is the full version of my interview with Jean Jacques Perry. An
abridged version was featured in Issue #10 of Cool and Strange
Music Magazine. The issue has long beenout of print.
My phone interview with Jean Jacques Perrey took place on June 5th, 1998.
Dana Countryman: Hello, Jean Jacques! This is a thrill to talk to you, I've been waiting a long time for this!
Jean Jacques Perry: Yes, we first corresponded by letter four years ago!
DC: We've sent many letters and faxes since then. Well, I would like to talk with you about some of the things not covered in the Incredibly Strange Music book. Tell me about your project in Vancouver with the dolphins.
JJP: Well, it's "top secret." We cannot talk about it very much in detail, because I have a moral contract with the associates that worked with me in Vancouver, even though they are all dead now. When I started working with them, I was 32, but they were older than me (about 55.) But I am still working on this project because it is the project of my life. But in your magazine you can say that I am working on a project for helping insomniacs. We've done studies on people who are mentally disturbed. This is related to the dolphin project. It will not be music for recreation, it will be very serious. It is due in the year 2000. So before the year 2000, I cannot say very much about the dolphin project. When it comes out, I think that we will be able to reveal what we have done with the dolphins. We have communicated with them, of course not verbally. They gave us the direction to go with our studies of sleep relaxation and soothing the mentally disturbed. It also deals with therapies for autism, that's also one aspect of it. It is a scientific record for medical research. So, in the year 2000 I will consecrate myself to this big project, which is the project of my life.
DC: That sounds very exciting.
JJP: You will be surprised!
DC: Your style has always included wacky sounds in the form of tape loops. How did you learn to create these tape loops?
JJP: Before I came to the United States, I met a man named Pierre Schaefer at the Studio of Contemporary Music Research in France. He showed me how to put prerecorded sounds together on tape. He was using the technique to create "serious" music, but when I came to the U.S. I wanted to use the technique to create humorous, popular music. I told him that I was going to America and was going to develop the process in a humorous way. I had his benediction.
DC: Listening to your tape loops, I'm totally amazed. It sounds like they must have been mathematically timed out. I can't understand how you could do that in the '60s, without computers, its just amazing.
JJP: It was very easy, first you have to determine the timing - the tempo, when you have the tempo it corresponds to a certain number of centimeters and millimeters. For instance, a quarter note equals a certain length. I had a special unit to cut exactly the length. For instance, a half-note was double the quarter, a full-note it was four times, an eighth-note it was half of this. Then I cut the tape with a special ruler.
DC: You mean you would you take a piece of tape and measure out markings on the tape before you cut it?
JJP: That's it, you've got it exactly! The sounds were prerecorded, and of course, I recorded them for making a loop at the same volume. It's very important because it has to be exactly the same volume on the VU meter, I recorded everything with the needle right at zero. I think it is a very important part of my life as a musician. It was really a kind of an invention of a sampler, without the sampling machine being invented yet!
DC: Were you influenced by people like John Cage and Karl Stockhausen?
JJP: No, not at all. I liked the modern music, contemporary music of course, but it was not my way of expression. I prefer to do popular and humoristic sounds, instead of doing classical electronic music, even contemporary classical music.
DC: Tell me about your song, Baroque Hoedown, which was used as the theme for the Main Street Electrical Parade at Disneyland. You mentioned in past interviews that you were commissioned to do that piece. Was it actually a composition you had written before you had met Disney and did it have a separate song title?
JJP: No, no, no. The journalist who wrote that must have made a mistake. I was not commissioned, because we did it with Gershon Kingsley on the record, on the second record.
DC: Yes, "Kaleidoscopic Vibrations".
JJP: That's right. Just put the sound on the record and then in 1972 the people from Disneyland chose the theme by themselves. The song was published by the Vanguard Society, and Disney made a deal with them and have used the music since 1972 and are still using it here in Disneyland France.
DC: You must be pleased, I understand that 75 million people have seen that and have heard your music. That must be quite a thrill.
JJP: Oh, yes!
DC: I was in Disneyland with my wife about three years ago, we were standing there at nighttime, watching the Electrical Parade go by, listening to your incredible music. And of course, they did a wonderful job to of writing all of the countermelodies with all of the Disney themes intermingled.
JJP: They really made a good arrangement, because I have heard the French version. The French version is different and the Japanese version is also different.
DC: Oh, really?
DC: You mean the Japanese recording that was released of Kaleidoscopic Vibrations?
JJP: All of the Vanguard recordings have been released by King Records in Japan.
DC: And you say the it is a different arrangement in Japan?
JJP: Yes, because you see, in every country Japan, France, USA they have a staff of musicians which adapt the song for the people of that country.
DC: Oh, I see. You're talking about the Disney production.
JJP: Yes, just the Disney production. They just asked the publisher to buy the license to use exclusively the tune.
DC: Another question about Disney, one of the interviews I read said that you had worked on some short animated movies with him.
JJP: Oh, that was a long time ago.
DC: Tell me about that, it sounds very exciting.
JJP: I was a guest on a television program, I think it was the Johnny Carson Show, I can't remember for sure. Walt Disney was a guest on the show, too. This was in 1962, three years before Walt died. Of course, by that time he was not involved very much with the productions of his company. After the show he came to me and he said, "You have a fantastic instrument." It was an Ondioline, the early French synthesizer. He said to me, "I would like you to come to California. I would like you to help provide music for some cartoons." So he made arrangements with his staff of musicians in Hollywood. When I came to Los Angles, I spent one week with his staff. That was really something fantastic for me.
DC: You don't remember the names of the cartoons, do you?
JJP: No, no. (Laughs) You see, I just played the music watching short film clips, I did not even know the cartoon title. It was only in portions, spots.
DC: Was it music you had written, or were you just playing the Ondioline to their songs?
JJP: I played the Ondioline according the music which was written for it. Maybe one day you will see a cartoon and recognize my music!
DC: I see, speaking of amazing sounds, just recently I have discovered the music of Andre' Popp. Delirium In Hi-Fi has become a big favorite of mine. When I listen to it, I hear some of the same kind of humor that I hear in your music. I was wondering if you know him, or are you familiar with his music?
JJP: Yes, I met him in the '50s, he was starting at about the same time as me. We were friendly and we spoke about music. He said, "I also want to do popular music, but humoristic." I said, I want to do the same. He went his way, I went my way. He did not use many electronic instruments, because he is a very, very fine musician.
DC: He's more of a symphonic musician?
JJP: A little bit more symphonic, yes.
DC: And Roger Roger, are you familiar with his music?
JJP: Yes, Roger Roger, I have recorded one title in his studio. He died ten years ago. Now his widow still owns and runs the studio.
DC: Would you consider either one of them to be influential for your music?
JJP: Andre' Popp, no. Roger Roger, yes. Because he was like, for me, a master. Because first of all, he was a complete musician and a good arranger, a good musician. Which I am not, I'm not an arranger.
DC: I'm just amazed by your arrangements.
JJP: But they're not my arrangements.
DC: Who did the arranging, then?
JJP: On the first two Vanguard records, Gershon Kingsley did all the arrangements. On the two other records I had Harry Breuer's help, who was a fine, fine musician, good help and also Angelo Badamenti, who is now the composer for many David Lynch films.
DC: So they would take your melodies and then write arrangements to them?
JJP: Yes. I would be playing the synthesizer on top of those tracks, in Vanguard's recording studio.
DC: That's amazing, because I know that you don't read music.
DC: So you would have all these complex arrangements to play your music on top of.
JJP: You know how I did it? Because I made it track by track. When it was too quick, I slowed down the speed of the track by half. When you slow the speed, you have half-tempo.
DC: I've turned those records down to 16 rpm many, many times, to try and figure out how you did this or that. Some of the harmonies, sometimes sounds like three or four synthesizers, in those days you could only play one sound at a time. It sounds very lush, very rich. It must of taken hours and hours.
JJP: Yes, for me to do a record it took one year to do all the taping.
DC: Now, what year did you record "The In Sound From Way Out" with Gershon Kingsley?
JJP: 1965. We started to record in 1965, and it came out in 1966.
DC: By the time of your album, "The Amazing, New Electronic Pop Sound...," the Moog sounds are much more polished. You have much more control over the instrument, I think.
JJP: Yes, because I was more used to the instrument, that's why. I always wanted to keep the marriage between the Ondioline, and the Moog synthesizer. And also between the loops and the crazy sequences of musique concrete.
DC: How involved was Harry Breuer in making "The Happy Moog"? His name is on it, but isn't it all you?
JJP: It was Harry and me. Harry played keyboards because he played mallets: marimbas and vibraphone. He played all these instruments. It was quickly done. So he played on the record - it was also a kind of collaboration.
DC: Now, was that recording done purely in your studio, because it has a different sound than the ones done at Vanguard?
JJP: Because I improved my studio in the meantime; instead of just having the 4-track recorder, Igot an 8-track recorder. I could do more sophisticated work on the 8-track, with the improved electronics. When I brought my tape into the studio at Vanguard, they had a 16-track. We'd transfer the 8-track to the 16-track, and then we put the (backing) musicians on top of it. I had better control of the Moog because of my 8-track machine.
DC: I understand the early days of the Moog, it would go out of tune a lot and was very hard to keep in tune. Was that true?
JJP: Yes, the first Moogs were very hard to keep in tune. We had to tune it all the time - every 6 or 7 minutes it had to be tuned.
DC: Did Robert Moog send a representative to help with the synthesizer? I know a lot of times he would send people, like Paul Beaver to help with the recordings to make sure that people would be able to use the instrument.
JJP: He came himself, he came to the studio several times. Because, in 1966 we got the first Moog, the big Moog. He was sometimes changing the modules with improved electronics. When he had something to change he called, came over and he replaced some pieces inside because he discovered it made a better sound or a new sound. He was a big help, very nice.
DC: So he was actually in the studio when you recorded those records? Robert Moog?
JJP: He came sometimes as a friend, to see if we needed something.
DC: What did you think when you had used the Ondioline for so long, and it was so small, and then all of a sudden you had this huge console Moog synthesizer, with all these switches and buttons? What did you think?
JJP: Well, I was afraid.
DC: Afraid to touch it?
JJP: I wasn't really afraid, but I was perplexed. I am still using the Ondioline. I am going to do a show in Brussels soon. On the 1st of July, I will play the Ondioline there.
DC: That's amazing that you've gone back to how you started, basically. After all these years, you going back to the Ondioline.
JJP: My life is a loop!
DC: It's very similar to Robert Moog, he's gone back to the Theremin. Just like he started out in high school, making them out of radio parts. Now he's started his own new company to produce Theremins.
JJP: Yes, and also he's going to build more Moog synthesizers. He's going to build the same cabinets as in the 1960's, but it will cost a little bit more.
DC: Oh really? When I was in high school I was able to play one of the console Moogs at one of the local schools. That was a really big thrill for me. Those are very collectable now, its very hard to find those.
JJP: Yes, in France you cannot find an old Moog, it's impossible. People want to buy the big Moogs, but no one wants to sell theirs. Of course, you can find the Mini-Moog, Micro-Moog: small units, that's all. But not the big units.
DC: I've noticed that a lot of your music sounds like it has a lot of ragtime influence. Particularly on "The Happy Moog," and a couple of other albums, too. Were you influenced by ragtime?
JJP: No, that was Harry Breuer. Because he specialized in ragtime. He recorded for the Audio Fidelity Company, which I don't know if it still exists now, but he made a record of all ragtime for them. He was not only using ragtime, he could adapt to any kind of music. He was a fine musician - he played on many commercial sessions. We did a lot of commercials together. So, he could adapt himself to any kind of music, that's what I call a true musician.
DC: Now speaking of commercials, I know that you have won a couple of Clio Awards. One for the Volkswagon commercial?
JJP: No, that is a mistake. Let's go back. In 1968, Gershon and I won a Clio Award for the No-Cal drink, the drink without sugar in it. So Gershon and I together won, in 1968. The Volkswagon commercial was the first commercial I did in the United States, in 1961 with the Ondioline, but it had nothing to do with the Clio Award.
DC: I see, and what about the song, "The Savers"?
JJP: "The Savers," was the tune which won the Clio Award, it was the one with Gershon for No-Cal.
DC: You say you have recorded many, commercials. Do you have recordings of all the commercials you've done?
JJP: I've lost the tracks. I still have some, but they are in very bad shape. They are on recording tape, and recording tape doesn't last very long. I could probably save a few initial sounds from my library, but not all.
DC: You recently transferred a lot of your tape loops onto your Kurzweil, it that correct?
JJP: On my Kurzweil, I have all my bank of sounds and loops on hard disk.
DC: So, now you don't have to worry about the tape breaking down!
JJP: No more, that's a good thing about technology.
DC: Now I know you left the US for good in 1970, for family reasons. Then you worked with the ballet company, is that right?
JJP: That's right.
DC: Then, you recorded several albums of cartoon music?
JJP: Yes, MP2000 (Montparnasse) was the name of the company. Now, presently the company who owns the catalog is EMI, who intend to republish them in CD form.
JJP: Well, that's what I've heard. I have to inquire about it, because somebody told me about it recently. That they intend to make first a compilation of the best tunes I did with this company.
DC: I've noticed that your daughter, Pat Prilly is credited a lot of your songs.
JJP: Yes, she's a very fine musician.
DC: Did she actually write the songs that her name was on, or would you put her name on some of your own songs?
JJP: No, she did not write all the things, but she gave me the ideas. When she came to New York, she was only 15 years old. She played the organ, but she wanted also to compose. She gave me the departure of the tune, which is very important. So in the studio we doubled up together, it was like a family composition, you see!
DC: That's great, I never knew that. So she would actually be playing next to you on the organ?
JJP: On the organ, yes. Not in the Vanguard studio, but in my studio at Carroll's Music.
DC: It's been almost 30 years since you left the U.S. Why the long gap of time between then and now in the public eye?
JJP: Well, because I was completely forgotten. I was waiting, completely demoralized. I did not know what was happening with my music in the USA, or in England. Many people, many hip-hop artists, DJ's and rappers were sampling "E.V.A," (from 1970's Moog Indigo. Artists like DJ Premier. Guru from Gang Starr, Ice T. And many of the DJ's just took out the first two bars, and made a song out of it, then rapped over the melody.
DC: How do you feel about people sampling your music without getting your permission or paying for it?
JJP: For me its an honor, you know, I don't mind. I encourage them to do that because it's like recognition you see. For me, it's very gratifying.
DC: A lot of them don't even put your name on the record, I don't think that's right.
JJP: It doesn't matter, because now it is recognizable.
DC: That's a very generous attitude, actually.
JJP: In a way, sampling is becoming part of the music's life. I feel gratified for that.
DC: You're doing a lot of live performances again. Do you enjoy performing?
JJP: I am enjoying it very much, it was my first beginning. When I finished my medical studies, I discovered the Ondioline, and I went into demonstrating for the inventor of the Ondioline. I demonstrated the instrument in many towns of Europe. Then I decide to put together a 20-minute act of "Around the World in 80 Ways." So I played it in France, Paris...everywhere. That's the time I met Jean Cocteau, Edith Piaf, and Charles Trenet.
DC: When you came to the U.S., I know that you did a lot of performances on American television and radio.
JJP: Yes, I did Arthur Godfrey on radio. I did the Mike Douglas Show. I did a lot of kids shows, Captain Kangaroo.
DC: So, you were demonstrating the Ondioline on "The Captain Kangaroo Show"?
JJP: Yes, but not only demonstrating, but illustrating his stories with sounds.
DC: In 1993, the Incredibly Strange Music book came out, with your interview in it. I think it brought a lot of interest to your music. Have you noticed that book has made an impact?
JJP: You know Mr. Vale, he's the director of RE/Search, [Now known as V/Search, who publish the ISM books.] He came to find me in France, and we met in Disneyland Paris. That got me in touch with a lot of people, who people did not know my address. It's thanks to him. For this, I am very grateful to him, because everything started again, thanks to Vale.
DC: Your manager, Lisa tells me that you're going to be coming to the U.S. to do lectures at some Universities. That sounds very exciting.
JJP: Well, that depends on her because she's arranging my calendar. If it comes together, I will make a tour from town to town on the West Coast.
DC: Will that be just by yourself or with other musicians?
JJP: No, at the Universities I will only have a technician with me. Lisa will come also.
DC: I understand that you will be demonstrating your techniques for making the tape loops.
JJP: Yes. That's very attractive to universities. I did that in England and had a lot of success.
DC: You have been doing some live shows in Europe, with some live musicians. Any possibility of bringing your show with the live music to the U.S.?
JJP: You know, it would cost a lot of money to bring all the materials: instruments, musicians. If we had a solid contract, I could do it. Maybe I'll do it when I have made a record in the U.S.
DC: When you come over here I hope you have all the success that you deserve. I think it's fantastic that people are discovering your music, because I was listening to it when I was 15 and 16 years old, and I'm still listening to it and I'm 43 now!
JJP: For me, it's a fairy tale. I met Lisa in London, and we decided that she will take care of me as a manager and try to promote me again in the USA. I am completely trusting of her because she is very clever and she has a lot of connections.
DC: Are there any things that you would like to talk about that I haven't brought up? Any messages? Anything about your career that hasn't been really talked about?
JJP: No, I think you have already told a lot in your last article, last year. But what I would like to say is that I am very grateful to all the people I have worked with, starting with Gershon. I am very grateful to him, that we met and made a very short collaboration, but a very efficient one. I am grateful to Carroll, who is dead now, who built the studio for me. I am grateful to Walt Disney, who is also dead. To all those people who are helping me now to come back to United States, Lisa and yourself. You have a very good magazine - it's becoming very popular also in England and France.
DC: Little by little, we're starting to creep into other countries, I'm very pleased about it. Your music and lots of the other music that we feature is really coming back. I think people are getting away from the negative rap and negative rock 'n' roll and coming back to the positive, good-feeling music.
JJP: More alive, more positive.
DC: Well Jean Jacques, this has been great. I really appreciate your spending this time with me. I hope to see you in the U.S. soon.
JJP. I hope so, too!