Jean Michel Jarre On Why He Still Loves Analog Synthesizers

Jean Michel Jarre

Synth music pioneer Jean Michel Jarre may see the benefits of software synths – but when he goes on tour, he takes a huge collection of rare analog gear.

Why does he still prefer analog synthesizers?

“There is such warmth, such depth, that we have lost somehow,” says Jarre.“These instruments are quite special in the history of music. They just disappeared at the beginning of the Eighties when the Japanese created the DX7 and also with the explosion of the development of computers.”

“These instruments,” adds Jarre, “didn’t even have the chance to become adults and occupy the future.”

Jean Michel Jarre on analog synthesizers

“I remember Stockhausen, when I was studying with him for a few months, saying, ‘All that is close to emotion in music is suspect.’ Which is absolutely crazy,” say Jarre. “Emotions are the basics of any art form!”

“I want to be in a total live situation,” adds Jarre, “with no computers on stage, exposing myself to accidents, because these instruments were not necessarily made for performance. The challenge is that every concert should be different, something special.”

Jarre’s comments, especially his comment that vintage synths “didn’t even have the chance to become adults and occupy the future,” are thought-provoking.

What do you think? Should electronic artists revisit the past to find the unexplored potential of vintage analog gear?

via Telegraph, images via LittleO2, p_c_w

35 thoughts on “Jean Michel Jarre On Why He Still Loves Analog Synthesizers

  1. My interest in Jarre was greatly revived after his live Oxygene shows – I saw the one in Glasgow, mainly to realise a teenage dream of seeing a real JMJ concert! Yet from that and some of the interviews I've read since, is revealed a sophisticated, mature artist who's still surprisingly cutting-edge. I guess he got the bloated stadium-rock productions out of his system ahead of time… and produced some of the grandest of those the world has ever seen whilst about it.
    He talks elsewhere of electronic music being a distinctly European continuation of the classical tradition relative to the advent of rock'n'roll etc. in the Anglo-American side. Of course this is a sweeping generalisation – like his music can be described as bland, nursery-rhymes with bleeps – yet I find both the comment and his music remarkably prescient.
    But I'm a fan, I guess ;p

  2. I too saw the Oxygen gig, but in Dublin, and hearing those analog synths live re-ignited a love of electronic music that I hadn't felt in 15 years. After a very enjoyable re-introuduction to making electronic music through soft synths I now have a small collection of vintage analog synths connected to my 21st century iMac which blow me away every time i turn them on. There is something about them that makes them feel alive, they have a presence that soft synths cant seem to emulate. I'm still into my soft synths and indeed they make composition quicker, but more and more often the pure magic that emanates from my analog synths inspires me to write a piece of music in a way that soft synths never have.

    I discovered synths in 1986 when i was 15 and at that time analog synths had only stopped being made a few years. I remember how i used to leaf through the 'Keyfax' book, trying to imagine what each knob would do if only you could get to touch it. It seems now, 24 years later that these analog synths which were almost unobtainable when i was a kid (even though i managed to own quite a few) are now much more obtainable despite their prohibitive cost thanks to the internet. I bought a Korg Monopoly for 150 pounds back in 1990, and then re-bought the exact same synth two months ago (19 years after selling it to a friend) for 750 euros. I found that 750 euros slightly easier to get than the 150 pounds when i was just 20, so little has changed, they've pretty much always been expensive, relatively speaking, but they've never been as easily available.

    Brian

  3. I suppose it all matters to the artist, and what the intended goal is.
    I have owned a few Analogue synths in my days, and to be honest,
    I don't really miss them. They are nice, but I am into other things now
    that I find analogue is lacking. I go the virtual route 100%
    and I am well satisfied and they meet my needs.

    I don't have anything against analogue, or anyone that uses them
    for their music, they just don't suit my taste and what I do with sound.

  4. Great comments from all!

    Jarre's music has definitely grown on me. I was more attracted to Berlin School synth music when I was younger, but Jarre, like Vangelis, has a unique ear for creating electronic orchestrations.

    I would have like to have seen some US gigs on his 'world tour', though!

  5. It seems to me that an aspect of peoples love for the analog synthesizers that is often overlooked, is the basic difference in build quality between analog synths and midi synths.
    The analog instruments often feels more sturdy, which adds to the experience of playing them.
    The aspect of "soul" ascribed to analog synthesizers should thus in my opinion not solely be ascribed to the sound of the instrument but also to the way it behaves when you play it. Jarre also indirectly addresses this in the comment:

    “with no computers on stage, exposing myself to accidents, because these instruments were not necessarily made for performance. The challenge is that every concert should be different, something special.”

  6. To say that the Japanese created the DX7 may be partly true, but the underlying theory of frequency modulation was done by an American composer named John Chowning who worked in an academic setting. It's very much part of the classical tradition to invent and build new instruments. Instruments evolve as music evolves. Both fields are mutually dependent. That being said, I'd rather use new analog gear because I don't have to fear so much that something goes wrong and I might not be able to fix it myself. I like analog gear mostly for the interface that a modular or well thought out polyphonic synth or sequencer offer. In conjunction with digital technology you have a combination that can't be beat (at least in the studio, on the road there are other constaints). The problem with what most people call digital these days is that it's mostly software and modern synths with highly specced DACs and DSPs. If you look at the first samplers or even instruments like the original DX7 with their relatively crude DACs, slow processors and clever ASICs, as well as the analog output you realize that anything is analog. The distinction made between analog and digital electronics is academic and very convenient, but it comes to haunt you once you move to more complex designs where the quirks of the inherently analog physics of things begin to show up. There are some beautfiful digital designs out there, just the same as there are beautiful analog designs. Both have their merits for making music. It's not the dichotomy of computer (i.e. PC) vs. vintage analog synth perpetuated by Jarre here. There are many shades of grey instead of just black and white.

  7. I am an analog fan but in this digital age the sound is not as good as it was being that digital sound is only a small sample of analog sound.

  8. If a sound moves you and touches your soul and inspires you to make music, why should you care if it is produced by analog electronic circuits, digital calculations or real strings/tubes/membranes ?
    It is a beautiful sound, that's all. Now lets play music!
    I have many synths and use them because i like their sound, not because they are analog or digital. I also use a few acoustic instruments. Are they considered "analog" instruments?

  9. Part of this nostalgia isn't for analog, but for instruments that are built like they were in the 70's.

    Back then, keyboards were expensive and they were built like tanks. A lot of those old keyboards take two guys to move.

    Nowadays, all the big name keyboards are getting made out of plastic, and they just feel cheap.

  10. Sorry to burst some bubbles but subtractive synthesis sucks. You can spend all night trying reshape your saw and square waves and they will sound like analog buzz under a filter. Anyone who really knows sound synthesid recognizes that analog synths are little more than a fashion statement in recent years. Hence the prices. Electronic Music is about breaking new ground and building your own microcosm. If you want to follow trends and stuff so be it, but I think most of you have missed the point. Jarre broke his own ground and we should all follow him by breaking our own. I am person bored to tears with all these homages and redux's of old EM. We are attracted to this music the adventure and mystery. Yet all I see is reruns. Love Jarre, but go try something else besides Analog and create your own sounds. Something you can't do anymore with those silly machines from the 70s.

  11. Duh. The whole point of any form of synthesis, and it's especially true of silly 1970s subtractive synthesis, is the infinite range of new sounds that can be created, more so than the fixed-preset 'synthesizers' of today. You might as well say that pianos suck. It's all about imagination, not hardware. If nostalgia is part of the mix, so be it.

  12. Max/MSP, Super Collider, Buchla and other modular synths, Reaktor and other software synths that have real synthesis power. Probably hardware examples like Hartmann's Neuron etc etc…

    You can't really say that classic subtractive synthesis is restrictive and old fashioned, because when it's used with modular or semi modular systems, it can really lead the creator to very interesting results….but, judging from the ultra expensive used fixed analogue market, we could say that most of these commercial examples are restrictive for a sound designer. Any way, as MirlitronOne wrote, all these instruments are just another option which adds a "color of nostalgia". The bad thing is that these instruments are everywhere. Instead of new ways of sound synthesis, we are full of nostalgia…why?

  13. It's still just subtractive synthesis though. Mostly anyway, sometimes fixed with FM. Sometimes granular or additive. Or wavetables/samples.

    but 95% of synths and synthesis is subtractive based.

  14. In my opinion, it is a good thing that Jarre is focusing on the instruments he owns and knows, the same way a violinist would prefer a violin rather than a flute or a guitar. For sure, there are still lots of things to explore with old analog synths and they have some distinctive qualities.

    This does not mean that new instruments, digital and/or software synths, are not suitable to make music and don't have their own advantages that old analog gear will never provide. And we must admit that there is nowadays an unreasonable attraction to old analog instruments that make any crappy oscillating circuit be sold the price of an eye. This is just a matter of fashion. Anyway, music is important, not the instruments.

  15. Because some sad, miserable, luddite, old gits don't like hiphop, techno or trance? Many of these sad, miserable, luddite, old gits also have disposable income that they are prepared to exchange for music rather than simply copying it via the interwebnet thingy. Besides, if it wasn't for nostalgia constantly stirring up the past, we'd just go round in circles re-inventing the music of a generation ago, rather than developing new bold, exciting genres like emo and shoegaze.

  16. "Instead of new ways of sound synthesis, we are full of nostalgia…why?"

    Because some sad, miserable, luddite old gits don't like hiphop, techno or trance? Many of these sad, miserable, luddite old gits also have disposable income that they are prepared to exchange for music rather than simply copying it via the interwebnet thingy. Besides, if it wasn't for nostalgia constantly stirring up the past, we'd just go round in circles re-inventing the music of a generation ago, rather than developing new bold, exciting genres like emo and shoegaze.

  17. "Instead of new ways of sound synthesis, we are full of nostalgia…why?"

    Because some sad, miserable, luddite old gits don't like hiphop, techno or trance? Many of these sad, miserable, luddite old gits also have disposable income that they are prepared to exchange for music rather than simply copying it via the interwebnet thingy. Besides, if it wasn't for nostalgia constantly stirring up the past, we'd just go round in circles re-inventing the music of a generation ago, rather than developing bold, exciting new genres like emo and shoegaze.

  18. Actually not. Analog synths are quite limited as far as sonic ability. Its nearly impossible to make some of sounds on them. Bell sounds and many other types that require harmonics to vary over time cannot be faithfully created on must analog models.

  19. Pretty much anything you can build sounds with at a harmonic level. That's the fundamental problem with analogs. Everything is there and you have to remove harmonics in a very imprecise manner. Even multi-band filters are quite limited in control. Alex covered the options pretty well. I am not saying analog is worthless, it has its place in the rack for the quality of the sounds it makes. But its not my choice for making new sounds as they have all be done over and over and hence we have styles like Techno that are more like blues than EM due to the patterns and sounds incorporated by everyone in the genre.

  20. Alex

    The systems you cite – Max/MSP, Super Collider, Buchla, Reaktor – all come with their own sets of limitations.

    First of all – why are you singing the praises of Buchla while simultaneously railing against expensive analog gear? Huh?

    Buchla synths certainly look interesting, but the $30,000 price tag makes them much more of a "fashion statement" for the elite than the synths that you dismiss.

    The software systems you mention are capable tools, but they are also complex and expensive options that have high learning curves, a lack of standardized interfaces for performance, poor usability and limited "playability".

    When you consider that, to use these apps, you'll need to have a powerful computer (with built-in obsolescence), a MIDI controller, a MIDI interface, an audio interface, your software applications, time to install & update the applications, and time to dedicate to learning complex software systems, traditional synth hardware looks cheap.

    Synths also offer immediacy and playability that software systems tend to lack.

    When you say "subtractive synthesis sucks" and dismiss synth keyboards as "fashion statements", and then fail to back your statements up with anything that makes sense, you come across as both ignorant of the pros and cons of different tools for making electronic music and as dismissive of a lot of talented electronic musicians.

    Give some credit to the shoulders that you stand on – and then use your Max/MSP, Super Collider, Buchla, and Reaktor to make some music that will really wow somebody.

  21. All subtractive synths start out with adding the signal elements you want – different fundamental frequencies and harmonics, subharmonics and noise, then you shape that with your envelopes, filters, and lfos. Additive synthesis is just the same as a bank of key-tracked sine oscillators, after all.

  22. Personally I think jarre has incorporated and broken ground with all forms of synthesis and concrete and has a right to his place in the echelon. His opinion is sound (heh) because listening to the ealiest two albums (which are effectively unfinished and as a consequence stink) and then oxygene (which took four months and it shows!) he managed to extract thousands of colours from his pulse saw sine noise cross-combinations (but it took four months!).

    Eqinox is almost part two but feels rushed – competent and full of 'poppy' effects, but no Oxygene.

    Do you know why Oxygene quality albums are so rare?

    Because it took four months!

    If I'd produced oxygene using every synth ever available at the end of four lifetimes I could only blame it on overchoice and idleness.

    Genius, at the end of the day, is patience (and dedication – but you've already got that)…

  23. I agree. Most of today's pop synth users probably have never been near an eight track tape recorder, nor bothered to enhance their synths with 30 band equalisers in real time, or walked the hard yards to learn the nuances of what makes something work.
    There's a good reason why Oxygene still gets played and enjoyed (and microanalysed, reissued, illegally downloaded etc) because its ALIVE!!!

    A both active and passive experience, a trip, a journey, a stimulant, a relaxant, an inspiration, a work of art on a pedestal to be lauded and derided, praised and hypercriticised.

    Daft Punk is Krap (not even in contrast – but it shows different purposes, attitudes, outcome.

    That Oxygene became a hit is its own legend (in a world where most hits are a lottery – no publisher would touch it because it wasn't rock, too unusual, too busy with other Krap to listen and appreciate it, bad track record of the artist) and just two days ago I listened to it once again as if for the first time – always the first time.

  24. They say that it went on to sell fifteen million copies – surprising it's not more, though it did appear at the time of tape bootlegs – that was the frst copy I owned.

    Most people I've met would be happy to sell half a million in their lifetime of all their albums combined.

    Fifteen million! That'd afford a nice house/lifestyle…

    He got certainly got something right there…

  25. My last album took more than four years on and off between different projects – and it's no oxygene either.

    Alas, I think there'll only ever be one Oxygene

  26. I'd probably love Analogue synths too if I wasn't perpetually broke. My 100% software studio is entirely dictated by my financial situation.

  27. This is primarily because most people's perception of analog synthesis is extremely limited – there is FAR more to analog synthesis than simply washing an envelop controlled resonant low pass filter over a sawtooth. Add formant synthesis and analog FM to the equation and you're talking a very different world – very sadly it's one that was pretty much forgotten after modular synths fell out of fashion.

  28. '<<<<What do you think? Should electronic artists revisit the past to find the unexplored potential of vintage analog gear?'>>>>

    that question is interesting, Detroit techno, and artists from all over the world who produce and who are influenced by detroit techno use analogue synths

    check out this

    link

    An irish producer who uses various analogue synths, a digital Native Instruments Maschine and pro-tools

    you can buy or see more of his music here
    http://www.discogs.com/Donnacha-Costello-Before-W

  29. I like JMJ’s music, and I’ve been a fan for years. I love the fact that he keeps his vast array of old analogs alive and makes DVDs and takes them out on tour occasionally for the public to hear. That being said, you can talk all you want (yup, even JMJ, one of my synth heroes) about how “warm” and “alive” etc. old analog synths sound compared to modern synths. The fact is that modern synth sound awesome. Not only that, they are way cheaper and more reliable than old analogs. They are also a lot more versatile. All but the most discriminating ear would care. I can tell you that most fans could care less. Give me a $3,000 brand new Access Virus T1 any day over some $7,000 used thirty year old Jupiter 8 or $6,000 (cross your fingers and hope it keeps working) Memorymoog.

    1. You can buy a Moog Slim Phatty 600$ or a used MKS-80 polyphonic with the controller for 2500$ or any DSI (dco but alive), STudio electronics and new modular system, if you take the analog route and have something very stable and reliable.

  30. I will like to ear a song done 100% in the computer that has the depth of passing thru analog gear at least. With analog synth it’s like hearing stuff all around, under you and in the back (for example listen in you car) Vsti music is frontal left and right that’s it. Saying that the music is the most important is too general : for some people like me and others (that has good quality sound system) the sound is music or their is music in sound ”Vangelis did say something like that” I think a mix of both is good too ! Vsti + Anlaog synth + real FM synth (very different than vsti like fm8 or fm7) = depth.

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