Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Lifting the lid on Jarre

On Friday Chicane plays London's Koko in support of new album Thousand Mile Stare, whose sleeve photography riffs on the cover of Jean-Michel Jarre's Magnetic Fields (pictured, 1981). It's unusual for anyone to so openly acknowledge the influence of composer Maurice Jarre's son, who became in Britain a figure of French fun - for his marriage to Charlotte Rampling and glorified son et lumière shows around the world.

Unusual, too, to choose to copy this particular image, rather than paying homage to Jarre's early Oxygène (1976) and Equinox (1978) albums, which are granted a grudging pioneering status for fans of electronica, though no way on a par with Kraftwerk, or Depeche Mode for that matter. Perhaps it's not surprising, given the British electronic artist's age that he should be attracted to Magnetic Fields.

It's a melodic, enchanting work, no doubt inspired by Kraftwerk's Trans-Europe Express (1977), the Düsseldorf quartet's best work. After that moment, Jarre became involved in the development of the ungainly, sci-fi laser harp and was set to perform track Rendez-Vous 6 with Ron McNair playing the saxophone live in space, before the astronaut was killed in the Challenger explosion.

A pioneer of the ambient scene - it's difficult to imagine The Orb existing without him, for instance - there have been sporadic attempts to restore Jarre's reputation, not least some stonking Slam remixes in 1994. His influence can be heard in Pet Shop Boys' soundtrack for silent film Battleship Potemkin (notably on track Full Steam Ahead) and in work by other French artists, such as Air.

In 2000, Jarre returned the compliment, on the noticeably Air-y Metamorphoses album, which features Natacha Atlas, Sharon Corr and Laurie Anderson. Anderson had previously featured on oddity Zoolook (1984), with its sample-heavy soundscape, for which the American musician complained she'd never had to sing so high.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Don't cry for me...

On Sunday lyricist Tim Rice was presented with a special Olivier Award for his contribution to musical theatre. For all the sledging of Jesus Christ Superstar, written with Andrew Lloyd Webber, I've always had a soft spot for another of their collaborations: Evita.

The works are notably of their time - Lloyd Webber's music derivative of choral and classical music, plus the worst '70s rock - but the book for Evita is surprisingly representative of historical events. And what an unusual subject to choose, especially compared with Lloyd Webber's later projects, including Starlight Express and The Phantom of the Opera.

Some 20 years after the 1976 musical, Tomás Eloy Martinez tackled Argentina's sainted leader in novel Santa Evita, which was heaped with praise though it didn't add to what I'd learned from Rice-Webber. Perhaps because of this, when I saw Terrence Malick's cold take on the story of Captain John Smith, The New World (2005), I regretted not having seen Disney's Pocahontas (1995), which I hope might be a more emotionally fulfilling version of history. (I still haven't had a chance to see it.)

Monday, 16 April 2012

Get it on, Vallotton

One of the highlights of the €20m refurb to the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, which was unveiled late last year, is the space afforded to the Nabis, including such artists as Bonnard, Denis and Vuillard. The collection highlights the work of Félix Vallotton (1865-1925) - this painting was acquired just last year - who seems to be hugely under celebrated in Britain.

Edouard Vuillard was the focus of a show at London's Royal Academy in 2004 - accompanied by one of the largest catalogues ever - but I can't think of a UK exhibition devoted to his Swiss colleague. The artist has always appealed to me for his illustrative style (check out his woodcuts) and interiors, including Sentimental Discussion (1898) and The Visit (1899). As well as the usual femmes à toilette, Vallotton is especially notable for his depictions of department stores, such as tryptique Le bon marché.

The Musée d'Orsay (pictured) is home to one of his most recognisable works, The Ball (1899), as well as Manet's Olympia, upon which Vallotton riffed in The White Woman and the Black Woman (1913). If you happen to visit before 6 May, the gallery is also currently hosting Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela's icy Lake Keitele (1905), which is owned by the National Gallery, London, and broadcaster Jon Snow's favourite painting.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Neue Slowenische Kun..

On Saturday fearsome Slovenes Laibach appear at Tate Modern. The band's performance is the climax of a day of events at the gallery examining the work of the art collective of which they're part, Neue Slovenische Kunst.

In 2004, Laibach released a greatest hits compilation, Anthems, which included a booklet featuring 'essential' paintings. The accompanying sleevenotes posited their work - bombastic cover versions of such pop fodder as The Final Countdown, Life is Life and Queen's One Vision - as 'ready mades', and now they're appearing at Tate Modern, home to Marcel Duchamp's Fountain.

The terminology shifts the accusations of fascism typically levelled at the band onto the songs themselves. The audience at the last Laibach concert I went to - supporting their album of re-versions of national anthems - was all long leather trenchcoats and sharp haircuts but was less threatening than that at other '80s electro bands' gigs I've been to, notably for Martin Gore and Heaven 17, when a fight broke out.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Dance Dance Dance

Having written about how much I like Gary Numan's early, punk-inspired work, I've become increasingly obsessed with 1981's laidback, jazz-funk outing, Dance (pictured). It features Japan's Mick Karn on bass, two of the first four tracks are nearly 10 minutes long, it only really gets going at the start of side two - with She's Got Claws and Crash - and if you're after any obvious singles, you're best off looking to the the following year's I, Assassin album, and numbers Music for Chameleons, We Take Mystery (To Bed) and White Boys and Heroes.

After Replicas, The Pleasure Principle (both 1979) and Telekon (1980), Dance - the last thing you're likely to do to this album - represented something of a sidestep, artistically and financially. In his 1997 autobiography, Praying to the Aliens, Numan notes that he'd made something like £4.5m by this point. 'Although experimental and atmospheric, commercially speaking, Dance was the wrong album to release at a time when I badly needed to pick momentum,' he says.

The book, written with Steve Malins, recalls in a naive tone Numan's fascination with flying, and other fan-boy activities, alongside long-remembered run-ins and petty feuds. Maybe there's something in the musician's claims of having mild Asperger's. There's quite a lot about the songs' lyrical content but very little on the music itself, though there are some great, double-take lines.

'I think I saw a UFO once on my way home from one of those Dance sessions,' Numan says. And, later: 'The subject matter of the [album's] new songs was full of reflections on the previous two years, but one or two in particular were inspired by a relationship which turned very bitter. In 1980 I had gone out with a particular girl for a few months. She gave me three different names while I was with her, so to this day I'm still not sure what her real name was...'