Jean Michel Jarre On Vintage Gear & Happy Accidents


In a new interview, synth music pioneer Jean Michel Jarre explains why, despite all the advances in electronic music technology, he still has a love for vintage gear:

“Down the years I’ve collected a lot of different synthesizers. Lots of synthesizers are analogue and have a unique sound for me, like the modular Moog, Minimoog and Memorymoog and the big modulars, like the ARP 2500 and the ARP 2600, and the [EMS] VCS3 and the AKS, if you’re talking about the first old analogue synthesizers.

At one stage in time, people were craftsman – they had a special know-how, and skills that that you had to learn. That was true for acoustic instruments, and it’s also true for electronic instruments – there are certain things you can’t replicate.

Even the Moog, or a Fender electric guitar, could be made today with a great sound, but it can’t match the vintage one. The new Moog Voyager and all those kinds of instruments are great, but they’re tamer in a sense. They have a lot of good qualities, but they can’t match the original Minimoog, which has a kind of texture in sound and an untamed feel to it. The pitch isn’t regular, you have lots of problems – it creates accidents, and accidents are always exciting in music.”

via Resident Advisor

40 thoughts on “Jean Michel Jarre On Vintage Gear & Happy Accidents

  1. Ya, I saw Foreigner in @1978, they could not get their synth to stay in tune at-all. Kept drifting out of tune. That wasn’t such a happy accident. I do agree with the you on the sound of vintage equip. Like vintage cameras too.

  2. Seems he has a rather narrow, downright condescending view. I think designers and programmers of new gears and VSTs – both those that painstakingly replicate old analog gear (like Arturia) and those that create new products – are craftsmen and artists in their own right and they too possess know-how and skills. And in the end a piece of gear is only as good as the person that operates it.

    1. Nothing against digital synths, but you mentioned Arturia virtual analogs. They are pretty bad, if you ever played with the originals. It’s day and night. Almost like real guitar and sampled guitar.

      1. On one hand, messing with Arturia’s (and others’) clones of vintage analog synths made me want to get some real analog hardware. Even Arturia itself seems to have been bitten by the hardware bug (see: Minibrute.) And Synthtopia is also to blame for feeding the analog beast. 😉

        On the other hand, there are people like Gordon Reid, who knows quite a bit about synths, writes about them for a living, owns a real Minimoog, and wrote the following back in July 2005:
        “In March, I made the point that although MMV looked like a Minimoog on screen, it didn’t really sound like one. Today, it sounds and responds like the hardware original. In fact, it’s now a remarkable imitation that I would happily use and be confident that you would never realise that it was not the ‘real thing’.”

        [I rather like the part where he says that it overloaded his 1 GHz Mac G4 laptop with three notes. Sadly, iMini manages to overload my 1 GHz iPad 1 with … 1 note. ;-( ]

      2. actually, i have used them (all except the moog modular) and i don’t think you could say it’s night and day. theres a difference, for sure, but the sampling analogy is way off. as an example (not an arturia one) i once used recall sheets made of a real MS20, and the virtual one sounded closer than the MS20 it was recalled from, a couple of years later. and way different to another ms20 owned by the same producer.

        anologue is fantastic and does have a tiny, tiny edge over emulations, but if you’ve ever had to lug a hammond (or CS80 – jesus) up a flight of studio stairs in the middle of the night, or discovered that every eighth note on a jupiter 8 wasn’t working because one of the cards inside broke and took 6 weeks to repair, or wanted, y’know, more than one minimoog playing simultaneously, or polyphony, or midi, or blah, blah, blah.

        from a purist point of view, not least because of the degree of interaction, the originals are better, but from a purely utilitarian perspective, the copies are pretty awesome.

        also, it puts an very good approximation of classic sounding gear within the range of mere mortals, i just saw a jupiter 8 on ebay for $10k, and christ knows what a moog modular goes for.

        1. The thing with the emulations is, as long as you just hit a note, it sounds pretty good. Maybe so close that you don’t hear a difference.
          But as soon as things get in motion, especially with filters, they really fall behind.
          That’s why I think my sampling analogy is not so bad. It’s what happens between the notes where sampling falls short.
          So it depends on the playing style, if emulations work or not.

    2. As a performer who plays both vintage and VSTs for many years, each have their strengths and weaknesses in different situations. For vintage, I would never take an ARP 2600, Minimoog Model D, or any 20+ year synth, to an outdoor concert with questionable power and humidity. One would be asking for trouble. I do however, use VSTs and Virtual synths and samplers in live environments. In those cases when I need the sound of an analog, vintage or otherwise, I make my own samples. The sample libraries just do not have the color and depth that I require, nor my own sound.

      In the studio, I often use vintage gear alongside newer digital gear blended into whatever sound is required for the song. However, that is in a very controlled environment.

      I do have an outdoor performance scheduled, where I will be using a MiniMoog Voyager, Digital Mellotron and a Nord Wave alongside a Synthstation/Sunrizer/AniMoog stack in the iPad, triggered using an Akai 49 key and midi/usb bridge. In that concert, I have created my own 24bit ARP2600, Andromeda, Jup8 & Oberheim samples for the Wave and the iPad. This works in live performances due to the diminished sound quality possible in the outdoor venue. For recordings, however, since there is no background competing sound, the resolution must be significantly higher, therefore I rarely sample unless that sampled sound is the basis of the sound that I am needing in the song, like a distorted, or significantly compressed sound. On those, I often use them in bass or synth sequences.

      To get back on track, I think this old synth versus new synth is quite illogical, as they are very different colors in an artists sound pallet and should be used as needed. Newer synths that use digital circuitry can use some very clever methods to recreate the older synths in color and depth, but simply do not possess the fullness that is so easily heard from the older synths. This is apparent in the recording studio. On the live stage, it’s very hard to hear the difference in most venues. The sound guy always knows, but they almost always have headphones and can hear things that the audience cannot hear, and laughably, should not hear. LOL

      Even the VST market cannot fully compare to a real analog synth in the studio. I play the full product range from Arturia, Gforce and many others side by side with the older vintage gear (i.e. CS80, ARP 2600, MiniMoog, etc…) and there is a very discernible difference in sound production quality while heard in the studio using reference monitors. Would that difference be heard on the live stage with thousands of people making noise? No. VSTs do just fine on the stage, so save the wear and tear on your vintage gear and keep them home, in the nice climate-controlled studios.

      The one risk to VSTs is to choose your computer, OS and set wisely and dedicate that computer to that function. Using it also for email and everything else is courting disaster. No defragging during a VST performance, and if you use your iPhone for sound, put it in airplane mode. Nothing is more embarrassing that having your Mom call during a performance and everyone hear not only the ring, but if you answer, the conversation. It would be a funny story to tell, but a disaster for your musical career.

      Also, never book a gig where the Secret Service will be present. Their signal jammers disrupt Bluetooth, WiFi and other wireless mics and such. Hardware synths are not bothered by these jammers.

    3. I agree — Jean-Michel seems like he’s stuck in the past. While I understand this, he reminds me too much of Vangelis, who holds similiarly condescending views.

      These guys were, at their pinnacle, best–in-class. But instead of capitalizing on their good fortunes, instead, they choose to share with us their negative views on modern technology.

      Well, I hate to say this, but there are so many more players out there who could cream these dudes. Jordan Rudess, Jan Hammer, Lyle Mays… even Dave Grusin could clean Jarre’s clock — when it comes to pure technique at least. I don’t disagree that Jean-Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, and Kraftwerk opened some pretty huge doors for the creativity of many of us today. (And I’m not saying that I’d rather listen to Dave Grusin — but on the other hand, I do enjoy his playing. Sue me if I like to hear a piano being played flawlessly by someone whose technique is just beyond.)

      The lesson to me in all this? If the guy who used to be at the top is still using some old analog synths — then me doing the same thing ain’t gonna be new. Or put me at the top.

      Analog synths might get you a Grammy — but artistically, there is nothing that you can do using one that will get you 30 years of name-recognition and everyone saying that you are a condescending prick. Only Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre get those distinctions.

  3. Honestly, he sounds like one of those “VINYL SOUNDS 10X BETTER THAN CDs” guys. Did he bother to check out Kyma? Any of the numerous, amazing plug-ins that are being developed these days? The modular stuff from Make Noise, or any of the other fresh modular makers doing their thing right now?

    There has never been a better time to make *sounds* than today. Sure, the old stuff is great, but any kind of existensialism or essentialism, and that is what Jarre is argueing for here, is pretty boring in the end.

    (oh, and Jarre hasn’t made any decent music in about 25 years, so I wouldn’t worry too much 😉

    1. Vinyl does sound better than CD, it’s analogue, you’ve missed the point….

      Get back to your mp3’s….

    2. Look — let’s all just agree to disagree about whether “analog is better” or “digital is better.” Each is DIFFERENT. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Analog is great if you need to heat your apartment in Boston or Chicago in January. Digital is great if you live in perpetual AC and you enjoy being able to create more than 16 voices at-once and play more than, say, three or four synths at once without blowing upwards of $5,000 for that privilege.

      I just like the way that digital synths sound. Tell me why I’m wrong to like them. Tell me why I am evil for saying that I would prefer to listen to a DX7 or a PPG or an Alpha Syntauri than listen to a Minimoog. Because that is what I would prefer to listen to.

      You may say that you find me to be evil;. But your opinion is indefensible, and you know it.

    3. Make noise, that rips off Buchla and serge designs from 40-50 years ago?

      The good old stuff does fail in interesting ways, and often had pleasing iregularities, although I don’t know if that entirely up to the skill of the makers. Certainly they had to have a musical ear, but in part it was due to being constrained by the tools and parts they had available.

      Software is interesting when it fails too, although it’s rarer that it doesn’t just crash. The other issue is that engineer “perfect” often sounds bad and software makes it easier to achieve perfection AKA bad sound!

  4. jarre comes across as somewhat of a dinosaur.. and thats the problem with extremely polarizing viewpoints – they neglect the big picture by definition

    kitaro and enya arent on the charts anymore, because they’ve been replaced by justin beiber and lady gaga… bullshit remains bullshit, ultimately

    and if you are complaining about how old gear doesnt matter at all, then you have never touched an actual ems synthi… if you did, youd change your tune really quick, my man

    but dont worry about it.. everything will be ok… shhhhhh… there, there… go back to sleep

  5. But a few paragraphs later he says:

    “Having said that, I think technically, all digital instruments, such as the Animoog on iPad, are really bringing something new. For quite a long time, the quality of the digital era was not there, it was still quite harsh. There was this lo-fi world, not only for sound, but also for visuals. It’s only been over the last three or four years that we’ve been re-entering the world of high definition sound, and that’s going to change a lot in terms of the kind of music we produce in the coming years. “

  6. Oh no! JMS gets old. Of course modern instruments are different. Who would have guessed. But the old aren´t better because of that. The noise levels of new stuff are much lower. The formerly unwanted distortion has been eliminated. But now all love those formerly hated “features” of old tech. Even the bloody unstable osc of old Moogs are now “warm” or “authentic”. I still love JMSs music and the old gear. But there is no need to despise the new more stable more dynamic synths who can even simulate the old ones to near perfection. If you would put new tech into an old Minimoog D chassis (like MacBook and Minimonsta + 14bit parameter resolution; Dave Smith said at WNAMM 13:”If you hear MIDI parameter stepping it´s because the developers didn´t do their job right.” ) nobody would find out. Also there is no “standard Minimoog” to compare to in the first place because they can be different because of tolerances in components and ageing processes.

  7. If you love vintage devices so much, what are you doing with those f***ing Digital Delay and Digital Looper stomp boxes. Please, use old tape devices for that task too. Be consistent!

  8. Jarre has discovered that fountain of youth. Must be the classic analog synth collection he has amassed.
    Gonna get on that band wagon ASAP. Sure try explaining that to your wife or Partner.
    Anyhow these pieces of gear will never reach the hands of the average musician so keep dreaming.
    Dont get me wrong I love the few analog synths I do have but the most important factor is creativity and experimentation.
    Most of us are stuck with VA and soft synths and they plug a few holes being very cost effective and accessible

    Jarre could make a great track with even the cheapest synth. It’s all in the performance and musical know how.
    I have found over that past few years that dusting off a few books on chords and composition have helped allot.
    Oh and don’t forget to read your synth manuals before you let it collect dust.
    In the end the sound that analog delivers has its place and wow factor but
    lets not forget the basic musical composition and performance that makes a Jarres songs great.
    Love him or hate em. Ok he is a bit of a hero of mine, hahah.

  9. It’s not just a question of analog vs digital or old vs new.

    Yes – Jarre sings the praises of classic analog synths. But he is also well known for his pioneering work with digital gear. (Give Zoolook a listen).

    Jarre is saying that there are REAL reasons why vintage analog gear is desirable. It’s not just nostalgia, as some suggest. It’s craftsmanship, the interesting instabilities of vintage analog circuits and the thought put into playability.

    And Jarre should know – he’s probably had the opportunity to play every major synth of the last 40 years.

  10. My most favorite analog instrument ever – my ears, eyes, hands, legs(sometims head or other parts of my body), portable recorder, set of mics and set of stands … initial investment – ask my parents + 3000 Euro – BUT(!) – unlimited preset memory, unbelievable synth engine(s), unique 100% analog sound guaranteed…. sound sources – everything around me and supplemented by occasional buys at flea fairs, trips ….

  11. So you can’t just get an analog synth, you have to get a rare 30 year old analog synth and hope it still works? You know what kids? Just buy some decently priced software synthesizers (like at least a $100), learn all the ins and outs on how to use them instead of just sticking with presets, and forget about what all these old snobs have to say. Every instrument sounds different and these guys just got used to the ones they bought when they started out. Who knows, maybe in 30 years you’ll think the synths of 2013 were the best synths ever.

  12. Wow, this subject has got everyone over opinionated, as someone who’s first synth was an SH-101, bought by my parents as a Christmas present to my present synth that’s a Doepfer modular system. I personally don’t care for VA’s, VST’s etc, they don’t have the depth of sound or the user interface, however they are cheap and reliable, so have they their plus points.


    Listen to Kraftwerk’s Tour De France-Soundtracks compared to……any other Kraftwerk album. It sounds like Kraftwerk and it is Kraftwerk……BUT……listen to a bass line or drum sound and it doesn’t have the depth to the sound that the older albums do.

    WHY….it’s all computers, digital jitter etc etc etc….

      1. Thanks for that informed and knowledgeable replay. Best go and play with Ableton like all the other school kids do…..

        1. i think he’s a bit confused, to be honest. there’s tons of digital gear on Electric Cafe, Computer World and “The Mix” along with their EP “Expo 2000”. The point is, it still sounds like kraftwerk. You think if they’d had access to ableton in 1970, they wouldn’t have been using it? course they would.

          deciding on whether music is good because of the techniques and equipment used is, to be frank, slightly deranged

  13. I’ve got a hundred of beautiful women here that you can’t afford. So cry!!

    That’s the message I get. And I don’t care because I’ve got everything I need.

  14. Most everyone here seems to not see the forest from the tree; you are stuck on comparing the ‘sonic quality’ of analogs and their emulations, and miss the most important part of the article: ‘happy accidents’. Who cares how ‘analog’ or ‘digital’ your texture is if there is no musical originality behind it? Giving up full control over what happens in the next second is hard (especially in the digital era), but rewarding (ask Eno).

    The other extremely important aspect that sets hardware (not just analog) and digital synths apart is the way you control them. The immediate feedback and physical connection with a musical instrument (knobs, faders, dials, ribbons, etc.) will multiply the organic feel of a *performance*. And no, automap and touchosc won’t come close to knobs that each have different feel, action, shape, materials etc. – at least not yet. The performance is half of a sound’s expressiveness – and we’re not even talking about the composition that a certain feel of performance might influence. You use the mouse all day, all week for everything… why would you restrict yourself to two buttons and a screen when it’s time to create?

    Analog, VA, new abalog, digital, hardware and software each has their strengths and weaknesses… they are simply different. But talking about absolutely no other aspect of an instrument than what can see on an oscilloscope is seriously close-minded. It’s like comparing two wives based only on their hair color: a natural blonde and a great imitation blonde. But what about their personalities? (And what about how they cook?:)

    This is coming from a composer (not a collector!) who makes a living by creating electronic music and sound design with vintage to modem analogs, digital and VA synths and softsynths alike… and respects each for what they are… but especially respects those in a physical form.

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