His original artistic name was Jean-Michel Jarre, but around 1991 he dropped the hyphen in the name.
In 1978, his second album Equinoxe was released. Jarre developed his sound, employing more dynamic and rhythmic elements, particularly a greater use of sequencing on basslines. Much of this was achieved using custom equipment developed by his collaborator Michel Geiss. A concert on the Place de la Concorde in Paris in 1979 followed the release. This concert attracted one million people, which was Jarre's first entry in the Guinness Book of Records for the largest crowd at an outdoor concert.
In October 1981, Jarre was the first Western pop-artist who was granted permission to give concerts in the People's Republic of China. These concerts were the first to feature the Laser harp, one of Jarre's signature electronic instruments. Also during this year, Les Chants Magnétiques (Magnetic Fields - note that the French title is a pun which also means Magnetic Songs, or Magnetic Singing) was released to much acclaim, and was followed by the release of Les Concerts En Chine (The Concerts in China) album in 1982 and is marked as his first live album release, comprising of recordings from his tour of China during 1981. The sounds of the Magnetic Fields album are primarily based in the Fairlight CMI synthesizer, and the album was a huge leap forward in both technical complexity and fidelity.
In 1983, he created the album Musique pour Supermarché (Music for Supermarkets), which had a print run of one single copy. The album was made expressly to voice Jarre's distaste and disregard for the music business. Jarre destroyed all the master records from his studio work, allowed a radio station (Radio Luxembourg) to broadcast the album once and auctioned it, raising £10,000 for French artists. People recorded the album using their tape recorders while it was broadcast on the radio, so they can listen to that album, at a very poor quality though (the radio station was an AM station). Songs from this album were later reworked into future albums.
In 1984, Zoolook was released, relying heavily on the sampler capabilities of the Fairlight CMI (which Jarre had been using, albeit on a smaller role, since Magnetic Fields). The album featured many different words and speech, recorded in different languages around the world, to create different sounds and effects. Laurie Anderson provided the vocals for the track "Diva". With its rock music underpinnings, Zoolook resides nicely amongst a mere handful of pop and rock albums (notably Kate Bush's 1982 album The Dreaming, Yello's 1985 Stella, 1984's Who's Afraid of the Art of Noise? by Art of Noise, 1982's Naked Eyes by Naked Eyes, and 1985's How To Be a Zillionaire by ABC) that made intensive and sometimes exhaustive use of the Fairlight. It is perhaps too easy to overlook the lengthy list of live (and much-sought) musicians that also made contributions to Zoolook, giving the album a cinematic scope and breadth, courtesy of Mark A. Fuller.
Jarre recorded the album Rendez-Vous after being inspired by the sounds of the Elka synthesizer, which he employed on the record liberally. It also features his first heavy use of the Moog synthesizer on a studio album. In 1986, NASA and the city of Houston asked him to do a concert to celebrate NASA's 25th anniversary and the city of Houston's 150th anniversary. During that concert, astronaut Ronald McNair was to play the saxophone part of Jarre's piece "Rendez-Vous VI" while in orbit on board the Space Shuttle Challenger. It was to have been the first piece of music recorded in space, for the album. After the Challenger disaster of January 28, 1986 which killed McNair, the piece was recorded with a different saxophonist, retitled "Ron's piece" and the album dedicated to the seven Challenger astronauts. The Houston concert entered the Guinness Book of Records for the audience of over 1.5 million. During the concert, Houston native Kirk Whalum performed Ron McNair's saxophone part on "Ron's Piece". The concert featured giant projections of photographic images and laser patterns onto the buildings of downtown Houston, including a gigantic white screen on the front face of the Texaco Heritage Plaza building, which was under construction at the time. Due to vehicles stopping on the freeway passing the concert venue the freeways had to be closed down for the duration of the concert.
Later in 1986, Jarre performed in his birth city of Lyon as part of the celebrations for Pope John Paul II's visit to the city. The Pope was in attendance and introduced the concert with a good-night blessing (a recording of which forms part of the album Cities In Concert - Houston/Lyon).
Magnetic Fields 2
In 1988 the album Revolutions was released. Jarre, along with guests such as Hank Marvin, the legendary guitarist from The Shadows, performed this album and selected highlights from his discography at an event entitled Destination Docklands in front of 200,000 people (not including the thousands of observers who witnessed the event from outside the official concert gates) in two concerts on October 8 and October 9 1988. The event utilized the industrial backdrop of London's Royal Victoria Docks in the East End. The original show was supposed to be scheduled as a one off on the 24 September 1988, but due to safety issues with both Newham local council and London Fire brigade the license was turned down for the larger event. After Jarre's crews failing to maintain crowd safety, and after several vigorous meetings and negotiations (and Jarre potentially looking for other sites including Tilbury docks and Edinburgh castle to host the event), the application for the license was finally granted, but for two smaller audience capacity shows. Although the shows went ahead, they were not without hiccups. Bad weather had threatened to break Jarre's "Battleship" floating stage from its moorings, risking safety to the crew and also musicians and choirists. Although the original plan was to have Jarre float across the Royal docks it was deemed too unsafe due to the weather and hence was chained to the dockside. Despite this the concerts were well received, although the audience was soaked due to pouring rain and biting winds, but it was deemed a success and many of the British public attending will recall it as a very special and unique experience, including Princess Diana who attended the concert and became a friend and fan of Jarre's music over his career.
One aspect of the show was during the transportation of several large mirror balls (some 4m diameter), which Jarre had commissioned for the show to be hung from the large dockside cranes. Whilst en route to the docks, one of the lorries had lost one of the balls on the roadside. On the same night a satellite was due to enter the Earth's atmosphere from space. A member of the public reported the sighting of a sphere like spacecraft rolling on the road, and hence caused major panic as police feared it was the satellite.
On July 14, 1990 Jarre broke his own record in the Guinness Book of Records again with a concert at La Defense, Paris where 2.5 million people watched Jarre light up the Parisian business district. The album En Attendant Cousteau (Waiting for Cousteau) was also released in this year, and was dedicated to the French sea explorer, Jacques Cousteau.
During early 1991, Jarre started promotion for a concert to take place in the Pyramids of Teotihuacan, Mexico during the great solar eclipse of July 11, 1991. Some sources mention problems with several sponsors and local authorities as the reasons that halted the project.
However, in the documentary Making the Steamroller Fly included in the Oxygene Moscow DVD, Jarre and other collaborators mention that the concert was cancelled due to the fact that one cargo ship containing a specially built, pyramidal stage and other technical equipment sunk during the trip to Mexico, making it impossible for the crew to replace it in time for the concert. Jarre says that his disappointment was such that "he could not cope with Mexican food for two years".