be cancelled?”. You know the answer. Not only it wasn’t stopped but it became a huge success instead! Anyway terrible news, as I had met Ron Mc Nair with his family earlier! My artistic collaboration extended to video as well. As another adventure, when Jean-Michel had started working on the editing of the Houston Concert video, I joined him in Hollywood with several flight cases full of audio tapes, to help on the mixing. - And about the Lyon concert, tell us about this very special show. The Lyon concert was another more significant example. As the concert date was approaching, Jean-Michel told me that he was really annoyed as no video recording truck was available at that time. I immediately called a friend of mine who was a camerawoman at TF1 television channel. She suggested calling a few names, which I did. One of them, Jean-François Gauthier answered positively and provided the video truck! Consequently, he had been offered the role of film director. A bit later, Jean-Michel asked me to take care of the full movie editing. I hired a video editing suite in London and Jean-Michel left all tapes in my care and let me go alone. While giving my instructions to the editor all day long, I quickly discovered that I really needed an assistant to keep myself concentrated on the editing, finding the task highly challenging. I called Jean-Michel and suggested hiring an assistant. My thinking was Fiona de Montaignac, whom he didn’t know yet. I had met her in Houston, as she came with her companion, my friend Loïc de Montaignac. At that time, Loïc was working with Jean Poncet whom I suggested to Jean-Michel when arose the idea to display the musical scores on stage. I thought Fiona would do the job, being bi-lingual and a devoted person. It proved to be a very good choice, as she was minded to collaborate, really efficient, and helpful, as well as joyful.
Subsequently, Jean-Michel met Fiona when he joined me later at the editing suite to give his final instructions, and when he returned from London, he eventually decided to hire Fiona as his personal assistant.
The Wersi Delta DX 500 organ
One more small anecdote. One of the instruments on stage in Lyon was quite intriguing. It was a very rare fully transparent electronic organ lent to me by Wersi (Germany), named “Delta DX 500”, which I had seen earlier in a music exhibition and had asked to the French importer for the concert. Only 5 such instruments have been built in 1970. To get one, you had to draw a check of more than 100.000 US $! But for a Jean-Michel Jarre concert, with the pope as a guest, the deal was more favorable! Quite a stunning and beautiful instrument!
And quite recently, to my surprise, I discovered a picture of the instrument in the newest Daft Punk’s CD booklet! In addition, Jean-Pierre Janiaud is credited in the same album as a sound consultant. Coincidence?
- For the concert of La Defense there were great new arrangements and mixes used for various tracks such as “Equinoxe 4″, “Magnetic Fields 2″, “Rendez Vous 2″, etc, and these arrangements would be used again in the compilation “Images” (in this album you were credited as artistic collaborator once again) Does these arrangements belongs to you?
I have been working on arrangements on Jean-Michel’s behalf, sometimes with people such as Bruno Mylonas (Calypso Remix) which doesn’t mean that they belong to me. It was part of my collaboration to work on arrangements such as those of Rendez-Vous 4 or Chronologie 4, and London Kid (unreleased). However, my remix of London Kid was the version of the song used in Michel Drucker’s TV program “Destination Trocadero”, back in 1989, in relation to “Destination Docklands” and the revolution bicenterary. We were on the Trocadero place, with the Eiffel Tower as the background.
Michel & Hank Marvin
Working on slightly different versions for the concerts was a natural process, as we tried to bring something fresh to the public. At this point, as a general comment, I’d like to mention that to me, one of Jean-Michel’s originalities was for his music to conceive arrangements more in an electro-acoustic way than a traditional one, rather preferring using electronic effects to fill in spaces in themes. - About the famous no-concert in Mexico-Teotihuacan in July 1991, there are different theories about the causes of the cancellation of the concert, but what was what actually happened? I was not aware of the production secrets at the time of the concert preparation, and was a bit disconnected of the project. What I know, is that the concert manager, Albert Varé (who already had the same position at La Défense) lit the red light at a crucial moment: all flight cases were already stored in Jean-Michel’s garage and ready to go in the next hours. I guess that local administrative conditions were not met at the last minute.
Lost City Show
- In 1992 Jean Michel Jarre conceived two shows multimedia, in Sun City and Zermatt. Did you collaborate in these shows?
Those shows were another example of my artistic collaboration. Jean-Michel sent me to Johannesburg to prepare his show for the grand opening of the Sun City resort, a kind of Indiana Jones small city, in the middle of nowhere, 200 km away from Johannesburg. I had the occasion to work with Cedric Samson, the artistic director of the show who was in charge of choir arrangements and recordings and the choreography on the site.
We went to his recording studio and recorded the vocals together. The musicality and beauty of the voices were amazing! And the show was incredible! It was like a movie in open air!
At Sun City, South Africa
For the Swatch show in Zermatt, Switzerland, my role was more technical, having convinced a sceptical Jean-Michel to bring our Pro Tools system as the sound reproduction equipment, instead of a tape player. And I also really remember our freezing night of rehearsals in the mountains! My coldest time ever! - Suddenly after “Chronologie” album and along the Europe In Concert tour you left your responsibilities as musician. Why? I felt that the Europe In Concert tour was a new challenge for Jean-Michel and that my role would have been more useful as a FOH mix engineer. Considering the last concerts, I thought that there was room for improvement. And finally, it was even more exciting than being on stage. Jean-Michel did agree with my proposal.
Julie Lecrenais near the stage – Europe in Concert
A little history about Europe in Concert: When Jean-Michel was looking for a young boy voice for his song Chronologie 3, I suggested Julie Lecrenais, a young girl, whom I knew as being my goddaughter’s sister. And she had a pure and beautiful voice. After a few tests Jean-Michel chose Julie. It proved to be a very good choice, not only as she had the talent, but also she performed very well on the record, and had the perfect attitude on stage at 13, without being disturbed by the audience size, or by the fireworks exploding over us! And to me her fragile voice was a really strong contrast with Patrick Rondat’s guitar. One of the very best moments of Europe in Concert!
- Do you remain some memories of the Spanish dates in Europe in Concert tour? Do you remember the Madrid’s cancelled concert because of the rain?
The Madrid concert was not the only one to be cancelled. More concerts in other countries had been cancelled for some reason. Barcelona and Seville were good concerts. I’d like very much returning to Spain with more free time, to enjoy the country, its culture, the Flamenco which I love, and the Paella, the real one!
Is well known that “Hong Kong” album includes several live recordings taken from other Europe in Concert dates. You did the mix of that album, so could you confirm it officially?
I am sure you’ll understand that it’s not my role to comment on the tracks chosen to be included in the Hong Kong album. I was given tapes to mix and I did my work. The same applies to other questions related to choices made outside my own duties.
During Europe in Concert (COTM Magazine)
- About concerts, you were on stage from Houston to La Defense, and this was arguably the golden age of the great JMJ concerts, but what is your opinion about the over-use of the playback and pre-recorded tracks in these concerts? My answer will be this. There are several things to consider. First of all, it’s obvious that it’s pointless using a sequencer on stage if a recording can be used instead. And it’s safer as well! The pre-recorded tracks, or “backing tracks” are commonly used in many concerts. Moreover, you have to consider Jean-Michel large outdoor concerts as a whole. It cannot be compared to small concerts where context allows for more flexibility. When there are so many visuals synced to the music by means of longtime in advance programming, such as fireworks, lasers, etc…, television broadcast and/or recording, any mistake (such as a failing instrument) in such “one off” events could be disastrous.
The mastering console I designed
I see those large scale events as a new kind of shows for large audiences, a mix of music, theatre, cinema, fireworks displays, where the stage is a small part of the whole. The name Jean-Michel Jarre is associated to such multimedia events as a pioneer since the Concorde event, back in 1979, sharing his ambitious vision with Francis Dreyfus. Above all, such a question as yours should be summarized to this: “Did you enjoy being there?”. Let’s apply the “pleasure principle”! - And what is the concert you remember most fondly? La Défense was really memorable. During the afternoon before the concert, I was seeing the crowd gathering from the stage up to the Place de l’Etoile. Jean-Michel’s political influence led the usual fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower to be moved to La Défense, bringing the usual massive crowd there (it was similar when the fireworks display was moved to La Concorde, years before). The size of the stage was also impressive. And there were the “dancing mobiles” of Peter Minshall, moving in frenzy above our heads, and the steel drums playing and so on…
Recording the Amocco Renegades in Trinidad with Denis Vanzetto
Incidentally, I have another story about that. Some time before the recording of Waiting for Cousteau, I had been invited by Xavier Bellenger (an ethnomusicologist and long-time friend of mine who had already provided recordings to Jean-Michel for Zoolook) to an indoor concert in Paris.The concert was of a steel band, named “The Amocco Renegades”. To my surprise, with their oil barrels they were playing complicated pieces, including classical ones, with excellent musicality and nuances, and that incredible sound! When their concert was finished, I bought a cassette at the entrance door.
Some time later, Jean-Michel was looking for an idea for his album single, something joyful and happy. As he described what he had in mind, I said “I have a cassette at home which you should listen to”. While listening to the songs, JeanMichel was very excited. He said “It’s exactly that! Let’s call them!” And a short time later, we were recording “Calypso” by the band in Trinidad in a local studio! Which led the Amocco Renagades appearing at La Defense on stage later…
In Trinidad studio during the recordings of the Amocco Renegades. Left to Right : MG, Denis Vanzetto, JMJ, the studio owner, Dominique Perrier, Patrick Pelamourgues
Apart from that, prior to the event, regarding the increasing public interest about the show and considering the announced problems for people to reach the place, I had the idea of setting up a wide-ranging national information service, with all details collected from local authorities. It was based on our “Minitel”, the small terminals every one had at home. Because of the device name the “Minitel”, I suggested to Jean-Michel “Jarretel” as the name of the service, which means “suspender” in French. (smile) At first, he found the idea funny. But after some time, he preferred a less frivolous name, which finally came to “3615 JARRE”. You know, it was Bastille Day, and we had to keep serious! The 3615 JARRE service was widely promoted in the media, even in the streets of Paris, and it was a huge success, with more and more users connected while the final date was approaching!
Otherwise, about my useful connections, my friendship with Eric Cabedoce, the technical manager of Atari France, led us to work at the studio with the first machines, and we had several on stage at La DĂŠfense, as Eric invested himself with passion in our adventure. However, having found La DĂŠfense quite a memorable event, above all, to me the Houston concert was the most stunning. Imagine a French team invading downtown Houston and preparing our project before astounded Houstonians! For us, frenchies it was our American dream! To us, the size of the event was enormous, with a giant projection screen made from small canvas panels. And on the concert day, at dusk, we were watching the crowd gathering in a kind of ocean, as far as the eye could see. And a gigantic road jam on the nearby highway! Coming from our country, the change of scenery also played its role. I felt in those concerts as being a small part of a big machine, in front of a very large audience. In such conditions, my feeling was somewhat abstract, as the crowd was far away. The stage was like a television set, with cameramen being our closest watchers. However I felt more than an ordinary musician, considering my wide involvement in the adventure. - Have you attended one of Jarreâ€™s concerts after the end of your collaboration? How is your opinion about the new direction has been given to JMJ concerts? Absolutely. I attended several of his other concerts, such as at the Paris Zenith, or at Theatre Marigny (Oxygen live in Paris). Later I was blessed with a gracious invitation of Jean-Michel in Warszawa, back in 2008 (thank you Jean-Michel!). He remembered that my mother is from a Polish family. He even called me on stage when the concert ended. I did appreciate the gesture! I also attended a concert in Paris, Bercy. That being said, I have a mixed opinion about the latest versions of his concerts. It is obvious that his music does not perfectly fit to small scale live concerts. Such music mainly belongs to the realms of the imagination, which to me cannot be compared to rock or variety music. Would George Lucas do an indoor theater version of Star Wars? Or James Cameron a live version of Avatar? On the other hand, to me, large scale concerts do offer something different, and more adapted to his style.
Our work place in Croissy. In the center the red Yamaha keyboard, which had been reduced in size in house to fit into the Space Shuttle, before it was decided that Ron Mc Nair would take his saxophone instead
To me, while later Jean-Michel started assimilating himself to a more or less usual performer, he was loosing part of his identity. I also understand that itâ€™s quite uneasy to find the best way to stage electronic music. Instrumental music cannot have the same visual impact on audiences as vocal performances! To me, large outdoor concerts are far more adapted to his style of music than concert halls.
Anyhow, what counts the most is the audience. If many attend his small size concerts, there must be a reason (and a value!). The public can still find the original mind of big events in a reduced size.
However, I have to say that I consider the sound and musicality of his latest concerts could be somewhat improved. Since long-time, I am convinced that a deep understanding of Jean-Michel’s particular music is required to get the best result. To me, the variety, techno or rock approach does not fit very well. As an example, I discovered that some of the original important arrangements have been discarded since some time without substitutes, with a loss of musicality as a consequence. Or it could be useful to renew the songs and make new arrangements. There is room for improvement. I am not anymore in a position to recommend it, It’s only my opinion…
- Why ended the musical collaboration between you and JMJ?
Jean-Michel was more and more tired with my puns! (smile). Not totally wrong, but to me, more seriously, Jean-Michel mainly felt the need to change his musical staff, to renew his artistic environment. In my opinion, the end of the “Europe in Concert” tour was a turning point in his career. In a way, from that moment he seemed preferring working with Francis, whom anyhow I consider as a very talented musician. I cannot compare myself with Francis Rimbert! Moreover, he may have found that such a multifaceted and expensive collaboration as mine was not necessary anymore, which I can perfectly understand. And about concerts, before his latest series of concerts he yet had offered to me touring with him. It looks like he finally changed his mind.
MG with the Wersi organ
- Ended your partnership, JMJ sound changed dramatically, we can say that there is a “before and after” Michel Geiss on the music of JMJ. This change became tremendously evident in “Metamorphoses” and reached its zenith in “Téo & Téa”. What is your opinion about these discs? What is your opinion about the new “Jarre sound”? First of all, “Téo and Téa” is not my cup of Tea (smile). Sorry, I couldn’t resist (one more smile!). To me, Metamorphoses was another attempt by Jean-Michel to break his own rules, while having some similarities with Zoolook, but in a more experimental way, and an opening to internationally known artists, such as Laurie Anderson, Natacha Atlas, Sharon Corr (from the Corrs). Moreover Joachim Garraud must have been influential through his collaboration along the recordings. To me,
Metamorphoses is a beautiful album, with beautiful pieces, like “Million of stars”, but with a “Tout est bleu” coming from nowhere… If that song was supposed to be the single out of the album, to me, it missed the point. From Metamorphoses, my preferred track is “Give me a sign”, which Jean-Michel should use in his concerts. Gloria is a good one as well. That being said, the frequent use of reverb tend to make the album sound somewhat “colder” than when tape echo was the basis of his sound. Moreover, there is a lot of quite unusual rhythm work on Metamorphoses, which might have been surprising to many followers of his work. As a general point of view, since my departure, Jean-Michel has explored new grounds. Every artist can feel the need to renew his style. And it’s quite a challenge to keep one’s identity while trying something different. After all, when there is a change in style, the main question lingers: will the followers follow? - Did Jarre count on you for any of his following albums if only for technical queries? Not really. Once, I helped him for setting parameters on one ARP 2600 at his studio. Anyway, Patrick Pelamourgues is very good in helping him on many different things. - Would you like to work again with JMJ in the future? Are there any specific plan about it? Good question. Why not? I keep an excellent remember of the good times we spent together on his projects. However, since then, almost 20 years have passed. In such a long-term, people change, they evolve. Who knows? Some time ago, Jean-Michel had offered me working again on his new album. We also spent a few nice moments together. Once, before the release of “Essentials and rarities” of which I ignored the future release, I decided to restore the sound of his album Deserted Palace, removing clicks and noise and copy the resulting sound onto CD, as I had 2 very good quality copies of the original vinyl. I also was helped by a good friend of mine (thank you Sacha!) who used my CD to cut a vinyl looking CD, and printed a beautiful sleeve, replicated from the original cover. I called Jean-Michel and said “I have a surprise for you!” Then we met at his apartment in Paris and we had dinner at a restaurant downstairs. I learned later that Jean-Michel subsequently released
“Essentials and rarities”. Anyway, it seems that he put aside his idea of working together again as I had no news since then. Otherwise, it still may happen… What will be, will be…
Maryanne Bell & JMJ in Perth
Since then, as I was in contact with an Australian friend of mine, Maryanne Bell, once we had dinner in a Parisian palace, I suggested her organizing a concert of Jean-Michel Jarre in her city, Perth. She had already organized events in her country and had attended Jean-Michel’s concert in Bercy, Paris the same day as myself. She immediately liked the idea. A short time later she invited us to travel to Perth, where meetings were organized with local authorities. Pre-production people were there as well, such as Alain Bilowus and Simon Ransom. We have been visiting different places where the concert could be staged. Jean-Michel was really enthusiast while being in front of the downtown backdrop, on a large grass area, saying that it was even a better place than Houston! That place was the one! However, the cost of the event has prevented the project to happen for now. And since then, the area has been undergoing huge transformations, as it will become a
marina, called â€œthe Perth Waterfrontâ€?, covered with water. Anyway, the project is still on its way, planned for later, while a final date has not been decided yet.
JMJ in Perth
- With respect to our friend Francis Rimbert, we know that you were opening a studio in Croissy and that you have projects together, did you tell us something about this? Francis had set up a studio in Croissy with a friend of him. He had asked me if I could collaborate when the studio would be opened. Since then, the studio has closed and Francis now lives far away from Croissy. He recently told me that he has a project to build his own studio in his new house. - What are your current projects? Still developing electronic instruments? And what are your plans for the future? As you may know, one of my intrument projects has been released by the IRCAM the main research centre in electronic music in France. It is in the shape of a plug-in, named the GeissEnveloper, which I co-developed with a very good programmer of IRCAM, Jean Lochard. One more instrument is finished now, for which I have to
work to program sounds. This new project is a very exciting one, as my first attempts to program sounds are quite promising.
The Semantic Daniélou
I also keep an eye on another project, the Sémantic Daniélou. a very special microtonal instrument I designed long-time ago. It is based on a theory by Alain Daniélou a former musicologist, who specified a scale of 52 notes per octave, which we reduced to 36 notes per octave for better playability. I was offered by Daniélou to build such an instrument in accordance with his book “La Sémantique Musicale”. The book describes in a fascinating way how our brain perceives musical ratios. I
just finished a much improved version of the instrument, which should be presented to interested composers in the next months. I am also putting some musical ideas together, which I would release if I find an interest around… - A credited work you did for Jarre was the development and modification of some instruments. The Matrisequencer is the most well known, but not the only one. Which more synths and instruments did you transform? I also found an idea to modify the Small Stone phaser to slow down its “sound waves”. On the other hand, I also found a way to split outputs of the Korg Minipops, so that the internal sounds could be independently processed. I also usefully added an external sync input to make it compatible with my Matrisequencer. Furthermore, I also added an external input on the Eminent 310 organ, so that we could use its very special “Bucket Brigade” chorus with other instruments, which we did in Equinoxe. I designed the Rythmicomputer after the Matrisequencer without precisely remembering when it was. It’s a computerized rhythm box, with electronic sounds generated by electronic circuits I designed myself. - Could you describe the full operation and the possibilities of this great machine? (Some people want to know if you could show part of the patterns and design). At that time, most of the sequencers were designed in an electronic designer’s point of view, not a musical point of view. You could not easily program standard durations and pitches with them. Consequently, as Jean-Michel expressed his wish of doing sequences on a matrix, it was obvious to me that such an approach fitted very well with standard music notation. Basically I made it to be used either as a simultaneous dual part sequencer of 50 notes each, or a single sequencer of 100 notes. I designed the matrix to play standard notes with the octave divided in usual semitones, within a range of four octaves. A combined four line part was dedicated to get 15 precise durations of the standard notation (full note, half-note, quarter-note, triads, etc.). One line was dedicated to glissando between any two notes and another one to legato. Several sub-sequences could be programmed, with looping between pins on the upper line. I am proud of the later idea, which was a first at that time!
And when Jean-Michel was asked to compose a short music for the Swatch watches wearing his name, he was imposed very tight technical specifications. We first tried programming notes on C-Labâ€™s Notator, but were unsuccessful. Finally, we found that the best way was to work on my sequencer, as it was the only machine we had which could replicate the technical details we had received from Swatch!
With Francis Dreyfus when I received my Platinum Record of Chronologie
- For Europe in Concert tour a new version of your Matrisequencer was made by Jean Claude Dubois and Patrick Pelamourges: The Digisequencer. Did you collaborate in this new instrument?
At first, it was my idea suggesting to Jean-Michel that a new extended version of my Matrisequencer could be built in keeping the concept of the Technos Acxel of a touch panel instead of pins. As he liked the idea, I called my friend Jean-Claude Dubois to get him involved in the project. As he answered positively, we met with Jean-Michel and defined the concept. As the heart of Jean-Claudeâ€™s proposal was an Atari Computer, it was possible to achieve a much improved sequencer with many more features, while keeping the same basic principle as the Matrisequencer. And Jean-Michel could not resist asking more and more! Patrick Pelamourgues as a multi-faceted person made the most part of the wiring with Marie-Laure Leboucher, including the printed circuits, and among them the front panel.
You may know that the Digisequencer had a good life, including its use on stage. However it began showing signs of weakness when the floppy disc drive failed in one of the European tours. As I was staying at home, I pulled my disc drive out of my own Atari and Thomas Alsina could bring it to Patrick. Then, considering that its reliability was more or less deteriorating, I suggested Jean-Michel to adapt the concept to a touch screen computer, which was programmed by Jean Lochard and is the latest incarnation of the machine.
My session at Modular Square – Paris
- In 2013 you made a great masterclass about mastering and the Matrisequencer, that was showed (outside and inside) in it. Was this Matrisequencer the one you made for Jarre or another one?
That was the original one, lent by Jean-Michel. It’s a unique instrument which has never been replicated. There is only one. Jean-Michel doesn’t use it anymore. It’s something of the past…
- As a professional of mastering, do you think the discography of JMJ remastered in 1997 by Scott Hull needs another re-remastering, as recently was announced by Sony Music and in the last days we’ve been noticed that David Perreau is working on it?
I have no real opinion on any needs for remastering Jean-Michel’s discography. If Jean-Michel likes David Perreau’s work, who I obviously respect, why not? I learned that David has been working with NRJ radio on its sound settings. I don’t really know what his approach in mastering is, as radio processing is not really adapted to CD mastering. As a matter of fact, most of FM radios use heavy multiband compression for various reasons, which are not musical reasons. I have a good knowledge of radio processing, and several years ago I published a technical study in a French magazine on the subject. As an example, a paradoxical fact, some heavily compressed CDs sound lower on radios than CDs with more dynamics, which is something many people ignore, including sound engineers! I recently went about all that in courses I was giving to students. I know since longtime how my mastering works sounds on radios and how it sounds on personal systems. I can put forward my experience in CD mastering. There is obviously a loss in quality on heavily processed CDs. That being said, there are many ways of mastering music, and some are less musical than others. Mastering as a process can easily bring more harm than good to music! As an example, trying to remove noise in old recordings can be very difficult to achieve without artifacts, specially if it removes “life” in the music, that little subliminal “imperfect” thing that has been understood to bring something pleasant to music, in the same was as vintage processors. Mastering is a real challenge: you have to respect the mix, and to make it sound better and louder while keeping its musicality. The decision making process can be quite tricky. Mastering engineers should be like Hippocrates: “Do good or to do no harm”.
I am also suspicious of people who claim that their digital processor has been specially optimized for a specific project, and that it is extremely powerful, and so on. It’s like if a restaurant chef comes to your table and tells you: “My food is the best in town. I have a secret: my microwave oven has been specially designed for my restaurant by NASA engineers”!
In my work as a mastering engineer, a few years ago, I have been confronted with a surprising situation. To make a long story short, I was asked to re-master one of our most famous artists’ albums. The record company, BMG went to Metropolis Mastering Studios in London to get it mastered. The best available equipment was used, including highly expensive monitors, and so on. But when they came back in Paris, they compared what they got with what I had done earlier on 2 of the same songs for the radio promo CD (which was already playing on radios). And guess what! They called me to re-master the whole album! I mention that my equipment is very basic. All that only means that equipment, as much expensive it can be, is not the key to quality and musical sound. Talking of which, when comparing the original vinyl records sound of Deserted Palace with the CD version on the Essentials and rarities, I noticed that for some reason the sound of the vinyl is much better than the same songs from the CD version. - Let me tell you that you did a great work with the remastered version of “Space Art Tribute” album. The original sounds quite well, but your remaster is spectacular. Will you work again with Dominique Perrier soon? It would be with great pleasure! Dominique is a very talented composer and musician. And his solos are stunning! Just listen to Chronologie 4, or to Cosmic Chicken in the “Tribute to Space Art”. As of today, I am not aware of a new project with him yet. - Tell us about your work as mastering engineer. I created my mastering activity when Jean-Michel and I split, back in 95. Looking back to the past, I had designed a computerized cutting console for a Parisian mastering studio, named “Dyam Music”, in the eighties. It might be the source of my decision to start my work as a mastering engineer. Since then I mastered many albums, some of them having been very successful, while others were less popular, as they were independent productions. To answer your question, one of my latest successful mastering was Imany’s “The shape of a broken heart”. I have been working both with major artists, such as Patrick Bruel (who granted me with a Diamond Record for more than 2 million copies sold), Laurent Voulzy (a platinum record), Marc Lavoine, Chimène Badi and so on, and unknown artists who
sometimes produce excellent records. I have been entrusted both highly expensive and low cost projects. Whereas I like many of those records, among them, one has a special dimension to me: “The tribute to Space Art” by Dominique Perrier. - You are technician, musician, mastering engineer, “techno-luthier”… What of these activities means more for you? To me all that makes a whole. All those activities are more or less linked. In sound engineering, music is connected with knowledge of tools used in mixing and mastering. This is why I was able to mix albums and videos for Jean-Michel, as well as being in a good condition to quickly start my full time mastering activity. Additionally, I tend to teach my knowledge in various fields in which I think I can bring my experience to others. Having been able to work in so many fields has been quite a rich life. And more projects are on the table! I still have a lot of interest in sound synthesis, and will try developing new virtual instruments in the near future.
I would like to thank you for your interest in my involvement in Jean-Michel Jarre projects. Jean-Michel Jarre is far from an ordinary person. He is a very complex being, whith his weaknesses but his strengths are his chief characteristic. Through my answers, you understand that I tried to take some distance about my view of my collaboration. However, I fully share Jean-Michel’s vision of music of the early times and admire his talent, his will to achieve, and his personal dimension. I have been so closely associated to his artistic life that I can express my gratitude for having shared with him what I consider as the best and most successful and rewarding part of his career. Not only I consider this collaboration as having been fruitful but it also has been a fantastic part of my life.
Thanks a lot, Michel, for your kindness, your anecdotes, your generosity with us and to bring us this historic interview. Best regards from Spain!
Many thanks to Fairlight Jarre http://en.jeanmicheljarre.es/ for sharing this interview.
Fairlight Jarre is a website made by the Spanish Jean Michel Jarre Fanclub, which started in 1995 as Fanzine and continued later as a website.
All photos taken from Fairlight Jarre
Published on May 17, 2014
Interview with Michel Geiss French sound-engineer, instrument designer and musician who was a long-time collaborator of Jean Michel Jarre....