Jean-Michel Jarre was one of the early pioneers of popular electronic music. Along with artists like Tangerine Dream and Vangelis, Jarre brought electronic music and popular music together, making music that was artistic but fairly accessible. Les Chants Magnetiques, Magnetic Fields, is a set of 5 synth tracks that capture Jarre at his peak.
For many Jarre fans, his first three albums, Oxygene, Equinoxe and Magnetic Fields, remain his best work. He had not yet conquered the world, and he was still experimenting, discovering a world of pop music based on with synthesizers. The music from his early period relied primarily on analog equipment, synthesizers, primitive drum machines, simple sequencers, and vocoders. Though his equipment was primitive compared to today’s electronics, used the equipment inventively, creating sonic textures that are being imitated still.
Magenetic Fields has 5 untitled parts. The music ranges from synthetic string washes and ambient sounds that are timeless, to cheesy synth pop that is relentlessly melodic. Part 1 is the most interesting track of the CD. On LP, it would have taken up an entire side, and would have made for a pretty trippy eighteen minutes. It starts out with a sequencer melody, and repeats the melody, building the track by varying the arrangement. This section fades into a brief hymn-like section orchestrated with synth strings and vocals. Jarre adds a very spacey section that includes echoing voices and sound effects, before moving to the final section of the track. The final section returns to the rapid sequence style of the first section. By using a overall fast – slow – fast form, with subsections based on simple variations, Jarre gives simple music an almost symphonic scope.
Part 2 is drum machine synth pop that sounds like an update of traditional folk music. This is faded into some ambient boat sounds to connect it to the next track. Part 3 is one of the most interesting sections of the CD. It is an early world-music groove, orchestrated with synthesized thumb piano, tape loops and synth swooshes. This transitions seemlessly into Part 4, which is is pure synth-pop. Jarre even throws on some vocoded vocals. This track has an extended fade-out that sounds like a precursor to trance music.
The final track is pure synth cheese. Cheep drum machines beat out rhythms that sound like something off an old Casio keyboard. Jarre adds cheesy analog sounds one of those catch melodies that drills itself into your brain. All of Jarre’s early LP’s had a cheesy dance track on them, that people seem to either love or hate, and this one’s no different.
Of all the music on Magnetic Fields, Part 1 holds up the best. If you don’t have any albums by Jarre, this CD, Oxygene or Equinoxe are the most interesting places to start. Each CD has some of the most interesting synth music of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Listen to any of the tracks and you’ll hear sounds and effects that were adopted by pop music in the 80’s, and that inspired many electronic musicians that have followed. If you’re familiar with Jarre, you’ll want this along with all of his early CD’s!