Culture today is more than ever a key to sustainable development, says Jean-Michel Jarre, who is goodwill ambassador of UNESCO. The musician regrets that “the administrative monster” of Europe culture relegates to the background. He paid tribute to France to promote “cultural exception” on a universal scale.
Hello Jean-Michel Jarre. Needs no introduction to you. Two words for me, I just Eastern Europe and many of my contemporaries the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Jean Michel Jarre has changed our lives. You accelerated the fall of the Berlin Wall. Are you aware?
I was conscious afterwards. Because when we do things we do not realize that by definition of the impact they may have. It is true that, from the beginning of my work, I’ve had letters that came from Eastern Europe, the countries of the East who experienced the Soviet dictatorship, letters that have affected me much and encouraged. That is to say that my music was perceived from the outset as a symbol of escape, freedom, banned in countries on the other side of the wall, especially in Russia, Soviet Union. This gave extra meaning to my work as designer and musician. And from the outset, I have developed personal relationships with a number of countries, with Bulgaria, which was one of the first countries where people have sent me letters of encouragement. Paradoxically, as well as in my own country. This is something that has obviously touched me, part of my DNA somehow.
You even move further east, I think of China, you have done concerts in developing countries, I think the concert at the Pyramids of Egypt, what attracts you to these places , is to showcase the cultural heritage of humanity?
Several things. The music I make, electronic music, when I started, was not as popular today. And the issue was quickly asked: how to stage, how to play, how to interpret it? I’ve always been quite involved in the ecology and importance of the environment, and it seemed interesting to link the music to the spaces and places. And also to the time of night, like the travelers, set up his tent and disappear the next. For me it has always been this traveling and poetic side of travel with its mystery, as with his hand strength. This is not a paradox: the ephemeral is what remains most in your heart.
It is also the kind of things I wanted to share with the public: be in tune with their environment, coming toward them. This is what also brought me closer to UNESCO and the importance that UNESCO had, has and will in fact clearly identify a number of places in the world that are part of our memory collective, global, our identity as earthlings, beyond borders, it must not only maintain, but to live. And me as a creator, what interested me not to consider these places as dead stones or have a museum approach places on which a cheese is put, because all these places been built at the time that society benefits in one way or another:, religious or civil societal, whatever. And so suddenly, it’s something that I wanted to celebrate. And then the music, not the song, is by definition a language that is universal. And so I found myself with invitations, this was not necessarily the projects I had in mind, from cities and countries that offer me to concerts in a few special places, which of course are always human adventures. They are artistic adventures, but they are also human adventures, whether in China, Egypt, Africa, America, Russia, the Eastern too, where I have very strong links with Bulgaria, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary – these are countries that rely heavily for me.
It’s been 20 years that you are a goodwill ambassador of UNESCO. This is apparently a work that has brought you a lot?
I am always suspicious of artists who jump on causes, and often it is something ambiguous, because I do not think it is the role of artists to transform their political platform scene. I think these are two different professions. However, I think that from the moment you have a contact to the public, we have a responsibility, and there is a number of things that can transmit through his creation.
What I was immediately attracted to UNESCO when the Director General Federico Mayor then asked me to be UN ambassador for UNESCO, is that this is the only organization which is non-political and able to think about the problems that will arise in 25-30 years, that is to say, to think about the medium term and long term. And this in a world where it is reflected in the very short term.
This is true for policies that are caught in the elections for the bosses of big companies that are in the budget deadlines, while UNESCO has the power to consider the problems of humanity objectively. This is something that I liked and I decided to devote myself, to devote part of my time, and just to support the values of UNESCO, the UNESCO campaigns in my daily life. That is to say that whenever I have the opportunity to talk, to promote the ideas of UNESCO, to raise awareness as UNESCO has a somewhat abstract image for street people.
As I was early involved in environmental issues, one of my first album called Oxygen  and it was not much at the time to get involved, to become interested in the environment. We see that today we got that everyone is aware of the environment and the fact that it is better to pay attention to the planet for future generations. Even if everything is not perfect, we did it.
And I think it’s the same thing with regard to education. Today, education is a priority as the ecology has been there thirty years. I would say that three important things for the future, to paraphrase Irina Bokova, our CEO, is education, education and education.
But is the world better now? Will it still have a skull out of the earth’s crust, as on the cover of Oxygen your disc?
It is latent. What I like in this painting by Michel Granger, this is an image that is not necessarily pessimistic. It is rather a question: where do we do? This is the problem that is exacerbated by one of the taboos of our society, which is the demographic problem. It is through education that we come to understand natural disasters, to reduce religious extremism, and to better control the population, which is something we do not talk enough in my opinion.
All these issues are causes dear to UNESCO, which have priority, I would say even more, which are essential, and that is why I am extremely pleased that today the CEO at the head of the UNESCO is a woman. And such a woman Irina Bokova that I, for lots of reasons embodies what must be one of the great intellectual leaders of this world. That is to say, of doing politics in the Greek sense of the term, thinking about the future of the company, the future of our children and future generations. And also because it is Bulgarian. This is something that is interesting for me too. Why? Because all the countries of the East have known almost a century of pain, suffering century. But we know that what does not kill you makes you stronger. And I am always struck by the wisdom of Eastern Europe, beyond Bulgaria, all countries of the East. The Eastern rightly I might almost say a mediator role in the intellectual, precisely because of what happened in the twentieth century, to be some kind of connection, almost on the level of affect, between East and West, and between the North and the South.
And I think that it is a woman, the only woman who is at the head of UN organizations, is something essential. And I think Irina Bokova is totally in tune with the way we will have deal with the problem of education, the issue of equality and the treatment of women, children, of course, the problem of ecology, water problem, culture too.
And that brings us to the role of the European Union in relation to culture. I think the culture today is more than ever a key to sustainable development. And, beyond culture, the concept of intellectual property. That is to say, the famous concept of the cultural exception is extremely discussed in Europe today, and that Mr. Barroso took position [in the negotiations for the Transatlantic Partnership on Trade and investment].
We see that this is a very shaken by the whole evolution of the Internet connection, etc.. Do not forget one thing is that intellectual property is one of the foundations of democracy and the rights of creators to make a living from their work is something that concerns everyone. In every family there are children, brothers and sisters who want to be filmmakers, musicians, photographers, artisans, architects, etc.. Their creation is the identity of the future. It’s been like that since humans are on this planet. So this is not just a problem of copyright, it is not a financial problem – who will win money. This is much broader than that. It is also the survival of some developing countries. That is to say people who are plundering the wealth today in the world of advertising, fashion, often without knowing it, without recompense to the communities in need.
And I think Europe has a role to play, because it was and still is ahead of those questions. How to respect the culture and how that culture is one of the pillars of our societies, it is Europe that has always been at the forefront of this process, and it has to continue. With the Chinese, with Asia, with the United States, and also have this discussion between North and South. And UNESCO, of course, is at the center of these discussions.
And when we talk so much parity, it is time also to apply to the head of various organizations. That is why the presence of Irina Bokova at the head of UNESCO is so essential today.
The European Union is not it too compartmentalized in its division of labor, because the Development Commissioner is not responsible for the cultural dimension?
I am deeply European, but Europe is not Brussels. I would say by this that Brussels suffers nightmares utility of each country in addition to the city as a mille-feuille. We suffer, each too much administrative complexity. And Brussels is the administrative complexities countries added together. So it’s totally Kafkaesque. With people of good will who do not understand them, which paralyze each other, and that European decisions are a muddle of vacillations and often footholds in the carpet. Nevertheless Europe advance, but it does not advance at all to the speed at which it should move forward. And it is clear that everyone is full of good intentions, but it gave birth to a monster, with the administrative system in Brussels. We wanted to control what must remain specific by definition. This shows the extreme in European countries so caricatured because it is obvious that it is not the solution.
Obviously that culture is at the center of it all. Culture, by definition, is the specificity of each. It’s yours, it’s mine, it’s one of our children is that of our parents. And we can not apply the same principles and approach culture as we approach the agriculture, industry or any other sector of society. And, hence, culture is secondary. Because it is not in the DNA of political culture to the foreground. This has never been. It has often been in growing companies, so it is a bad sign for us. The more we bring culture into the background, the more we will decline.
While paying tribute to my country, France, which so clumsy sometimes, which is not the case right now, but has been in our history, I must say, it has highlighted the culture so flamboyant and so visible. There are many things that might work better in France, but I support our position vis-à-vis culture, that is to say, to make culture an exception, not a French cultural exception, but be in the company culture is unique and should be considered in exceptional circumstances. You must understand once and for all that the culture is one of the foundations of democracy, one of the pillars of freedom, one’s identity. And in defending our culture, we defend the culture of others. And when France says “attention, cultural exception exists,” it is not the French cultural exception which must be considered separately. Distribute books, movies and music, it’s not like yogurt distribute or endive. Although the problem of endives and yoghurt also a problem even in Brussels.
What about the music? Besides, I’m not sure if the vinyl does not have a better sound quality than MP3 or CD. You who invented musical instruments ought to know?
Indeed there is a paradox that is born at the advent of the CD, which is that the vinyl had flaws, but was a very good quality. We were introduced to the CD as the Holy Grail of the product and sound reproduction that would be ideal, but we realized that this was not the case, it was rather the 78 digital, and c ‘was worse than vinyl. Then came the MP3, which was worse than the CD. So there has been a regression in each other’s way, which eventually changed the ear, good or bad does not matter, but it has changed. And at the same time from a technological point of view, recording studios, for movies it’s the same thing, have evolved. There is a lag between increasingly important quality a player can have in a studio and how his music will be heard.
But it will be balanced. The music of the future will necessarily go through a great upheaval in the way of listening. Today we are in the digital age, as at the time of the last century, when listening to a gramophone. With MP3, we are in a situation of digital Gramophone. The 21st century, I hope and I believe, will allow to explore more subtle and relevant ways to appreciate the sound and the picture in general.
As to the music itself?
And instruments as extraordinary as the laser harp?
Course. I think the violin will change considerably. We already see with what is happening with tablets, we can do now in the Thalys, when we go from Paris to Brussels. This new violin-related digital access will facilitate the creation for everyone. I think the democratization of tools will also enable the democratization of creation.
What makes you want? Making music in space?
There are a few years Arthur Clark, the author of 2001 – A Space Odyssey, with which I was very friend, told me, “thou there need you to do a concert on the moon one day” . I replied: “Arthur, this is not serious, on the moon there is no atmosphere, the sound can not be broadcast. “He said:” No, but you find a way, I know it will happen one day. ”
So I do not know, but there are so many places and places on earth, also related to UNESCO among other things, there is much to create, and to succeed on this planet before venturing into other … But you never know …