“oxygène (part iv)” – jean michel jarre (1976)

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Spring is a really great musical season for me.  The weather is warmer and I’m getting outside more.  Walking along the lake or through neighborhoods, I make sure to have a great soundtrack.  During this time, the excitement I feel that comes with a spring awakening manifests in a form that motivates me to explore and discover new things.  New foods, new places, and even new music.

For several years, spring has held great events and opportunities for me to indulge in musical vices.  When I was in college, the premiere event was Record Store Day which is being held on April 16th this year.  The exclusive releases and reissues were exciting and I just had to have them all.  Or whatever I could afford at the time.  Now, Record Store Day doesn’t excite me as much.  As it approaches, I’m fairly apathetic towards the releases because it always ends up being the same artists with some tired gimmick.  I think this has happened because I live in Chicago where I have a lot of options for music vendors.  In my college town, we had one record store, and that record store was life. I just don’t need a single day to celebrate record stores.  I celebrate record stores all the time.  However, just because Record Store Day has lost it’s appeal for me, that doesn’t mean I don’t have something similar to take it’s place.

This past weekend, I volunteered for an annual record fair put together by the community radio station I am involved with.  For the last 14 years, the Chicago Independent Radio Project (CHIRP) has held a record fair to raise funds for the station.  Record vendors from Chicago and other states come in to sell their wares while the public mingles and rummages through milk crates looking for anything cheap, recognizable, or collectible.  It is a great event and I love being a part of it.  I talk to the vendors and peruse their collections.  While doing this, I want everything I see.  I get excited just looking through them.  The artwork and how the sleeves feel are just mesmerizing.  However, budget and apartment space brings me back down to reality.  So, I limit myself to just a few purchases.  I never buy the first shiny thing I see.  I take my time to find the right record.  While I find a lot that would earn a special space on my shelf, I hold out for the right record at the right time.

This year, my prized purchase was Jean Michel Jarre’s 1976 masterpiece Oxygène.  This particular record has an abstract air of familiarity for me.  I remember seeing the CD in my parent’s collection.  It never got played and my parents never talked about Jarre, but I have vivid memories of it being there.  The artwork is just so striking.  It features the Earth peeled away like flesh to reveal a skull.  Meat is revealed underneath the mantle. The cover art is a little grotesque, but equally fascinating.  It is the kind of artwork that leaves an intimidating mark on the mind of a young child.

I wouldn’t hear Oxygène (Part IV) until I was in college years later.  It was a featured track on the new age radio station in the 2007 video game Grand Theft Auto IV.  Admittedly, I hate to admit that I have discovered some music through video games.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it is because some may feel I could not appreciate the music outside of the context of something thematic and exciting as a video game or a movie.  Sometimes, this is that case.  I might not enjoy a song as much outside of the context of it’s use elsewhere.  However, this is not true for Oxygène.

While ambient and electronic music are not my regularly played in my sound system, the few records that have made it into my collection are prized by me.  They managed to break through my own listening bias and standalone as grand musical achievements unmatched by their more accessible and commercially successfully rock and pop contemporaries.  It makes the listening experience, for me, more special.  It is as if I stepped into an alien world.  I’m a musical tourist exploring an existence a few others have known for a long time.  Oxygène is my bridge and lifeline when I’m straying the deep waters of sound.

Oxygène is comprised of six tracks each referred to as a singular part of a larger whole.  Part IV is my favorite one.  Kicking off side two of the album, a few hushed waves of synthesizer gently crash on the shore.  A wind is gently rising as the track progresses.  Soon afterward, a drum machine track starts and the hook follows shortly.  This hook is repeated throughout and often changing in pitch and tempo while being played on several different synthesizers.  It gives the track a pop feel thus bringing in something familiar to an outside listener that beckons them to come closer.

Oxygène is a real trip and I’ve been listening to it constantly all week.  I knew as soon as I saw it at Chirp’s record fair, this was the find that would define my experience at this year’s record fair and would be one of the finest records in my collection.  I’m happy that music and the journey to find it can bring me such joy while being incredibly rewarding.  The more work I spend in finding something that stands out as being the right record at the right time, the more rich the experience.  It keeps me fresh by not being stagnant and forces me to step outside of my comfort zone once in a while.  For that, I am grateful.

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