Jean-Michel Jarre talks music production and the future of immersive audio

One hour outside of Paris, somewhere on the Seine, stands a chateaux which boasts more Moogs and Mellotrons than you can shake a stick at. But that’s not even the half of it. As I step foot into this electronic music haven, I reflect on the first time Jean-Michel Jarre and I met, almost exactly 10 years ago - in his green room at Wembley Arena in 2013 where, unannounced, I wandered in and asked him for an interview. Somewhat surprised to see me sat on his sofa before he made it from the stage, the electronic music pioneer was a true gent, and gladly gave me 15 minutes.

I asked him what his vision was for the future of electronic music, and will always remember his reply, and how true it became: “In my opinion, the next step [for electronic music] is to mix analogue synths with digital equipment. We have already carried out a number of experiments such as comparing new ‘virtual’ Mellotron sounds against the original, and the difference was amazing. It’s like playing a Stradivarius and having the sound of a violin on a virtual synth; two different worlds.”

As I sit down with Jarre today, this time in his beautiful studio, he smiles as I remind him of that moment. I ask him if he has a habit of making such profound predictions…

“Well, maybe… [laughs] It’s kind of a living animal, this place, with all the chaotic vibes that it defines,” Jarre reflects, waving an arm towards the control room which houses an abundance of analogue kit. And that’s not including the ‘museum’ of equipment I’ve been gawking at in the adjacent room prior to this interview. “I always thought of this as a place of constant mutation and change; soon I’m moving into another studio quite close to here, and re-designing and repurposing the old cabin.”

Conversation turns to Oxymore, Jarre’s latest project, which is based on an idea he had to pay tribute to the roots of electronic music and the continental European way of doing electro acoustic and electronic music.

“Everything in these genres started in Continental Europe - in Germany, France, and Italy; it was nothing to do with the jazz, rock or blues from the US,” Jarre insists. “We have this heritage from classical music where we were not trapped into the pop format of three minutes, and with this kind of approach – especially in France – people such as Pierre Henry are in my opinion the real pioneers.

“The way we are doing music these days is actually directly linked to what they did in the late ‘40s, where people suddenly felt that it could be cool to introduce noise into orchestral sounds and combine that with the field recording process – mixing sounds of nature or the city with orchestral sounds or electric sounds.”

So some of these classical composers were way ahead of their time, then?

“Indeed. In the late ‘40s they created more or less everything we are doing now,” nods Jarre. “For example, Stravinsky was avant-garde, and then 30 years later his music became classical. While their music is maybe not that popular these days, the way that they defined the grammar and vocabulary of contemporary music, and the way we’re producing music now, is the key.

“Whether it’s hip-hop or rock or electro or techno, we’re all integrating noises into our music. These guys were at the origin of all this by saying ‘okay, we could mix the sound of a bird with a clarinet, or the sound of a washing machine with percussion’. This was totally crazy back then, and nowadays it’s a common approach to music production.”

Oxymore - which has been cut in stereo, binaural, and Atmos - comes from the word oxymoron: the idea of joining two elements which have nothing to do with each other to create something unexpected; that, Jarre insists, is what the roots of electronic music is all about.

“Electronic music started with people like Karlheinz Stockhausen in Germany stealing some filters off oscillators from radio stations made for maintenance, not made for music, and making music with them. The same goes with recording – noises from nature, cities, or the human body have been mixed with orchestral sounds or electric instruments. This is an oxymoronic approach in itself, so I thought it could be quite cool to conceive an entire album around this concept.

“When I did Oxygène (Jarre’s third studio album, released in 1976), I had no references because electronic music was really only just beginning. My references back then were more linked to movies or paintings than music. With Oxymore it was the same; I composed music for the first time not in stereo, but in multichannel 360.

“I learned from studying some of these great pioneers that stereo doesn’t exist in nature. When I’m talking to you, I’m talking to you in mono, or when a bird is singing it is mono; it’s the environment around us and our human ears which create our perspective of the audio, and ironically the audio technology today is allowing us to go back to a very natural way of listening to music.”

So we’ve essentially been compromising, listening to music in stereo for so long?

“For centuries, we have had a 2D relationship with music. When you are composing for a symphonic orchestra you have the violin on one side, the percussion in the centre, and the winds on the other side,” Jarre explains. “In a studio, we’ve had two speakers in front of us; at concerts, we’ve had the stereo PA system in front of us. It’s the same relationship that a painter has with a canvas. But with 360 and multichannel, these days you can go inside the music – it’s almost like the difference between a painting and a sculpture, in a sense.”

We chat about the challenges and indeed trends in releasing new music today. Although this isn’t yet the case across Europe, certainly within the major labels here in the UK, after completing a stereo production and mix (as standard), that song or piece of music will more than likely need to be re-mixed and released in an immersive format. Universal Music Group has been a huge adopter of this process after partnering with Apple on its Spatial Audio initiative.

As forward-thinking - and successful - as this has proven so far, there is still a long way to go: on the one hand, there is a huge demand for these mixes, but on the other, there is a serious lack of education in immersive mixing full stop, and there are very few ‘great’ Amos mix rooms. It ultimately means that immersive mixes can differ in quality in sometimes volcanic proportions.

Jarre acknowledges this, pauses for a few seconds, and offers a creative curveball:

“For me, that process [of taking stereo and making it immersive] is a little bit like putting colours on a black and white movie. The game-changer is actually to conceive and compose the music from scratch in 360, which is of course something totally different in terms of the composition and production process, because suddenly you have to deal with a completely different space. I’ve always been obsessed since my early days with the relationship between music and space, and suddenly to be able to do an orchestral arrangement in space is like putting audio planets around your head. This is what Oxymore is all about.

“With 360, we as musicians still have a lot of limitations: Dolby Atmos, for example, was designed and developed as a device for the movie industry. Spectators can have the dialogue in front of them with the music and sound effects on each side and at the back. As musicians, we are much more egocentric; we need to have an equidistant relationship between everything, so actually even Dolby Atmos these days is not made for us.

“So for Oxymore, we actually had to adapt a technology not made for us. We’ve seen this never ending story of musicians hijacking technology which has not necessarily been developed for them, but then creating their own style from happy accidents that occur as a result of this ‘hijacking’ approach.”

The Immersive Road Ahead

Jarre says that 2023 is going to be exciting with regard to immersive performances due to a unique relationship he has built with CODA Audio, utilising its bespoke SPACE HUB technology for his live shows.

SPACE HUB makes it simple and straightforward to tailor sound to any space, and has a focus on time coherence as well as improved localisation of sound sources and spatial stability. According to CODA, immersive is only truly possible with phase-aligned sound, and SPACE HUB makes it possible to reproduce the sort of detail needed for human ears, which are perfectly equipped to detect spatial differences. If the phase-alignment isn’t precise, your ears and your brain know something is not right in the immersive sound system.

When Jarre was first introduced to CODA and its people, he instantly clicked with a shared ethos in that music is ‘not flat anymore’, and that we as an industry must try to create a different relationship with listeners, even if it’s with just one speaker.

“CODA is in sync and in phase with not only my expectations, but my opinion of the way we would like to receive and enjoy music these days: not being in front of the music, but being inside it,” declares Jarre. “To share with the audience this idea that when I’m composing, I’m actually inside the music, is a feeling and an emotion I’ve always hoped to convey. I’ve been really quite impressed by the fact that every piece of equipment in the CODA range is based on the idea that you forget the technology, and you forget where the sound is coming from – because this is the true magic of music.

“With CODA, even with just two speakers, you don’t feel like you’re trapped by the limitations of stereo. I think the company has a vision that’s very in sync with current times, and the conversations we’re having about immersive worlds and VR and the metaverse are testament to that. We forget that sound is much more important for human beings than visuals for giving the true feeling of immersion: the visual field is 140 degrees, and audio is 360 degrees, so when you’re in the middle of the metaverse, sound is crucial.”


Jarre recently performed a show at MIDEM in Cannes which I was fortunate enough to witness: a 16.1 CODA N-Ray system immersed the audience ‘in the round’ quite spectacularly. This was achieved using CODA Audio’s SPACE HUB immersive processor, and was the first major performance using the manufacturer’s latest technology.

The speaker setup offers CODA’s signature linear-phase and precise transient response, as well as embracing time alignment to provide a complete 360-degree soundstage. Or in simple terms: the movement between the speakers is smooth and realistic, with no audio hopping around or audible phase issues which might ruin the experience.

“For Oxymore, and for future projects, I’m actually inviting the audience to be inside the music, and trying to create environments where listeners are surrounded by speakers. I’ve been working with CODA to follow up a number of ideas and to develop this ecosystem, because it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. My priority as a musician is to share my music today, and so we have to find some tricks or hijack again in order to push our creativity. I’m very enthusiastic about being able to share my music in such an efficient way emotionally.

“You have lots of people justifying what they’re doing by the technique they are using, but at the end of the day the only thing that matters is the resulting content, which is completely dependent on the technology you’re using.”

Jarre sees CODA as a very interesting company because of its creative approach to loudspeaker technology. CODA’s SPACE Panels - which were recently showcased to great effect by Jarre himself at the ISE Show in Barcelona, are a great example.

SPACE Panels provide immersive 3D audio within customisable 4K screens using ultra-flat speaker modules, which fit within the 70mm-deep design. They also incorporate acoustical treatment within, and paired with CODA’s LINUS amplification, can provide a top notch 3D audio experience pretty much anywhere - including a tricky demo room, as proven at the ISE Show, where the panels featured projections as well as artwork from Jarre’s Oxymore album.

“CODA believes that in the future, loudspeakers should be part of our day-to-day life, and one way of doing this is making the technology invisible,” Jarre says. “This fits into this idea in modern times where we’re thinking about purity, and respecting the environment. CODA’s SPACE Panels sound absolutely fantastic – as good as the most sophisticated sound systems available, and they also have built-in absorption. The panels are so thin, making them nearly invisible; you can even project visuals onto them, and they really do have amazing acoustic properties.

“My dream for my next video is to have this kind of equipment in my own environment. I don’t think it should necessarily replace the fact that speakers should be visible, because it’s nice to have a visual reference - but then sometimes it’s not, and with this technology CODA is unique in offering me as an artist the choice between both. Being big and being ambitious is not the same, and CODA is a company that is ambitious with the concept of ‘less is more’, which is what I really like.”

Jarre is clearly still as much a pioneer now as he was at the start of his career, and this new CODA relationship looks set to keep him at the absolute forefront of audio technology. I am about to put my final question to him, asking what the next technological trends may be, but he is already one step ahead of me:

“I’m convinced that with the emergence of the metaverse and the development of VR and XR (Extended Reality), this is going to be the the way of producing music in the next few years; I think we’ll look back at stereo with the same nice feeling we get when we see a gramophone, and the mono technology that our grandparents had [smiles]. In the next 10 years, we’ll see immersive become the stereo of the 21st century. And once again, a company like CODA is totally in sync with modern times and requirements in that respect, technology-wise but also with ecology in terms of our relationship with energy. That will be the next game-changer.”