Jean-Michel Jarre

There is something life-affirming about the music of Jean-Michel Jarre – the French artist who took electronic music to another level and to a worldwide audience. Jarre injected emotion into his music which touches on the nuances of daily life and the environment around us. Rather than something cold and soulless, there is a warmth and richness to Jarre’s music which has transcended language barriers and reached fans of all nationalities around the globe.

Jean-Michel Jarre has created some of the most iconic and influential music of his generation. This week, Jarre turned 70, (a milestone also celebrated by upcoming box set release, Planet Jarre: 50 Years of Music), which got me thinking about my own journey with his music and its impact and influence on me and my work; both art and music.

We all remember the first time we heard certain songs or pieces of music, and those musical memories from our childhood often remain the most profound, usually defining our tastes for years to come.

I first heard Jean-Michel Jarre’s 1976 breakthrough album Oxygene, as a child in the early 1980s. I was perhaps four or five years old, and I had never heard music like it before. It was the record that my father was playing. To my young ears, I couldn’t quite comprehend what I was hearing – this wasn’t the sound of normal instruments; it was something altogether different and other-worldly. I remember being utterly entranced by the strange, almost organic sounding music… it was as if some kind of captured environment was emitting from the stereo.

With this sensory feast, my young artistic imagination was fired up – the soundscapes and atmospheres of Oxygene transported me into the sky, floating among the clouds; it sent me to a vast snowy expanse with a glaring winter sun, and most significantly, it propelled me out into space, beyond the stars.

At the time, I was surrounded with books of space imagery and science fiction art of the 1970s, and even a young age, I was addicted to Doctor Who. Jarre’s music was the perfect accompaniment to these fascinating futuristic visions, and with that, my lifelong obsession with science fiction and electronic music was born.

I rediscovered my love of science fiction art in 2007, and that led to creating my own artwork (as you can see on this website). And more often than not, I listen to Jarre’s music while I’m working.

However, the biggest impact Jean-Michel’s music had on me, was in making my own electronic music. The decades of enjoying Jarre’s music culminated in me trying my own hand at creating my own instrumental soundscapes – an ongoing journey that I’m still exploring.

I have always been fascinated with the notion of letting music create images in the mind and allowing the imagination to explore new environments through music. With no lyrics to distract or send the listener down a specific path, instrumental music works as a blank canvas for the imagination – and I think we all need that escape. This remains one of the main appealing aspects of Jean-Michel Jarre’s work as well as the objective of my own.

Over the course of the last couple of years with the release of the two Electronica albums and Oxygene 3, Jarre has proven his staying power and influence on artists and fans of all generations. Not one to rest on his laurels, Jarre’s passion for creating, composing and collaborating is as strong as ever, and I certainly can’t wait to hear what the next chapter of his musical journey will bring.

Happy Birthday, Jean-Michel!

Jean-Michel Jarre photographed at Manchester Arena, 9th October, 2010

Twenty!

Last week, I published Prototype, my 20th independent album release via Bandcamp. This feels like a milestone of sorts, so I figured it was a good opportunity for a look back over my musical journey.

I first started making music as The Light Dreams in 2006. I had no musical training whatsoever – I didn’t know if I even had any musical ability. I had simply spent so many years as a music fan, soaking up influences, that it felt like time to regurgitate that influence and see what I could shape it into. Over the next 18 months, I made a lot of demos and album ideas, learning as I went. They were raw and rough, but I knew where I wanted to go. I’d share them online for feedback, and that spurred me on to keep trying.

I wasn’t interested in writing songs or playing live. I wanted to make instrumental music. A kind of audio equivalent of painting. I still maintain that the creative process is the same for both; one uses sounds, the other uses colours. And both allow your mind to wonder and escape to other places.

In the summer of 2007, I made what I consider my first real album, Into the Light. Thanks to the previous year’s exploration and experimenting, my own sound and style was finally defining itself. In contrast to the optimistic soundscape of Into the Light, I was also interested in exploring darker, heavier, electronica – which I did with Mechanical Drive, in 2009. With that album, I felt I’d accomplished everything I could (I was wrong) and decided to focus on developing my science fiction artwork.

Creativity is like an itch which needs to be scratched, and in 2012, the musical itch returned. I bought some new equipment and soon got back into making music, with a renewed vigour. I called the resulting album Inferno, and felt I had made something that might be good enough to sell online.

In a 1996 interview, David Bowie said something along the lines of: If you’re really turned on by whatever it is you are creating, there’s bound to be other people out there who will like it too. As with many things, Bowie was right. It’s absolutely true. This has become my creative mantra for art and music.

Having looked at the options available to independent musicians, Bandcamp was the platform to offer what I was looking for. I joined, and published Inferno as a digital download – and it sold! Encouraged by this, I also published Into the Light and Mechanical Drive, before focusing on my next project.

Around the same time, I was invited to become honorary musician for The Initiative for Interstellar Studies (I4IS), a new organisation keen to promote its mission via the creative arts. This gave my music a second home and also the chance over the following years to work on a series of space travel-themed albums – perfect for my style of music – that I published in association with I4IS.

Every album was a learning curve. With each project, I would learn something new on the technical side, whilst improving my playing. Each album would often better the previous. Being purely independent, there is no pressure or deadlines to hit, other than my own. In a sense, I started treating music the same way self-publishing authors work, putting out one or two new releases each year to keep momentum and interest.

The contrasting dark and light themes continue through all my work, with album concepts including time, dreams and space travel (many of the same themes you’ll see in my artwork).

Making music also offers a different creative channel to my primary work of digital art and graphic design. It’s often nice to have an album project on the go at the same time as I’m working on a book cover or a personal piece.

More and more artists – amateur and established – are going down the independent route. As with self-publishing, The Internet has given our music the chance to be heard in all parts of the world, without needing a record label, and technology has allowed us to make professional quality music from the comforts of home without expensive studio time.

I like the way Bandcamp operate, and they’re an ideal platform for new and independent artists and especially for those niche genres of music such as my own.

I never imagined I would have a discography, and the simple fact that other people like it enough to buy, has kept me motivated. I appreciate that support enormously.

What’s the point in making art if nobody else gets to see or hear it?

Explore The Light Dreams’ discography at: thelightdreams.bandcamp.com

Any comments or questions welcome!

Recent Features

Here is a guest post I wrote recently for the RetroVideoGamer website, talking about the inspiration of 90s Amiga computer game music:

http://www.retrovideogamer.co.uk/the-chiptune-legacy-amiga-music-inspiration-25-years-on/

I also participated in SouthWaves Audio’s regular ‘5 Questions’ feature:

http://www.southwavesaudio.co.uk/2018/05/15/interview-alex-the-light-dreams/

From the shadows…

I recently completed 3 illustrations that were inspired by The Body Library – the latest book by Jeff Noon. I was present at the book’s launch at Follycon, earlier this year, where Noon read a haunting passage from the book – although I was already sold on it, having read the first book in the series, A Man of Shadows, last year.

The world which Jeff Noon has created for the inspector Nyquist mysteries is quite unusual. Astoundingly original, in fact. I haven’t read anything quite like it. The first book,  A Man of Shadows, was set across two time (and mind) bending worlds; Dayzone (a city of constant daylight) and Nocturna (an eerie underworld of perpetual darkness). It felt like a surreal film noir, or some kind of retro-futuristic graphic novel. For The Body Library, Jeff Noon turned that strangeness up to 11, setting the book in the city of Storyville… a place founded on the written word. Words spread like living disease and everyday life is infected by stories.

Living up to its title, The Body Library is a  surreal and disturbed with a gripping murder mystery at its core. I found my inspiration fired up, and knew I had to interpret some of the book’s moments in my own way; as if illustrating an imaginary graphical version of the story. I hadn’t done any illustration work like this for a long time, so that in itself was particularly rewarding.