French composer and multi-instrumentalist Jean Michel Jarre has been wowing live audiences for over 35 years by combining sight and sound. Using an array of electronic instruments, Jarre often performs while being backed by a full orchestra and choir. In addition, light shows and media projection behind Jarre set the stage for the music he is performing.
It is also not uncommon for this classically trained and influenced musician to have fireworks occurring during his concerts. I imagine the crowd responses of awe are not unlike the crowds that witnessed Tchaikovsky’s first performance in 1882 of the “1812 Overture” with actual cannon fire.
The highlight of “Rendezvous II” comes at 3:52 in the video when Jarre plays the laser harp. This invention, which is Jarre’s signature instrument, combines sight and sound. The individual notes are programmable via a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) as each light stream represents an individual pitch that is controlled by breaking the beam of light. Other aspects such as vibrato can be added and controlled by the varying the point of where the break occurs in the beam.
He also uses analog cymbals which may be either miked or set as triggers to an electronic percussion device. The round object in the foreground is a Roland HandSonic Electronic Hand Percussion instrument that can be programmed for a number of sounds to the various areas on the instrument. Roland makes various models of the HandSonic that differ in the number of available trigger pads.
The HandSonic also has a light beam as well that allows the percussionist to mimic sounds that are variable like mallets on a ride cymbal. I had a chance to fool with one of these two years ago thanks to Ron Keller who backs Beth Patterson. It is a great little instrument. I’d love to have one and a laser harp – but don’t know where I would use either one these days.