Home Musical score Composer Jean-Michele Jarre on Sebastião Salgado’s creation of Amazonia

Composer Jean-Michele Jarre on Sebastião Salgado’s creation of Amazonia


When composer and musician Jean-Michele Jarre got a call to create a score for a photo exhibition, he said yes. As difficult as the task might be, the assignment was to create music for the sounds of the Amazon for famous photographer Sebastião Salgado.

The last work of Salgado. “Amazonia” (currently on display at the Peter Fetterman Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica) is an immersive experience as Jarre’s score plays over photos from the Amazon. “A bird sings, the wind rushes through the foliage, men pass singing and chatting, women bathe, the storm rumbles, an airplane passes, the rain falls on the stone, all these random noises, oblivious to no orchestration or arrangement, yet form an overall harmony: the music of the forest, ”says Jarre.

While the 52-minute score can be streamed, it is best experienced in a binaural version alongside Salgado’s “Amazonia”. The photographer has spent six years traveling the region, capturing the forest, rivers, mountains and the people who live there.

Jarre spoke with Variety on the challenges of making the score and the impact of Salgado’s work.

How did this conversation go between you and Sebastião Salgado?

I was commissioned by the French Philharmonie de Paris museum, it is a center with a concert hall, exhibitions and museums. But Salgado also wanted to do something different to bridge the gap between music and photography. I thought it would be an interesting challenge because it’s a whole different approach as you can’t predict where someone will be in relation to music and photos in an art gallery. With cinema, you work on a certain sequence in a film.

Talk a bit about the sounds you wanted to capture in your “Amazonia” toolkit.

I thought the sounds of the forest are random. They are totally independent from each other. You got raindrops falling, people walking or singing, or someone singing. You travel in space and time in the forest. I thought about the sounds that were happening. My toolbox contained a lot of random items. There were electronics, vocals, nature and other elements. I made them work on a chessboard where every sound worked with everything else.

There is a sound unique to the Amazon, how did you capture it?

I wanted to avoid the potential trap of creating ambient music or the music you hear in spas. I wanted to give the score the context that “Amazonia” deserves. It was therefore a matter of creating this distance between that and entering into a poetic approach with that.

I have processed the sounds of nature through this electronic process so that they don’t sound the same. It’s like Federico Fellini is saying how much he loved to recreate the sound of the sea in a studio using the real sea. So he created that illusion at the end of the day because art is an illusion.

You mentioned that with a movie, you create a score for a specific sequence. How do you compose music for an exhibition, what is that process? Did you create a tail by looking at photos?

I asked her for pictures and lived with them for three weeks while I recorded and wrote the music. It was as if I was in a hypnotic relationship with the images. Everything I did was related to the mood of the photos. This exhibition is not intended to teach people about environmental issues. It does not show the forest on fire. It is about showing the grandiose aspect of the forest and being a tribute to this extraordinary territory.

If you listen carefully, there are darker times to create tension to show contrasting feelings between night and day and being in that zone. There are also voices because human beings live in the forest. I wanted to use it to create a ghostly atmosphere.

The voices all come from the Amazon rainforest, and I worked with the Geneva Museum of Ethnography to build these sounds.

Sebastião has inspired so many people over the years with his work, how has he inspired you?

Music adds a very important layer to the way we see the visuals. From Quentin Tarantino to Alfred Hitchcock, many directors say that music and sound make up 50% of a movie. I think this is also true with art exhibitions. I think we should have more music in exhibitions, especially for contemporary art.

What’s so interesting about Salgado’s work is that he doesn’t just photograph beauty or pain or want to make a statement. He is above all an artist. He has his own subjective view. Everything is touching. What is interesting about this exhibition is that his photography is in black and white, and black and white does not exist in nature. Thus, he reinforces his message. It has all of these niceties that create an immediate statement when you see a photo of Salgado. You don’t see someone trying to make this beautiful statement. He always makes you the proposal of an artist. This exhibition is so important to give a window on the forest and these fantastic landscapes, especially after a year and a half of containment and a pandemic. I’ve never been there, but it takes us on this journey and sharing. The Amazon belongs to every human being.