Photo: Jean-Jacques Perrey (right) with David Chazam
Jean-Jacques Perrey, the French composer and one of the earliest European artists to embrace electronic music, died Friday at his home in Switzerland after a battle with lung cancer. Rolling Stone confirmed the news today via Perrey’s daughter, Patricia Leroy. He was 87.
Perrey left medical school in the early 1950s to pursue a career in music, and he distinguished himself by building compositions around electronic instruments such as the Ondioline keyboard. After relocating to the United States in the ’60s, Perrey formed the duo Perrey and Kingsley with fellow electronic composer Gershon Kingsley. The partnership resulted in a number of groundbreaking albums, including two — 1966’s The In Sound from the Way Out and 1967’s Kaleidoscopic Vibrations: Electronic Pop Music from Way Out — recorded before the first Moog synthesizer hit shelves in 1967. Perrey and Kingsley were among the first artists ever to record electronic music for the general public and market it as “pop.”
Perrey befriended Robert Moog and became one of the first artists to record music using his famed Moog synthesizers, though he also freely experimented with other instruments to compose music the likes of which had never been heard before. His most productive period as a solo artist came during the 1970s, when he released a series of solo albums based heavily on Moog synthesizers, as titles like Moog Sensations (1971) and Moog Mig Mag Moog (1974) indicate. More recently, he collaborated on a series of recordings with French artist David Chazam.
But Perrey’s influence has not been limited to electronic music. None other than The Beatles sampled Perrey and Kingsley’s “Baroque Hoedown” in their song “Helter Skelter”, and hip-hop artists such as Gang Starr (“Just to Get a Rep”) and House of Pain (“Fed Up (Remix)) began sampling his work in the ’90s. Perhaps no group had a greater appreciation for Perrey’s work than the Beastie Boys, who released an instrumental CD titled The In Sound from Way Out! as a tribute to Perrey and Kingsley.
Perrey’s music has become such a touchstone in the electronic pop genre that it even ends up where you’d least expect it. For example: “Baroque Hoedown” has featured prominently in Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade for decades.