In 1983 the respected “New Age” ambient music composer Jean Michel Jarre was approached by some friends who were planning to put on an art exhibition on the theme of supermarkets; one of the concepts of the show would be to present ordinary consumer products in an artistic setting. It became known as the Orrimbe show. The organizers wanted Jarre to compose some background music for the show. In truly perverse fashion, Jarre began to conceive of the record album for the show on the analogy of a painting, for which there is always only one copy in existence. Eventually he decided to have a single copy of the album pressed; it would be called Musique Pour Supermarché (Music for Supermarkets). (I call the idea “perverse” because the theme of supermarkets suggests mass production, and the idea of a painterly, single-copy pressing rather flies in the face of that concept.)
The Orrimbe Show catalogue
To his credit, Jarre seems to have put as much time and effort into the composition of Music for Supermarkets as he would for any other album, at least judging by the time of composition and recording, which is generally given as February-May 1983. The duration of the album is about 30 minutes. As the exhibits in the Orrimbe Show, which was held during June of 1983, were to be auctioned off at the conclusion of the show, Jarre decided to auction off the single pressing of the album as well. Jarre also publicly had the master tapes and plates destroyed, thus ensuring the album’s singular existence for all time. The auction was held on July 6, 1983, at the Hotel Drouot, a well-known auction house, in Paris. The liner notes of the album featured 11 Polaroids documenting the recording of the album; after the auction, a twelfth Polaroid, this one of the album’s new owner, was taken and added to complete the album’s packaging.
The winner of the auction, whose name was at first withheld, was later revealed to be one M. Gerard; he paid 69,000 francs (this comes to about $8,300 in 1983 dollars) for the right of being the sole owner of Music for Supermarkets. It turned out that the purchaser had a very special connection to Jarre’s music. It seems that Gerard had been in a car crash and the first music he heard, emanating from a radio, was Jarre’s “Souvenir of China” from his 1982 album Concerts in China.
The auction and the destruction of the masters. Jarre’s second wife, British actress Charlotte Rampling can be seen in the upper right corner
Shortly after the auction Jarre appeared on Radio Luxembourg for a single, solitary broadcast of the album’s contents. During the show, Jarre uttered the words “Piratez-moi!” (Pirate me!), urging listeners to record the singular radio broadcast. (This gesture seems quite prescient, from the perspective of today.) A number of listeners must have taken Jarre’s command to heart, as there is a healthy bootleg activity for Music for Supermarkets to this day.
Here’s an interview with Jarre on MTV in 1983, quite entertaining:
The Radio Luxembourg broadcast:
The Radio Luxembourg broadcast remastered: