Jean Michel Jarre : "The metaverse is far from just a geek thing"

Who else but him to embark on such a challenge? Jean-Michel Jarre, pioneer of electronic music in France, is currently surveying the mysterious paths of the metaverse. The 73-year-old composer, famous for his grandiose shows and his brilliant “laser harp”, has already performed several concerts in complete immersion in a virtual world, including one, on the occasion of the transition from 2020 to 2021, in a Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral digitized for the occasion. Although he recognizes that the concept still remains abstract for the general public – in France as elsewhere – Jean-Michel Jarre believes that he is facing an innovation comparable to the advent of the Internet or television. According to him, France should not miss this shift which is not only visual but also, of course, sound. Maintenance.

The Express. When did you first come across the term metaverse?

Jean Michel Jarre. The word, perusing author Niels Stephenson’s book, Snow Crash, which originated it. But my real encounter with the metaverse as an artist dates back five years, during a collaboration with the American company TheWaveVR. An Australian artist, Sutu, involved in the creation of a VR platform for the film Ready Player One by Steven Spielberg, had helped me design a new sound and visual environment around my album Equinox Infinity. I gave my very first live immersed in a virtual world.

What did you feel ?

I was surprised to see how quickly we forgot this virtual aspect. I had this same feeling, later, at Notre-Dame and for the project Alone Together [un concert virtuel donné lors de la fête de la musique 2020, NDLR]. I was in the studio, clad in sensors, facing an audience made up entirely of avatars, and yet the state of mind was the same as usual: I was nervous before the show, and I was completely sweaty at the end. It’s the interaction with the audience and the sets that in my opinion totally denote a traditional concert. In a virtual world, without gravity, we can literally see the spectators “take off” around us. There’s a whole game, too, with the lights, the 3D objects that float and brush against us in the atmosphere… It’s a real “augmented” experience for the artist. And I must admit: it is very addictive.

How do you define metaverse?

It is, in my opinion, a multitude of interconnected and independent virtual universes. But in a very simple way, I define the metaverse as the extension of the real world. You can see a “dystopian” side to it, an abandonment of reality, but basically the concept is very old. The first virtual object is the book. With books like The Red and the Black or the saga Harry Potter, we are already used to projecting ourselves mentally into other universes. Virtual reality takes us a step forward. This time, we really get into the work with our double.

The virtual concert given by Jean-Michel Jarre in Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on the occasion of the transition from the year 2020 to 2021.

The virtual concert given by Jean-Michel Jarre in Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on the occasion of the transition from the year 2020 to 2021.

Photo DR

On an artistic level, is this a way for you to return to the gigantic shows, sometimes bringing together up to several million people, which you were once accustomed to?

I’ve never been obsessed with numbers, records. The fact that my concerts have brought together a lot of people is mainly due to the specificity of my music, with a computer or a synthesizer, which is not specially made to be listened to in a room. I also adopted visual techniques related to this electronic music, which pushed me to go outside, to design my own theaters, delimited by the public itself. It is this specificity that led me to the metaverse: I can create a scenography there that would be impossible to recreate in the real world, and invite anyone to come and see it.

You recently partnered with a French start-up, VRrOOm, which develops tools allowing artists to build their own virtual universes. In this context, you insist on the importance of a “French” metaverse. Why ?

Because I think the metaverse represents the future of the 21st century. We are far, in my eyes, from a simple “geek thing”. What I said about music, about the possibility of connecting people from wherever they are, is valid for music, culture and entertainment, and beyond that for all sectors of our daily lives. . I imagine that doctors or researchers who wish to share their knowledge together, to conduct experiments, will be able to build the appropriate universes for this thanks to the metaverse. If France does not position itself quickly, we will become digital colonized. The virtual concert I gave at Notre-Dame went through an American broadcasting platform, VR Chat, over which we have no control, neither the costs, nor the possibility of being censored there. However, I know that in France, and more broadly in Europe, we nevertheless have all the skills to succeed in building our own distribution platforms. This is the key to remaining in control of our works, and more.

Emmanuel Macron has shown an interest in building a European metaverse. Is he on the right track?

I am convinced that the State wishes to take things in hand. The president, whom I met, understands the issues related to the metaverse, the same goes for the new Minister of Culture, Rima Abdul-Malak as well as Bruno Bonnell at the head of the France 2030 program, which comes from video games, created Infogrames, directed Atari… I like the idea of ​​a development of the metaverse as was that of aeronautics and Airbus. 30 or 40 years ago, when we said to ourselves that we could be leaders in these fields, it was surprising. Today, it really is. There was a political will to invest. It’s possible: we need a solid ecosystem, start-ups, but also a sovereign cloud. These are our bridges of tomorrow to build not only the metaverse but also the entire web 3 ecosystem. It is our chance, finally, to introduce ethical principles, related to the environment, intellectual property . And not to let the vision of a single player like Meta (ex-Facebook) prevail.

A Meta that seems to have a great head start, given the colossal investments made by the firm in this area…

But we are lucky, on our side, in France, to count in our ranks excellent companies specialized in the field of virtual reality, augmented reality, and web 3 in general. Beyond VRrOOm, I can cite Backlight, Garou, Pianity, and for the essential graphics engines, a flagship like Ubisoft. The Sandbox is also a fine example of success, even if its main shareholders are not French. We have the brains to build exciting new virtual worlds.

For the time being, access to the metaverse remains limited. Not everyone has helmets or goggles, ideal for total immersion. And the interfaces are, it must be said, quite primary, not to say childish…

In terms of graphic rendering, we are indeed still in the prehistory of the metaverse. The Sandbox, for example, has built an interesting universe, but one that resembles that of Lego. I can understand that people who are not familiar with the concept of metaverse, when they are confronted with it for the first time through this kind of platform, may ask themselves: “what is the link with my daily life?”. But I am confident: tomorrow’s universes will be more and more diversified and sophisticated.

What do you think of the concerts given on Roblox or Fortnite, video games associated with the metaverse?

For the artist, it’s like playing in a country for the first time. We discover a whole new audience. It’s very positive. Now, what is a bit ambiguous is to suggest that the virtual world is only an extension of the video game. The metaverse is neither cinema nor video games, although there are obviously gateways. The metaverse will borrow its graphic engines from video games, and will instead use the narrative principles of cinema, in order to tell stories.

Are we not moving away, in your case, from the music?

I do not believe. When we talk about metaverses and virtual universes, we obviously think of the image. But contrary to the visual field, of 140°, listening is 360°. In reality, we first perceive immersion through sound. I would go even further: the ears open the eyes. In the metaverse, there is therefore great importance to be given to immersive sound techniques. And I find, once again, that France is ahead, thanks to the public service and to Radio France, which is at the origin of many innovations in terms of sound, such as multi-channel spatialization (surround). For my part, I’m working in their studio for my next album designed in multichannel and binaural, which comes closest to natural sound listening. We are moving out of the “stereo” era.

These universes go hand in hand with the development of NFTs and cryptocurrencies. Again, isn’t there the risk of confusing the fans?

The fact of being touched by a work whether it is visual or not, in black and white or in color, will always remain. And when something touches you, you want to keep track of it, a t-shirt, an object, anything. There is this desire to belong to a community, which NFTs respond to perfectly. Personally, I’m quite enthusiastic. They also revalue, for the artist, the notion of the original. I think I created, without knowing it, one of the first NFTs in the 80s, by releasing my album music for supermarket, at auction, only one copy. An act of provocation, at the time, in the mutation between vinyl and CD. These were sold like boxes of Kleenex in supermarkets and it was killing record stores. NFTs also reintroduce the idea of ​​”resale right”, but in an automated way. An artist who sells a work will always be interested in the money it will generate in the future, and he will even be able to receive his share much more easily.

How do you see the future of physical concerts, in this new era of the metaverse?

The metaverse does not call into question the specificity of live performance, shoulder to shoulder, side by side to share a festival, a concert. There is nothing to be afraid of on that side. On a personal level: the Covid episode has changed my perspective. I no longer consider my concerts as I did before. It excites me and interests me, so as not to repeat what I have done. But that’s not the case for everyone. And others will prefer to use augmented reality and not virtual. In any case, the metaverse is not a problem for live performance but a solution. It can give festivals, museums or galleries that are struggling to survive, a new audience, new experiences. It will always be a plus compared to what is already offered, never a “minus”.

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