Jean-Jaques Perry Interview
Since its beginning, electronic music has touched many aspects of art,but popular electronic musician Jean-Jacques Perrey has, apart from having worked with such stars as Edith Piaf, Charles Trent and Walt Disney, really been the pioneer of popular electronic music. With Gershon Kingley he made probably the most humorous and innovative records of the '60's and '70's, long before the likes of Kraftwerk the Detroit techno originators. So take your chance to meet him.
Jean-Jacques is here, from France, talking to Fly!
Why did you start to make music?
It's by a combination of circumstances, when I was Four, an accordion was offered to me, and I've always lived with music because my parents, without being musicians were music lovers. Moreover, all along my studies I was really intrigued by sound, and I played in some students orchestras that could not be compared to today's groups! I was a member of an orchestra based on the Ray Ventura style (jazz pop moodorchestra... quite popular in France for their christmas songs and stuff like that). I stopped my medical studies because I was possessed by the 'musical virus', I've always dreamed about playing violin on a keyboard, it's a crazy idea that was realized the day I discovered the Ondioline, invented by Georges Jenny. I like classical music as much as romantic music, and old or baroque, it just need to be well done and seriously! There are three kinds of music: good, bad, and mine!
If I understand properly, the Ondioline was your way to put in concrete form your desire to play strings on a keyboard?
Yes, but at that time. Now I've passed beyond that.
By which root have you begun to play your own music, because you're as competent in a 'classical' style as in a more experimental one?
I'm not competent because I've never learned music. With Edith Piaf as with Charles Trenet, I did what I felt with the Ondioline. They just gave me few directions during the repetitions. I used my very good musical memory, and one day, Trenet advised me to never learn music because it will distort my ear! At that time, I showed the Ondioline in big European fares, and everywhere people were enthusiastic, except in Paris where they didn't like hearing some banjo or saxophone sounds coming from a keyboard. It ended up that one day Cocteau said to me 'I'll never have a career in France, because unfortunately french people are not open to these kind of things'. So, on Edith Piaf 's initiative, I contacted Caroll Bratman, who, having wanted me to come in the USA, sent to me a plane ticket on which it was simply written COME! Then I began to develop my system of sounds putting in loops as Pierre Schaeffer had shown it to me. He was only doing serious contemporary music, I wanted to adapt that principle to a more humorous and commercial music to get closer to the Anglo-Saxon public. Next, the Americans gave me the opportunity to have all the electronic instruments possible and conceivable and a studio for my researches.
So, it's this instrument that has allowed you to realise what you really want?
Yes because I have been to USA with it, and it was a real success! When I arrived, I've did television shows that an incredible success in New York, Philadelphia and Hollywood. So, it's because of the ondioline that I started. I used it during a certain period and since then I've always used it on my records.
Why was the USA more favourable to your work than France? Don't you think that in the 60's, there existed a sort of euphoria due to the emergence of new technologies that were becoming more accessible to all, and do you think that in a way, your music reflected that atmosphere?
Yes, that's it. At that time, I approached the french majors but they didn't want to know. They said my music was too 'avant-garde'. Big American advertising agencies gave chances to young people: "We give you what you need to prove yourself, if it goes right, we keep you, if not, bye-bye." And it worked! These people were really open to new sounds, to musical innovation. We could do really crazy things with the Ondioline like with the Moog synths. After that I collaborated with Walt Disney for some short animated movies and with some strange movie directors for some sci-fi movie soundtracks.
In Computer Music Journal, you say that the Ondioline is a 'low-cost' instrument, as with many analog instruments. Do you think that digital has totally replaced analogical or is it preferable that both co-habit and that each of them be used for its own possibilities and not in a spirit of competition?
It's what I do. I've always used both. I use digital when it's necessary and you HAVE to use it in production, but it's not a reason for me leaving analog instruments because I think they've got a certainy the 'Ondes Martenot' and the Ondioline. Technology gives technical progress but forsakes other emotions. We have to rediscover the sensibility that makes the instruments speak to the heart and to the soul of the listeners. That's why I advise the new generation of electronic musicians to work hard and not to be ruled by the sound capacities of the machines.
With the emergence of such a network as the Internet, frontiers are in a way 'opened up', and numerous groups play live on the net such as the Future sound of London.
I can say that nationalism makes me feel sick. Please, open us to worldwide music. French majors are very closed minded, they don't want to take any risks. They just sign people that are sure to make them a lot of money and during this time, young artists can't find a label! France is really stupid. Don't think I'm french, I am an Earth citizen! We have to go beyond our state context in which we're considering living, because we're simply human-beings.
I prefer the openness of the Anglo-Saxon, or of the Japanese who, at the same time they're traditionalists, are open to all. A lot of Japanese are learning piano in Tokyo and they have tutors that are competent as European ones. Japanese can adapt themselves more than Latins (Europeans of the south). Moreover, Latins in a way will disappear because they live in the Middle-Age during which time the Anglo-Saxons and the Japanese are living in the future. The world is arbitrarily split into three parts. Those who are retrograde, those who are stable as the Anglo-Saxons and those who are living in the future as the Asiatics do, that's at least what I think.
I've read, again in Computer Music Journal, that you've worked on links between music and sleep. What's this about?
That's another thing, it's a more precious domain, as I'm perfectionist, I always give all of myself in what I undertake.So, I've done experiments in Canada, on Vancouver's island, with scientists, physicians and american doctors, we have worked with dolphins. The problem with man is that he always wants to impose on the dolphins his own language, so we searched at the opposite end of that. We wanted to understand the dolphin language for trying to communicate with them, and we succeeded, not by an oral way but with basics elements. We have learned a lot of things about the brain because these animals have a brain very similar to ours and has the same reactions. With that, we have made conclusions on the acoustical side and we have composed, in the USA, some complex music to 'drive' people to sleep and relaxation. These music was tested in psychiatric hospital's, on 'mad' people. I've0 made a music that I don't want to commercialise, I keep it for those who'll give me the chance to release it in a serious way, and I think it will be possible in the UK. Medicine in France is like the music, people are so 'closed', I haven't the right to release it there because it is considered as a paramedical work and it needs lots of authorisation. Till then, the complex has evolved and I'm now ready to record it in a country where people would be able to use it for people who really need it. I don't do business.
This isn't a New-Age trend?
Not at all, it's my contribution to serious researches, medical and psychological. It's a tribute that I pay to society and I really don't want to hear about a remuneration.
And so Mr Perrey, a final word?
Don't forget to be happy!