Jean Michel Jarre — Music for supermarkets. Story behind one-copy album
“In a time when everything is standardized, overbroadcast, a time when we are endlessly overinformed, saturated with sounds and images, it seemed to me worthwhile to demonstrate that a record is not only a piece of merchandise without value, infinitely multipliable, but it can be, like a painter’s picture or a sculptor’s bronze, an integral part of a musician’s creation. Francis Dreyfus, President of my recording company, has accepted the challenge of introducing a single album outside the usual channels, and in this way he shows that a business can be creative, can recognise the artist’s identity and even be humouristic about it. Hurray for supermarkets! Our environment is a supermarket: crossbreeding of merchandise, blending of consumer and cashier, everything is for sale, everything is commonplace, everything fades, everything is altering — our food, our language, our roots. The supermarkets may well be the galleries and the museums of tomorrow. The music for everybody can also be be the music for each of us individually.” Jarre, 1983.
Here it isn’t the music itself that sounds interesting, sometimes it’s too poppy or avant-garde, but the history of the album itself. In 1983, the pioneer of electronic music Jean Michel Jarre was already recognised as a legend: instrumental albums Oxygène and Équinoxe, that at first seemed incomprehensible to many labels, went gold (over 100,000 copies sold in France and other European countries); in July 1979, he gave a free concert on Bastille Day — hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the Place de la Concorde in Paris and millions watched it on TV; the sales of the two albums skyrocketed. (Mick Jagger, after having watched the concert, said ‘’Well, not my kind of music but interesting.’’ :) Finally, Jarre became internationally popular — he was the only foreign musician to visit Communist China that had just started moving away from Maoism. (Instrumental music doesn’t have ideology, so you can bring your own :) In fact, now he could do nothing, have a very idle lifestyle and attend sophisticated parties in the company of his famous wife.
At one time Jarre met with his artist friends, each as young as he was, and found out about an upcoming exhibition dedicated to the fast development of supermarkets, where items from an ordinary shop will be shown in a different light and then sold at auction. The creators only needed a musical accompaniment. Jarre agreed and from February to May he was creating a draft version of the background music in his estate near Paris. Around the same time, he realised that the music that served to present art objects was also an exhibit item and decided to record an album to release it in a single copy that would belong to only one person.
“A single copy for a single buyer, like a painting with a single owner.” said Jarre. The label was horrified. “All the presidents of recording companies were shocked, and my boss in particular.”
But still, Francis Dreyfus, the only person who believed in Jarre’s music titled part 1, part 2 and so on, agreed to press a single copy of the album and destroy its master plates. Jarre announced the auction in public. The media got excited — it was the first time something like this had happened. “Show us at least a small part of the album!” asked journalists. The author smiled and turned on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, which played something different from Oxygène. Later it would be included on the next album Zoolook under the name Diva.
The auction date was set: the 6th of July 1983, 8 pm, Hotel Drouot. In the same place, the items from the exhibition of young artists that had just ended were sold. Programmes and newspapers encouraged everyone: hurry to bid! The media filmed the process unceasingly: the public saw burning master plates from which a single copy was pressed. Someone joked in the hall “Would you have a light my cigarette?” and “Here is a music that heats.” A little bit smoky. The author himself hid behind the scenes, but his wife was observing everything. Now, when the original was gone and there was only one unique copy, they could begin. Starting from 60 francs ($8), the album quickly reached four-digit numbers. Who’ll give more? You? Or you? OK. Three, two, one! Musique pour Supermarché was sold for 69,000 francs ($9000 back then) to an aged monsieur who had woken up after a long coma due to a car accident. The radio had been playing a sad 1981 song Souvenir de Chine by Jarre at that moment. The collector felt indebted to the master and thus he expressed his reverence.
When Jarre announced that a half-hour album would be put on auction, he promised that he would play it on one of the radio stations — and that would be the only time everyone would hear what was on the sensational record. At half past ten, when the auction was over, Jarre went to the office of Radio Luxembourg, which also broadcast in Paris. The DJ introduced the beginning of the first side and the switching to the other side. It isn’t clear whether the author did it on purpose, but he chose an AM station which severely distorted the signal before it reached the listener (as opposed to FM modulation).
This is why all the bootlegs on the Internet contain the rip of the mediocre signal from the station. Jarre laughed on the air: “Pirate me!” (But it was the other way around: fans begged the author — please, monsieur, have some mercy! :)
The master plates were burned but the tapes were left :) The fifth and the seventh parts were included in the next album, the most questionable and unusual of Jarre’s albums, where human speech was used as another instrument, as a sample in addition to electronic instruments. Zoolook became a continuation of Musique pour Supermarché, which turned out to be a precursor to Zoolook (although experiments with the voice had started earlier). The seventh part blended into the album without changes, the fifth part was completed by Laurie Anderson’s performance in a non-existent language. The third part of Musique pour Supermarché was included in one of the chapters of the Rendez-vous album and a cover version of the first part, played by a Danish band, was sold at auction in 1994. The $60 profit was given to UNESCO. Later, there were other offers to record music for an occasion: in 2001 for the opening of a new shop of Bang & Olufsen in Paris, where the guests could buy a disc called Interior music containing the background music around them (leaked on the Internet); in 2003 for the opening of the VIP Room club, which was impossible to get into and the only place where the album was sold (fan sites negotiated with the club, but later Jarre’s label released Geometry of Love itself).
The album cover was made by Bernard Beaugendre, the inner artwork was designed by the eccentric author himself: he came up with an idea of sticking eleven polaroid photos there, showing the creation of the album: from a portrait of the 35 year old creator, through the recording of supermarket sounds, producing, the approval of the cover, discussions with the label and the cutting of the record. The last, the 12th picture, was meant to be added by the lucky owner hugging the author :) According to the data of the past thirty years, the record has been bought twice more.
“The idea was to point the finger at what was becoming the music industry, which had decided to sell records in supermarkets, like pots of yoghurt or toothpaste.” This is the point — the record sold for next to nothing will never appear on shop shelves.