Jean Michel Jarre "Musique Pour Supermarché" (1983)

There are rare records, and then there are rare records, some of which have only ever had one legitimate physical copy made. One of those rare-as-it-gets recordings was a 1983 album called Musique Pour Supermarché, aka Music for Supermarkets, recorded by Jean Michel Jarre. The French electronic music composer (the son of famed film soundtrack composer Maurice Jarre, who was a pioneer in using electronic music in films) recorded the instrumental album near Paris during the Spring of '83, and then had only one LP copy pressed. On July 6th of that year, the sole copy was sold at an auction, where the master plates were publicly destroyed. It sold for 69,000 francs -- roughly equivalent to 9,000 U.S. dollars at the time. Jarre said that the point was to create "a single copy for a single buyer, like a painting with a single owner.” The inner sleeve artwork showed 11 photographs illustrating the story of the making of the record, while the 12th space was left blank for the buyer to insert a picture of himself. Shortly after the auction took place, the album was broadcast once -- and only once -- on Radio Luxembourg. That AM radio broadcast is the source of the unauthorized bootlegs of the album which have since turned up in Europe and Chile. There may have been a method to Jarre's choice of an AM station for the broadcast, because the distorted sound resulting from the AM signal ensured that the anticipated forgeries would never fully resemble the original work.

No one seems to know who currently owns the sole legitimate physical copy, so it seems that few people in the world will ever know what the album sounded like in its proper state. Based on the distorted pirate versions, Music For Supermarkets does not bear as much resemblance to Jarre's '70's progressive albums Oxygène (1976) and Equinoxe (1978) as it does to the experimental new-wave Zoolook album he would soon create in 1984. As he would do on that album, Jarre here employed the technique of using human voices as part of his instrumentation; in this context, it sounds like he was sometimes using this effect to evoke images of crowds milling about in supermarkets. At least two of these tracks were reused/reworked on Zoolook. "Part IV" later came in the form of "Blah Blah Cafe" on that album; it's a vaguely George Clinton-esque track full of strange, spacey sounds, some of them apparently emanating from a theremin. The danceable "Part VI" later became the second half of "Diva" from that album. Likewise, "Part II" later became "Fifth Rendez-Vous (Part III)" on Jarre's 1986 album Rendez-Vous.

Although the album's title might suggest a Muzak-like sound, the title Music For Supermarkets was actually intended as a criticism of the increasing commercialization of music. The most commercial-sounding track on the album is the opening "Overture", which sounds almost dance club-oriented. Most of the rest of Music For Supermarkets sounds more like music for European film soundtracks, as if Jarre was following in his father's footsteps. "Part III" feels like it was composed for a French New Wave film of the '60's, while "Part V" would be appropriate for a fantasy adventure film from a more recent time period. "Part I" stands out as the strangest track of them all, coming across like a bizarre music score for a more eerie or surrealistic movie; the closing track "Part VII" is a more accessible variation on that track.

As a musical work, Music For Supermarkets is respectable enough. But its real statement was made by its one-copy distribution, as Jarre made certain that this was one work of art that would not be turned into just another consumer product.

Jean Michel Jarre - Musique pour supermarché

Jean Michel Jarre "Musique Pour Supermarché" (Disques Dreyfus FDM 18113) 1983

Track Listing:

1. Overture
2. Part I
3. Part II
4. Part III
5. Part IV
6. Part V
7. Part VI
8. Part VII