Cities in Concert Paris, La Defense | Jean-Michel Jarre
Jean-Michel Jarre recently trod the boards in magnificent style in Paris to mark the occasion of Bastille Day - report in full from Mark Jenkins.
BY THE TIME you read this, Jean-Michel Jarre's latest concert spectacular should be out on (Polygram) video. Created by London-based director Mike Mansfield, who first worked with Jarre on the Docklands concert, and edited in Soho's Molinare facilities house, Cities In Concert - Paris La Defense marks a return to the French capital for Jarre, who made his concert debut here by bringing the city's Place de la Concorde to a halt with selections from his first album, Oxygene.
Since then, Jarre has developed a new concept in live entertainment with his shows in China, Houston, Lyon and London's Docklands. Today, Jarre celebrates Bastille Day in the perfect setting of La Defense, a vast esplanade combining the capital's new business quarter with architectural intrigue. He's also promoting Waiting For Cousteau, but the concert is mainly a celebration of France's most distinctive public holiday and a development of Jarre's concept of "the city in concert'.
Not for Jarre a conventional stage, instead L'Arc de La Defense - a huge square-profiled arch mirroring the classical proportions of L'Arc de Triomphe standing at the opposite end of the Champs Elysees. The stage is a pyramid (itself mirroring the controversial new entrance hall of the Louvre), its metallic structure supporting the PA equipment. It's an uncompromisingly hi-tech installation on which the musicians man futuristic consoles integrating keyboards and expanders.
As for most of his albums and gigs, Jarre's instruments merge Akai S1000s, Roland D550s, Atari Mega 4 STs, Elka MK88 master keyboards with ARP 2500s, 2600s, EMS VCS3s with LAG master keyboards and the infamous Laser Harp. (The complex of MIDI connections around the stage is courtesy of Lone Wolf.) The tower blocks surrounding the stage - lower but more concentrated than those at Houston - are converted into 80,000 square metres of projection screen, using images from hand-painted plates in Pani projectors and laser animation by Claude Lifante from eight 20 and 30 watt argon lasers.
For this concert, Jarre's music and images are more integrated than before. A huge animated creature with a solitary dancer in the centre of its framework of poles, pulleys and decoration is re-created in lasers on the side of one building - animated graphics of steel drums accompany the Caribbean steel band on Calypso - and the image of Jacques Cousteau gazes down, giving spiritual approval to the event (he is actually in China, from where he delivers a telephone message of congratulation in the early hours of the following morning).
Monsieur J Rouveyrollis is in charge of lighting - using 200 Arena xenon projectors to create a subtle architecture of colours over the great expanses of glass, metal and concrete, while 16 DCA projectors create a constant light show in the Parisian sky. A spectacular firework display, realised by Daniel Azancot, accompanies the show, while the huge surfaces of the Arc de la Defense are used to create a coloured backdrop for each piece.
TV coverage is a major part of the exercise. The TV transmission and the video are able to highlight parts of the concert almost invisible to the spectators - not least Jarre himself, a tiny coloured blur dwarfed by the sheer scale of his staging. Perhaps inevitably, the show is due to be followed by a live album - the whole event being recorded on an Akai DR1200 digital multitrack machine synchronised to the timecodes running the entire spectacle.
The public (around 1.5 million people) watch the spectacle from the opposite side of the Seine. Twelve video screens relay images from the stage while 300kW of amplification assure clear sound reproduction, even at the most distant points, of Denis Vanzetto's powerful but precise sound mix.
On stage, Jarre is accompanied by his usual group - musician and design engineer Michel Geiss, ex-Space Art member Dominique Perrier, Sylvain Durand, ex-Korg demonstrator Francis Rimbert, and Frederic Rousseau on synthesisers, Guy Delacroix on bass, Dino Lumbruso on percussion, and Christophe Deschamps on drums. The band is joined by a group of Arab classical musicians, Al Mawsili, for a version of Revolutions, by a choir for Rendezvous; and by the steel band, The Amoco Renegades, who play on Waiting For Cousteau.
With an eye to promotion (amongst any artist's main reasons for touring), the concert offers a retrospective of Jarre's discography. There's substantial re-arrangement of each piece too - Oxygene 4, for instance, opens with new Atari sequences, and this increased sophistication is particularly noticeable on Ethnicolor, Zoolook and Revolutions.
The set of calypsos which comprise the first side of Cousteau and integrate synthesisers and steel band, would probably not have sustained interest for the length of an album. Enthusiasts of the ambient side, however, should note that there's around 47 minutes of this material on CD as compared to around 27 on vinyl. While some may find themselves waiting for the piece to start while it's fading out, others will see it as archetypal Jarre, a logical development of his early works. This ambient style isn't particularly suited to concert performance though, and only gets a brief look in the opening of the show. At La Defense, Jarre and his group perhaps reach the ultimate definition of a "city in concert". The technical realisation, the number of people involved (over 800 technicians alone) and his ability to create an intense atmosphere of celebration in the centre of a metamorphosed urban space demand admiration from the audience. But the requirements of the simultaneous TV broadcast and the priority given to the requirements of the video crews on stage are to the detriment of the crowd's enjoyment. While around 2000 invited VIPs sit close to the stage, the majority of the audience stands for several hours to get any sort of view, and the concert doesn't finish until after the last metro trains have departed, leaving many stranded in a rather bleak and uninviting section of central Paris.
The term "concert", however, remains inadequate to describe this global television spectacular which, after the first magical moments, perhaps sacrifices emotion for the sake of scale. Jarre has certainly exploited the potential of the concept he inaugurated at Houston; perhaps he now needs to develop a different setting for his music, in case overfamiliarity with the televised side of the concept begins to give his audiences the idea that they have seen it all before.