A mix of the outdoors and electronic music
Environmental activism and music combine in legendary electronic musician Jean-Michel Jarre’s new 52-minute album Amazônia. Jarre’s album, made to accompany Brazilian artists Sebastião Salgado’s newly released photography and multimedia project documenting the Amazon rainforest, combines binaural beats, natural sounds and ethnographic noises to form a haunting but fresh soundscape. Amazônia’s immersive listening experience allows the listener to step into a damp, dark world of rain, throaty vocals and grainy beats that match Salgado’s bleak but black-and-white photographs of the Amazon.
A pioneer in the experimental, new-age and electronic music genre, Jarre has been consistently releasing music since the 1970s, when his groundbreaking Oxygène album hit the electronic music scene. He is well-known for his accompanying studio art projects and large concert venues of a million or more people. As an established and respected musician in the industry, he has been given the moniker of the “godfather” of electronic progressive music. Amazônia comes after an almost 50-year-long career of releasing electronic music.
Amazônia is an album that needs to be listened to with headphones. Nine tracks long, the listening experience kicks off with a plane-like noise that flies into people’s right ear and traverses the brain to exit on the left. This is one of the cool features of the album: binaural beats that break the listener’s grasp on their world and brings them into a real-life, moving soundscape.
The eerie ethnographic sound bites, paired with Jarre’s selection of natural noises, make the album feel like a love letter, or even a eulogy, to the forest—a melancholy remembrance of something that is soon to be lost. Altogether, it is a mournful, borderline moving piece that achieves its mission of bringing the listener into the Amazon.
Stand-out tracks include “Amazônia, Pt. 3”, a song that begins with a simple and beautiful electronic tune that then descends into a myriad of drums, bird calls and crickets, humming, and gourd instruments. “Amazônia, Pt. 4” is a fun, short track that begins with a more conventional beat that then builds an ethnographic song sample on top of it. To round off the album, Jarre concludes with “Amazônia, Pt. 9”, an epic and intense track that weaves natural noises into a stunning high-frequency chorus of voices broken up by a rain-fall interlude and the quiet but poignant monologue of a man speaking into the microphone.
Despite the beauty of Amazônia and the powers of transportation it holds, it does not quite reach the level of the compact, layered and rich sound of Oxygène, or the more mysterious dance beats of his Equinoxe album. Amazônia is less of a cohesive unit or story and more just, well, sounds. Unlike his earlier work, which is compelling to listen to even 40 t0 50 years later, this album feels more like a collection of clips that, while distinct and captivating on their own, don’t fully blend. This album is well-suited for a quiet respite and pairs perfectly with Salgado’s project, but it is not his magnum opus performance.