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Better Jean-Michel Jarre: “Music as sound is not from United States”

Posted on Nov 6, 2015

Better Jean-Michel Jarre: “Music as sound is not from United States”

Wanna know what all the American electronic musicians screaming at the same time sounds like? The outrage machine fired up something awful on Facebook over a recent Jean-Michel Jarre interview where he intones from on high:

Electronic Music Has Nothing To Do With The United States

You know that statement was important – it was in the clickbait title of the article. And definitely not taken out of context or poorly worded or attached to a more nuanced explanation.

Surely not, no.

What Jarre was in fact getting at was the concept of “music as sound”, the idea that music could come from something that was not an instrument. While completely pedestrian today, it was a pretty far out concept to the traditional musicians of the 1940’s who all still thought in terms of music notation and instruments. At the forefront of this revolutionary thought was Pierre Schaeffer, a French musicologist and acoustician. He was one of the first to use tape loops and tape splicing as a composition tool. Schaeffer also happened to be Jarre’s mentor. So, yes, I can understand that in Jarre’s eyes the concept of “electronic music” came from his mentor, not from any club or city in the States.

Where it gets sticky is that the term “electronic music” has grown to be more that just the concept Jarre believes it to be. There is an entire culture around it with years of history and powerful influences. The ideas that Schaeffer and Jarre himself pioneered have been built upon and grown into something that is greater than its roots — an entirely new concept of and approach to music. I think to dismiss any contributor to this evolution is myopic and, in the case of Jarre, smacks of “you punks get off my lawn”.

The origin is important, but just because a movement is from a place it does not give implicit control to that place. I think it has grown larger than that.

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