Interview with Michel Geiss (II)

Michel Geiss
Working on Minitel 3615 JARRE in Jean-Michel’s workshop, Croissy

– Tell us about your memories about the historical concert in Houston.

My artistic collaboration covered a wide range of roles. One more story. Back in summer 1985, as I had not seen Jean-Michel since a while, I decided to invite him to a famous restaurant in a very nice place, in the St-Germain forest, a short distance from Croissy. We had a table in the garden, below the trees, and the weather was splendid.

Shortly after we sat at the table, he said to me: “Michel, it’s a very good idea to meet today! I have something big to tell you! I have just been offered to put together a huge concert in Houston, Texas. And the NASA is involved, as they will celebrate their 25th anniversary. And the city of Houston will celebrate its 150th anniversary”. And so on! I was shocked! And he added: “Michel, I want you to be my partner in the project. And there is a lot to do!”. I immediately became dizzy! That was a major new step in our collaboration. The seed was planted and there was a lot to come!

Later on, he was wondering how to setup a band that would adopt his style of music for the concert. Not a trivial task, as playing electronic instruments is a lot different than playing guitar, piano or saxophone! After we had quickly discarded setting up such a band in the US, though Maurice Jarre had connections with US keyboard players and could have helped, I finally convinced Jean-Michel to work with French musicians. Consequently, I started thinking and proposed Jean-Michel a list of musicians I knew since a while.

Among them, I suggested Jean-Michel calling Francis Rimbert, who Jean-Michel only heard about his demos in music shows. Then, there was Joe Hammer whom I knew since I had worked at Fairlight France, Sylvain Durand, a pianist at the Paris Opera who I knew since we had been doing sports many years before, etc… Christine Durand, his wife at that time was a natural choice as a singer. And so on, Pascal Lebourg, Dino Lumbroso. The only exception was Dominique Perrier who Jean-Michel knew since many years.

- The Houston Concert Band L to R: Joe Hammer, Dominique Perrier, Guy Boucher our stage manager, Sylvain Durand, Francis Rimbert, Pascal Lebourg, Christine Durand, Michel Geiss
– The Houston Concert Band L to R: Joe Hammer, Dominique Perrier, Guy Boucher our stage manager, Sylvain Durand, Francis Rimbert, Pascal Lebourg, Christine Durand, Michel Geiss

About giant images projections with “Panis” (the powerful slides projectors made in Austria), Jean-Michel had previously worked with company “Hold Up” based in Paris, and then with Ere Force (Franck-Luc Dancelme” and was looking for another one, for some reason. As I had seen such projections in Paris with someone who left me his business card, we made a call. It was Arnaud de la Villèsbrunne, who eventually became one of Jean-Michel’s closest collaborators afterwards, besides having been providing the Houston projections.

My involvement in the Houston concert preparation extended to the fact that I visited Ron McNair at his family home during his rehearsals of the music piece he was supposed to play in space.

And it was when I was staying in my hotel in Houston that I had the idea of recording the TV sound in my bedroom. I was quite inspired, as while randomly rotating the channel selector I could catch the sequence your can hear unedited in the “Cities in concert Houston Lyon” CD, after Magnetic Fields: “To celebrate the 150th birthday of the Lone Star State” And: “Jean-Michel Jarre his rehearsing his synthesizer group on the 18th floor of an unfinished skyscraper”.

I also met Michael Woolcock there, the Houston Symphonic Orchestra former musical director, who was, in fact the originator of the whole project (sadly Michael passed away in 2010). He had that idea of calling Jean-Michel to suggest a large outdoor concert to celebrate both the Houston city and NASA anniversaries.

One of his other ideas was to suggest finding a link between the laser telemetry system based at the Mc Donald Observatory and music. At first, it seemed a strange idea, but I was sent there by Jean-Michel to explore the feasibility. Michael drove his car through the desert of Texas, and after a night spent in a ranch of his friends at mid-route, we reached the observatory, near the state of Mexico, without seeing a living soul. A lonely but a fantastic place! After discussions of lasers beams directed to the moon, earth diffraction, atomic clocks, etc…, our conclusion was that whereas the idea was interesting, it was nearly impossible to make it happen in the short period of time I was left. I had to return to France to work on “Rendez Vous”, the album. Anyhow, that was one more amazing experience again!

With JMJ when I received my Platinum Record of Chronologie

However, as I was working with Jean-Michel at his studio in Croissy sur Seine, something terrible happened. On January 28, 1986, as I was in Jean-Michel’s kitchen, the telephone rang. It was Francis Dreyfus calling. He said: “The space shuttle exploded!”. It was like an earthquake! We were only 3 months away from the concert and the main question was “Will the project be cancelled?”. You know the answer. Not only it wasn’t stopped but it became a huge success instead! Anyway terrible news, as I had met Ron Mc Nair with his family earlier!

My artistic collaboration extended to video as well. As another adventure, when Jean-Michel had started working on the editing of the Houston Concert video, I joined him in Hollywood with several flight cases full of audio tapes, to help on the mixing.

– And about the Lyon concert, tell us about this very special show.

The Lyon concert was another more significant example. As the concert date was approaching, Jean-Michel told me that he was really annoyed as no video recording truck was available at that time. I immediately called a friend of mine who was a camerawoman at TF1 television channel. She suggested calling a few names, which I did. One of them, Jean-François Gauthier answered positively and provided the video truck! Consequently, he had been offered the role of film director.

A bit later, Jean-Michel asked me to take care of the full movie editing. I hired a video editing suite in London and Jean-Michel left all tapes in my care and let me go alone. While giving my instructions to the editor all day long, I quickly discovered that I really needed an assistant to keep myself concentrated on the editing, finding the task highly challenging. I called Jean-Michel and suggested hiring an assistant. My thinking was Fiona de Montaignac, whom he didn’t know yet. I had met her in Houston, as she came with her companion, my friend Loïc de Montaignac. At that time, Loïc was working with Jean Poncet whom I suggested to Jean-Michel when arose the idea to display the musical scores on stage. I thought Fiona would do the job, being bi-lingual and a devoted person. It proved to be a very good choice, as she was minded to collaborate, really efficient, and helpful, as well as joyful.

Subsequently, Jean-Michel met Fiona when he joined me later at the editing suite to give his final instructions, and when he returned from London, he eventually decided to hire Fiona as his personal assistant.

The Wersi Delta DX 500 organ
The Wersi Delta DX 500 organ

One more small anecdote. One of the instruments on stage in Lyon was quite intriguing. It was a very rare fully transparent electronic organ lent to me by Wersi (Germany), named “Delta DX 500”, which I had seen earlier in a music exhibition and had asked to the French importer for the concert. Only 5 such instruments have been built in 1970. To get one, you had to draw a check of more than 100.000 US $! But for a Jean-Michel Jarre concert, with the pope as a guest, the deal was more favorable! Quite a stunning and beautiful instrument!

And quite recently, to my surprise, I discovered a picture of the instrument in the newest Daft Punk’s CD booklet! In addition, Jean-Pierre Janiaud is credited in the same album as a sound consultant. Coincidence?

– For the concert of La Defense there were great new arrangements and mixes used for various tracks such as “Equinoxe 4”, “Magnetic Fields 2”, “Rendez Vous 2”, etc, and these arrangements would be used again in the compilation “Images” (in this album you were credited as artistic collaborator once again) Does these arrangements belongs to you?

I have been working on arrangements on Jean-Michel’s behalf, sometimes with people such as Bruno Mylonas (Calypso Remix) which doesn’t mean that they belong to me. It was part of my collaboration to work on arrangements such as those of Rendez-Vous 4 or Chronologie 4, and London Kid (unreleased). However, my remix of London Kid was the version of the song used in Michel Drucker’s TV program “Destination Trocadero”, back in 1989, in relation to “Destination Docklands” and the revolution bicenterary. We were on the Trocadero place, with the Eiffel Tower as the background.

Michel & Hank Marvin
Michel & Hank Marvin

Working on slightly different versions for the concerts was a natural process, as we tried to bring something fresh to the public. At this point, as a general comment, I’d like to mention that to me, one of Jean-Michel’s originalities was for his music to conceive arrangements more in an electro-acoustic way than a traditional one, rather preferring using electronic effects to fill in spaces in themes.

– About the famous no-concert in Mexico-Teotihuacan in July 1991, there are different theories about the causes of the cancellation of the concert, but what was what actually happened? 

I was not aware of the production secrets at the time of the concert preparation, and was a bit disconnected of the project. What I know, is that the concert manager, Albert Varé (who already had the same position at La Défense) lit the red light at a crucial moment: all flight cases were already stored in Jean-Michel’s garage and ready to go in the next hours. I guess that local administrative conditions were not met at the last minute.

Lost City Show
Lost City Show

– In 1992 Jean Michel Jarre conceived two shows multimedia, in Sun City and Zermatt. Did you collaborate in these shows?

Those shows were another example of my artistic collaboration. Jean-Michel sent me to Johannesburg to prepare his show for the grand opening of the Sun City resort, a kind of Indiana Jones small city, in the middle of nowhere, 200 km away from Johannesburg. I had the occasion to work with Cedric Samson, the artistic director of the show who was in charge of choir arrangements and recordings and the choreography on the site.

We went to his recording studio and recorded the vocals together. The musicality and beauty of the voices were amazing! And the show was incredible! It was like a movie in open air!

: At Sun City, South Africa
At Sun City, South Africa

For the Swatch show in Zermatt, Switzerland, my role was more technical, having convinced a sceptical Jean-Michel to bring our Pro Tools system as the sound reproduction equipment, instead of a tape player. And I also really remember our freezing night of rehearsals in the mountains! My coldest time ever!

– Suddenly after “Chronologie” album and along the Europe In Concert tour you left your responsibilities as musician. Why?

I felt that the Europe In Concert tour was a new challenge for Jean-Michel and that my role would have been more useful as a FOH mix engineer. Considering the last concerts, I thought that there was room for improvement. And finally, it was even more exciting than being on stage. Jean-Michel did agree with my proposal.

Julie Lecrenais near the stage - Europe in Concert
Julie Lecrenais near the stage – Europe in Concert

A little history about Europe in Concert: When Jean-Michel was looking for a young boy voice for his song Chronologie 3, I suggested Julie Lecrenais, a young girl, whom I knew as being my goddaughter’s sister. And she had a pure and beautiful voice. After a few tests Jean-Michel chose Julie. It proved to be a very good choice, not only as she had the talent, but also she performed very well on the record, and had the perfect attitude on stage at 13, without being disturbed by the audience size, or by the fireworks exploding over us! And to me her fragile voice was a really strong contrast with Patrick Rondat’s guitar. One of the very best moments of Europe in Concert!

– Do you remain some memories of the Spanish dates in Europe in Concert tour? Do you remember the Madrid’s cancelled concert because of the rain?

The Madrid concert was not the only one to be cancelled. More concerts in other countries had been cancelled for some reason. Barcelona and Seville were good concerts. I’d like very much returning to Spain with more free time, to enjoy the country, its culture, the Flamenco which I love, and the Paella, the real one!

Is well known that “Hong Kong” album includes several live recordings taken from other Europe in Concert dates. You did the mix of that album, so could you confirm it officially?

I am sure you’ll understand that it’s not my role to comment on the tracks chosen to be included in the Hong Kong album. I was given tapes to mix and I did my work. The same applies to other questions related to choices made outside my own duties.

During Europe in Concert (COTM Magazine)
During Europe in Concert (COTM Magazine)

– About concerts, you were on stage from Houston to La Defense, and this was arguably the golden age of the great JMJ concerts, but what is your opinion about the over-use of the playback and pre-recorded tracks in these concerts?

My answer will be this. There are several things to consider. First of all, it’s obvious that it’s pointless using a sequencer on stage if a recording can be used instead. And it’s safer as well! The pre-recorded tracks, or “backing tracks” are commonly used in many concerts. Moreover, you have to consider Jean-Michel large outdoor concerts as a whole. It cannot be compared to small concerts where context allows for more flexibility. When there are so many visuals synced to the music by means of long-time in advance programming, such as fireworks, lasers, etc…, television broadcast and/or recording, any mistake (such as a failing instrument) in such “one off” events could be disastrous.

The mastering console I designed
The mastering console I designed

I see those large scale events as a new kind of shows for large audiences, a mix of music, theatre, cinema, fireworks displays, where the stage is a small part of the whole. The name Jean-Michel Jarre is associated to such multimedia events as a pioneer since the Concorde event, back in 1979, sharing his ambitious vision with Francis Dreyfus. Above all, such a question as yours should be summarized to this: “Did you enjoy being there?”. Let’s apply the “pleasure principle”!

– And what is the concert you remember most fondly?

La Défense was really memorable. During the afternoon before the concert, I was seeing the crowd gathering from the stage up to the Place de l’Etoile. Jean-Michel’s political influence led the usual fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower to be moved to La Défense, bringing the usual massive crowd there (it was similar when the fireworks display was moved to La Concorde, years before). The size of the stage was also impressive. And there were the “dancing mobiles” of Peter Minshall, moving in frenzy above our heads, and the steel drums playing and so on…

Recording the Amocco Renegades in Trinidad with Denis Vanzetto
Recording the Amocco Renegades in Trinidad with Denis Vanzetto

Incidentally, I have another story about that. Some time before the recording of Waiting for Cousteau, I had been invited by Xavier Bellenger (an ethnomusicologist and long-time friend of mine who had already provided recordings to Jean-Michel for Zoolook) to an indoor concert in Paris.The concert was of a steel band, named “The Amocco Renegades”. To my surprise, with their oil barrels they were playing complicated pieces, including classical ones, with excellent musicality and nuances, and that incredible sound! When their concert was finished, I bought a cassette at the entrance door.

Some time later, Jean-Michel was looking for an idea for his album single, something joyful and happy. As he described what he had in mind, I said “I have a cassette at home which you should listen to”. While listening to the songs, Jean-Michel was very excited. He said “It’s exactly that! Let’s call them!” And a short time later, we were recording “Calypso” by the band in Trinidad in a local studio! Which led the Amocco Renagades appearing at La Defense on stage later…

: In Trinidad studio during the recordings of the Amocco Renegades. Left to Right : MG, Denis Vanzetto, JMJ, the studio owner, Dominique Perrier, Patrick Pelamourgues
In Trinidad studio during the recordings of the Amocco Renegades. Left to Right : MG, Denis Vanzetto, JMJ, the studio owner, Dominique Perrier, Patrick Pelamourgues

Apart from that, prior to the event, regarding the increasing public interest about the show and considering the announced problems for people to reach the place, I had the idea of setting up a wide-ranging national information service, with all details collected from local authorities. It was based on our “Minitel”, the small terminals every one had at home. Because of the device name the “Minitel”, I suggested to Jean-Michel “Jarretel” as the name of the service, which means “suspender” in French. (smile) At first, he found the idea funny. But after some time, he preferred a less frivolous name, which finally came to “3615 JARRE”. You know, it was Bastille Day, and we had to keep serious! The 3615 JARRE service was widely promoted in the media, even in the streets of Paris, and it was a huge success, with more and more users connected while the final date was approaching!

Otherwise, about my useful connections, my friendship with Eric Cabedoce, the technical manager of Atari France, led us to work at the studio with the first machines, and we had several on stage at La Défense, as Eric invested himself with passion in our adventure.

However, having found La Défense quite a memorable event, above all, to me the Houston concert was the most stunning. Imagine a French team invading downtown Houston and preparing our project before astounded Houstonians! For us, frenchies it was our American dream! To us, the size of the event was enormous, with a giant projection screen made from small canvas panels. And on the concert day, at dusk, we were watching the crowd gathering in a kind of ocean, as far as the eye could see. And a gigantic road jam on the nearby highway! Coming from our country, the change of scenery also played its role.

I felt in those concerts as being a small part of a big machine, in front of a very large audience. In such conditions, my feeling was somewhat abstract, as the crowd was far away. The stage was like a television set, with cameramen being our closest watchers. However I felt more than an ordinary musician, considering my wide involvement in the adventure.

– Have you attended one of Jarre’s concerts after the end of your collaboration? How is your opinion about the new direction has been given to JMJ concerts?

Absolutely. I attended several of his other concerts, such as at the Paris Zenith, or at Theatre Marigny (Oxygen live in Paris). Later I was blessed with a gracious invitation of Jean-Michel in Warszawa, back in 2008 (thank you Jean-Michel!). He remembered that my mother is from a Polish family. He even called me on stage when the concert ended. I did appreciate the gesture! I also attended a concert in Paris, Bercy.

That being said, I have a mixed opinion about the latest versions of his concerts. It is obvious that his music does not perfectly fit to small scale live concerts. Such music mainly belongs to the realms of the imagination, which to me cannot be compared to rock or variety music. Would George Lucas do an indoor theater version of Star Wars? Or James Cameron a live version of Avatar? On the other hand, to me, large scale concerts do offer something different, and more adapted to his style.


Our work place in Croissy. In the center the red Yamaha keyboard, which had been reduced in size in house to fit into the Space Shuttle, before it was decided that Ron Mc Nair would take his saxophone instead
Our work place in Croissy. In the center the red Yamaha keyboard, which had been reduced in size in house to fit into the Space Shuttle, before it was decided that Ron Mc Nair would take his saxophone instead

To me, while later Jean-Michel started assimilating himself to a more or less usual performer, he was loosing part of his identity. I also understand that it’s quite uneasy to find the best way to stage electronic music. Instrumental music cannot have the same visual impact on audiences as vocal performances! To me, large outdoor concerts are far more adapted to his style of music than concert halls. Anyhow, what counts the most is the audience. If many attend his small size concerts, there must be a reason (and a value!). The public can still find the original mind of big events in a reduced size.

However, I have to say that I consider the sound and musicality of his latest concerts could be somewhat improved. Since long-time, I am convinced that a deep understanding of Jean-Michel’s particular music is required to get the best result. To me, the variety, techno or rock approach does not fit very well. As an example, I discovered that some of the original important arrangements have been discarded since some time without substitutes, with a loss of musicality as a consequence. Or it could be useful to renew the songs and make new arrangements. There is room for improvement. I am not anymore in a position to recommend it, It’s only my opinion…

– Why ended the musical collaboration between you and JMJ?

Jean-Michel was more and more tired with my puns! (smile). Not totally wrong, but to me, more seriously, Jean-Michel mainly felt the need to change his musical staff, to renew his artistic environment. In my opinion, the end of the “Europe in Concert” tour was a turning point in his career. In a way, from that moment he seemed preferring working with Francis, whom anyhow I consider as a very talented musician. I cannot compare myself with Francis Rimbert! Moreover, he may have found that such a multifaceted and expensive collaboration as mine was not necessary anymore, which I can perfectly understand.

And about concerts, before his latest series of concerts he yet had offered to me touring with him. It looks like he finally changed his mind.

MG with the Wersi organ
MG with the Wersi organ

– Ended your partnership, JMJ sound changed dramatically, we can say that there is a “before and after” Michel Geiss on the music of JMJ. This change became tremendously evident in “Metamorphoses” and reached its zenith in “Téo & Téa”. What is your opinion about these discs? What is your opinion about the new “Jarre sound”?

First of all, “Téo and Téa” is not my cup of Tea (smile). Sorry, I couldn’t resist (one more smile!). To me, Metamorphoses was another attempt by Jean-Michel to break his own rules, while having some similarities with Zoolook, but in a more experimental way, and an opening to internationally known artists, such as Laurie Anderson, Natacha Atlas, Sharon Corr (from the Corrs). Moreover Joachim Garraud must have been influential through his collaboration along the recordings. To me, Metamorphoses is a beautiful album, with beautiful pieces, like “Million of stars”, but with a “Tout est bleu” coming from nowhere… If that song was supposed to be the single out of the album, to me, it missed the point. From Metamorphoses, my preferred track is “Give me a sign”, which Jean-Michel should use in his concerts. Gloria is a good one as well.

That being said, the frequent use of reverb tend to make the album sound somewhat “colder” than when tape echo was the basis of his sound. Moreover, there is a lot of quite unusual rhythm work on Metamorphoses, which might have been surprising to many followers of his work.

As a general point of view, since my departure, Jean-Michel has explored new grounds. Every artist can feel the need to renew his style. And it’s quite a challenge to keep one’s identity while trying something different. After all, when there is a change in style, the main question lingers: will the followers follow?

– Did Jarre count on you for any of his following albums if only for technical queries?

Not really. Once, I helped him for setting parameters on one ARP 2600 at his studio. Anyway, Patrick Pelamourgues is very good in helping him on many different things.

– Would you like to work again with JMJ in the future? Are there any specific plan about it?

Good question. Why not? I keep an excellent remember of the good times we spent together on his projects. However, since then, almost 20 years have passed. In such a long-term, people change, they evolve. Who knows? Some time ago, Jean-Michel had offered me working again on his new album. We also spent a few nice moments together. Once, before the release of “Essentials and rarities” of which I ignored the future release, I decided to restore the sound of his album Deserted Palace, removing clicks and noise and copy the resulting sound onto CD, as I had 2 very good quality copies of the original vinyl. I also was helped by a good friend of mine (thank you Sacha!) who used my CD to cut a vinyl looking CD, and printed a beautiful sleeve, replicated from the original cover. I called Jean-Michel and said “I have a surprise for you!” Then we met at his apartment in Paris and we had dinner at a restaurant downstairs. I learned later that Jean-Michel subsequently released “Essentials and rarities”.

Anyway, it seems that he put aside his idea of working together again as I had no news since then. Otherwise, it still may happen… What will be, will be…

Maryanne Bell & JMJ in Perth
Maryanne Bell & JMJ in Perth

Since then, as I was in contact with an Australian friend of mine, Maryanne Bell, once we had dinner in a Parisian palace, I suggested her organizing a concert of Jean-Michel Jarre in her city, Perth. She had already organized events in her country and had attended Jean-Michel’s concert in Bercy, Paris the same day as myself. She immediately liked the idea. A short time later she invited us to travel to Perth, where meetings were organized with local authorities. Pre-production people were there as well, such as Alain Bilowus and Simon Ransom. We have been visiting different places where the concert could be staged. Jean-Michel was really enthusiast while being in front of the downtown backdrop, on a large grass area, saying that it was even a better place than Houston! That place was the one! However, the cost of the event has prevented the project to happen for now. And since then, the area has been undergoing huge transformations, as it will become a marina, called “the Perth Waterfront”, covered with water. Anyway, the project is still on its way, planned for later, while a final date has not been decided yet.

JMJ in Perth
JMJ in Perth

– With respect to our friend Francis Rimbert, we know that you were opening a studio in Croissy and that you have projects together, did you tell us something about this?

Francis had set up a studio in Croissy with a friend of him. He had asked me if I could collaborate when the studio would be opened. Since then, the studio has closed and Francis now lives far away from Croissy. He recently told me that he has a project to build his own studio in his new house.

– What are your current projects? Still developing electronic instruments? And what are your plans for the future?

As you may know, one of my intrument projects has been released by the IRCAM the main research centre in electronic music in France. It is in the shape of a plug-in, named the GeissEnveloper, which I co-developed with a very good programmer of IRCAM, Jean Lochard. One more instrument is finished now, for which I have to work to program sounds. This new project is a very exciting one, as my first attempts to program sounds are quite promising.

The Semantic Daniélou
The Semantic Daniélou

I also keep an eye on another project, the Sémantic Daniélou. a very special microtonal instrument I designed long-time ago. It is based on a theory by Alain Daniélou a former musicologist, who specified a scale of 52 notes per octave, which we reduced to 36 notes per octave for better playability. I was offered by Daniélou to build such an instrument in accordance with his book “La Sémantique Musicale”. The book describes in a fascinating way how our brain perceives musical ratios. I just finished a much improved version of the instrument, which should be presented to interested composers in the next months.

I am also putting some musical ideas together, which I would release if I find an interest around…

– A credited work you did for Jarre was the development and modification of some instruments. The Matrisequencer is the most well known, but not the only one. Which more synths and instruments did you transform?

I also found an idea to modify the Small Stone phaser to slow down its “sound waves”. On the other hand, I also found a way to split outputs of the Korg Minipops, so that the internal sounds could be independently processed. I also usefully added an external sync input to make it compatible with my Matrisequencer. Furthermore, I also added an external input on the Eminent 310 organ, so that we could use its very special “Bucket Brigade” chorus with other instruments, which we did in Equinoxe.

I designed the Rythmicomputer after the Matrisequencer without precisely remembering when it was. It’s a computerized rhythm box, with electronic sounds generated by electronic circuits I designed myself.

– Could you describe the full operation and the possibilities of this great machine? (Some people want to know if you could show part of the patterns and design).

At that time, most of the sequencers were designed in an electronic designer’s point of view, not a musical point of view. You could not easily program standard durations and pitches with them. Consequently, as Jean-Michel expressed his wish of doing sequences on a matrix, it was obvious to me that such an approach fitted very well with standard music notation. Basically I made it to be used either as a simultaneous dual part sequencer of 50 notes each, or a single sequencer of 100 notes. I designed the matrix to play standard notes with the octave divided in usual semitones, within a range of four octaves. A combined four line part was dedicated to get 15 precise durations of the standard notation (full note, half-note, quarter-note, triads, etc.). One line was dedicated to glissando between any two notes and another one to legato. Several sub-sequences could be programmed, with looping between pins on the upper line. I am proud of the later idea, which was a first at that time!

And when Jean-Michel was asked to compose a short music for the Swatch watches wearing his name, he was imposed very tight technical specifications. We first tried programming notes on C-Lab’s Notator, but were unsuccessful. Finally, we found that the best way was to work on my sequencer, as it was the only machine we had which could replicate the technical details we had received from Swatch!

With Francis Dreyfus when I received my Platinum Record of Chronologie
With Francis Dreyfus when I received my Platinum Record of Chronologie

– For Europe in Concert tour a new version of your Matrisequencer was made by Jean Claude Dubois and Patrick Pelamourges: The Digisequencer. Did you collaborate in this new instrument?

At first, it was my idea suggesting to Jean-Michel that a new extended version of my Matrisequencer could be built in keeping the concept of the Technos Acxel of a touch panel instead of pins. As he liked the idea, I called my friend Jean-Claude Dubois to get him involved in the project. As he answered positively, we met with Jean-Michel and defined the concept. As the heart of Jean-Claude’s proposal was an Atari Computer, it was possible to achieve a much improved sequencer with many more features, while keeping the same basic principle as the Matrisequencer. And Jean-Michel could not resist asking more and more! Patrick Pelamourgues as a multi-faceted person made the most part of the wiring with Marie-Laure Leboucher, including the printed circuits, and among them the front panel.

You may know that the Digisequencer had a good life, including its use on stage. However it began showing signs of weakness when the floppy disc drive failed in one of the European tours. As I was staying at home, I pulled my disc drive out of my own Atari and Thomas Alsina could bring it to Patrick. Then, considering that its reliability was more or less deteriorating, I suggested Jean-Michel to adapt the concept to a touch screen computer, which was programmed by Jean Lochard and is the latest incarnation of the machine.

My session at Modular Square - Paris
My session at Modular Square – Paris

– In 2013 you made a great masterclass about mastering and the Matrisequencer, that was showed (outside and inside) in it. Was this Matrisequencer the one you made for Jarre or another one?

That was the original one, lent by Jean-Michel. It’s a unique instrument which has never been replicated. There is only one. Jean-Michel doesn’t use it anymore. It’s something of the past…

– As a professional of mastering, do you think the discography of JMJ remastered in 1997 by Scott Hull needs another re-remastering, as recently was announced by Sony Music and in the last days we’ve been noticed that David Perreau is working on it?

I have no real opinion on any needs for remastering Jean-Michel’s discography. If Jean-Michel likes David Perreau’s work, who I obviously respect, why not? I learned that David has been working with NRJ radio on its sound settings. I don’t really know what his approach in mastering is, as radio processing is not really adapted to CD mastering. As a matter of fact, most of FM radios use heavy multi-band compression for various reasons, which are not musical reasons. I have a good knowledge of radio processing, and several years ago I published a technical study in a French magazine on the subject. As an example, a paradoxical fact, some heavily compressed CDs sound lower on radios than CDs with more dynamics, which is something many people ignore, including sound engineers! I recently went about all that in courses I was giving to students.

I know since longtime how my mastering works sounds on radios and how it sounds on personal systems. I can put forward my experience in CD mastering. There is obviously a loss in quality on heavily processed CDs. That being said, there are many ways of mastering music, and some are less musical than others. Mastering as a process can easily bring more harm than good to music! As an example, trying to remove noise in old recordings can be very difficult to achieve without artifacts, specially if it removes “life” in the music, that little subliminal “imperfect” thing that has been understood to bring something pleasant to music, in the same was as vintage processors. Mastering is a real challenge: you have to respect the mix, and to make it sound better and louder while keeping its musicality. The decision making process can be quite tricky. Mastering engineers should be like Hippocrates: “Do good or to do no harm”.

I am also suspicious of people who claim that their digital processor has been specially optimized for a specific project, and that it is extremely powerful, and so on. It’s like if a restaurant chef comes to your table and tells you: “My food is the best in town. I have a secret: my microwave oven has been specially designed for my restaurant by NASA engineers”!

In my work as a mastering engineer, a few years ago, I have been confronted with a surprising situation. To make a long story short, I was asked to re-master one of our most famous artists’ albums. The record company, BMG went to Metropolis Mastering Studios in London to get it mastered. The best available equipment was used, including highly expensive monitors, and so on. But when they came back in Paris, they compared what they got with what I had done earlier on 2 of the same songs for the radio promo CD (which was already playing on radios). And guess what! They called me to re-master the whole album! I mention that my equipment is very basic. All that only means that equipment, as much expensive it can be, is not the key to quality and musical sound.

Talking of which, when comparing the original vinyl records sound of Deserted Palace with the CD version on the Essentials and rarities, I noticed that for some reason the sound of the vinyl is much better than the same songs from the CD version.

– Let me tell you that you did a great work with the remastered version of “Space Art Tribute” album. The original sounds quite well, but your remaster is spectacular. Will you work again with Dominique Perrier soon?

It would be with great pleasure! Dominique is a very talented composer and musician. And his solos are stunning! Just listen to Chronologie 4, or to Cosmic Chicken in the “Tribute to Space Art”. As of today, I am not aware of a new project with him yet.

– Tell us about your work as mastering engineer.

I created my mastering activity when Jean-Michel and I split, back in 95. Looking back to the past, I had designed a computerized cutting console for a Parisian mastering studio, named “Dyam Music”, in the eighties. It might be the source of my decision to start my work as a mastering engineer. Since then I mastered many albums, some of them having been very successful, while others were less popular, as they were independent productions. To answer your question, one of my latest successful mastering was Imany’s “The shape of a broken heart”.

I have been working both with major artists, such as Patrick Bruel (who granted me with a Diamond Record for more than 2 million copies sold), Laurent Voulzy (a platinum record), Marc Lavoine, Chimène Badi and so on, and unknown artists who sometimes produce excellent records. I have been entrusted both highly expensive and low cost projects. Whereas I like many of those records, among them, one has a special dimension to me: “The tribute to Space Art” by Dominique Perrier.

– You are technician, musician, mastering engineer, “techno-luthier”… What of these activities means more for you?

To me all that makes a whole. All those activities are more or less linked. In sound engineering, music is connected with knowledge of tools used in mixing and mastering. This is why I was able to mix albums and videos for Jean-Michel, as well as being in a good condition to quickly start my full time mastering activity. Additionally, I tend to teach my knowledge in various fields in which I think I can bring my experience to others. Having been able to work in so many fields has been quite a rich life. And more projects are on the table! I still have a lot of interest in sound synthesis, and will try developing new virtual instruments in the near future.


I would like to thank you for your interest in my involvement in Jean-Michel Jarre projects. Jean-Michel Jarre is far from an ordinary person. He is a very complex being, whith his weaknesses but his strengths are his chief characteristic. Through my answers, you understand that I tried to take some distance about my view of my collaboration. However, I fully share Jean-Michel’s vision of music of the early times and admire his talent, his will to achieve, and his personal dimension. I have been so closely associated to his artistic life that I can express my gratitude for having shared with him what I consider as the best and most successful and rewarding part of his career. Not only I consider this collaboration as having been fruitful but it also has been a fantastic part of my life.

Thanks a lot, Michel, for your kindness, your anecdotes, your generosity with us and to bring us this historic interview. Best regards from Spain!

3 replies on “Interview with Michel Geiss (II)”

[…] Shortly after we sat at the table, he said to me: “Michel, it’s a very good idea to meet today! I have something big to tell you! I have just been offered to put together a huge concert in Houston, Texas. And the NASA is involved, as they will celebrate their 25th anniversary. And the city of Houston will celebrate its 150th anniversary”. And so on! I was shocked! And he added: “Michel, I want you to be my partner in the project. And there is a lot to do!”. I immediately became dizzy! That was a major new step in our collaboration. The seed was planted and there was a lot to come! Read more […]

this was an amazing interview and i hope michel geiss works with jarre again in the future. I think Jarre has a lot of success because of many decisions and suggestions from Michel Geiss. Brilliant

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.