Jean Michel Jarre was one of the first generation of synthesists to break through to broad public appeal. His pioneering work on Oxygene captures the style that he would refine on future albums. It also has a unique place for many fans, because it was one of the earliest albums of synth music to capture the imagination of listeners around the world.
Jarre’s style embraces the capabilities that synthesizers and electronics provide, and this is apparent on Oxygene, his first album. The music on Oxygene comes in six sections, named simply Oxygene I – VI. Each is played on a variety of electronic instruments, including A.R.P, A.K.S., V.C.S 3, and RMI Harmonic synthesizers, Farfisa organ, Eminent, Mellotron, and Rhythmin’ Computer.
Though the recording was made in 1976, it sounds surprisingly fresh today. Jarre explores synthetic textures, but does this with an orchestral approach. He’s the son of film composer Maurice Jarre, and he has a similar gift for melody and orchestration. Jean Michel Jarre’s interest, though, is in electronic orchestration, and he manages to get a huge sound out of relatively simple electronics.
The parts on Oxygene flow together. The music begins with washes of phased string effects. Jarre is known for his unique phased string sound that is lush and seems to have a sense of motion. This was a result of the way he used phaser effects, usually reserved for guitarists, on his keyboards. This sound has been so influential that synth designers to this day are inspired by it.
Jarre uses white noise, with phased effects, to create washes of background sounds. He also uses simple drum machines and synthesizers to create funk strange and funky funky rhythm backing. On Oxygene IV, it sounds like crickets have joined in with the drum machine. Over the string, rhythm and effect backing, Jarre plays melodies that are straightforward and catchy.
The combination of catchy tunes and ambient textures that Jarre put together on Oxygene made it both experimental and very accessible. Oxygene has gone on to become one of the most popular recordings of electronic music ever released, and a classic of synth music.