Sunday August 1, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Oxygen
On this Day:
In 1774 English chemist Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen by isolating it in its gaseous state. Well, at least he was one of the discoverers of oxygen, even if he didn’t name it or recognize it as an element.
Oxygen is the chemical element with the symbol O and atomic number 8. It is a member of the chalcogen group in the periodic table, a highly reactive nonmetal, and an oxidizing agent that readily forms oxides with most elements as well as with other compounds. After hydrogen and helium, oxygen is the third-most abundant element in the universe by mass. At standard temperature and pressure, two atoms of the element bind to form dioxygen, a colorless and odorless diatomic gas with the formula O
2. Diatomic oxygen gas currently constitutes 20.95% of the Earth’s atmosphere, though this has changed considerably over long periods of time. Oxygen makes up almost half of the Earth’s crust in the form of oxides.
Dioxygen provides the energy released in combustion and aerobic cellular respiration, and many major classes of organic molecules in living organisms contain oxygen atoms, such as proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, and fats, as do the major constituent inorganic compounds of animal shells, teeth, and bone. Most of the mass of living organisms is oxygen as a component of water, the major constituent of lifeforms. Oxygen is continuously replenished in Earth’s atmosphere by photosynthesis, which uses the energy of sunlight to produce oxygen from water and carbon dioxide. Oxygen is too chemically reactive to remain a free element in air without being continuously replenished by the photosynthetic action of living organisms. Another form (allotrope) of oxygen, ozone (O3), strongly absorbs ultraviolet UVB radiation and the high-altitude ozone layer helps protect the biosphere from ultraviolet radiation. However, ozone present at the surface is a byproduct of smog and thus a pollutant.
Oxygen was isolated by Michael Sendivogius before 1604, but it is commonly believed that the element was discovered independently by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, in Uppsala, in 1773 or earlier, and Joseph Priestley in Wiltshire, in 1774. Priority is often given for Priestley because his work was published first. Priestley, however, called oxygen “dephlogisticated air”, and did not recognize it as a chemical element. The name oxygen was coined in 1777 by Antoine Lavoisier, who first recognized oxygen as a chemical element and correctly characterized the role it plays in combustion.
Common uses of oxygen include production of steel, plastics and textiles, brazing, welding and cutting of steels and other metals, rocket propellant, oxygen therapy, and life support systems in aircraft, submarines, spaceflight and diving (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
Oxygen U played Hydrogen Tech and the game had just begun,
when Hydrogen racked up two quick scores while Oxygen still had none.
Then Oxygen scored a single run and thus it did remain,
at Hydrogen 2, Oxygen 1, called because of rain.
Second, a Song:
Jean-Michel André Jarre (French: born 24 August 1948) is a French composer, performer and record producer. He is a pioneer in the electronic, ambient and new-age genres, and is known for organising outdoor spectacles featuring his music, vast laser displays, large projections and fireworks.
Jarre was raised in Lyon by his mother and grandparents and trained on the piano. From an early age, he was introduced to a variety of art forms, including street performers, jazz musicians and the artist Pierre Soulages. He played guitar in a band, but his musical style was perhaps most heavily influenced by Pierre Schaeffer, a pioneer of musique concrète at the Groupe de Recherches Musicales.
His first mainstream success was the 1976 album Oxygène. Recorded in a makeshift studio at his home, the album sold an estimated 12 million copies. Oxygène was followed in 1978 by Équinoxe, and in 1979, Jarre performed to a record-breaking audience of more than a million people at the Place de la Concorde, a record he has since broken three times. More albums were to follow, but his 1979 concert served as a blueprint for his future performances around the world. Several of his albums have been released to coincide with large-scale outdoor events, and he is now perhaps as well known as a performer as he is as a musician.
As of 2004, Jarre had sold an estimated 80 million albums. He was the first Western musician officially invited to perform in the People’s Republic of China and holds the world record for the largest-ever audience at an outdoor event for his Moscow concert on 6 September 1997, which was attended by 3.5 million people.
Jean-Michel Jarre was born in Lyon on 24 August 1948, to Francette Pejot, a French Resistance member and concentration camp survivor, and composer Maurice Jarre. His grandmother was Jewish. When Jarre was five, his parents separated and his father moved to the United States, leaving him with his mother. He did not see his father again until reaching the age of 18. For the first eight years of his life, Jarre spent six months each year at his maternal grandparents’ flat on the Cours de Verdun, in the Perrache district of Lyon. Jarre’s grandfather was an oboe player, engineer and inventor, designing an early audio mixer used at Radio Lyon. He also gave Jean-Michel his first tape recorder. From his vantage point high above the pavement, the young Jarre was able to observe street performers at work, an experience he later cited as proving influential on his art.
Jarre struggled with classical piano studies, although he later changed teachers and worked on his scales. A more general interest in musical instruments was sparked by his discovery at the Saint-Ouen flea market, where his mother sold antiques, of a Boris Vian trumpet violin. He often accompanied his mother to Le Chat Qui Pêche (The Fishing Cat), a Paris jazz club run by one of her friends from her resistance years, where saxophonists Archie Shepp and John Coltrane, and trumpet players Don Cherry and Chet Baker were regular performers. These early jazz experiences suggested to him that music may be “descriptive, without lyrics”. He was also influenced by the work of French artist Pierre Soulages, whose exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris he attended. Soulages’ paintings used multiple textured layers, and Jarre realised that “for the first time in music, you could act as a painter with frequencies and sounds.” He was also influenced by classical, modernist music; in a 2004 interview for The Guardian, he spoke of the effect that a performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring had upon him:
This is where Stravinsky created it in 1913, and it was a huge shock. I also saw the last concert by the great Arabic singer Om Khalsoum. She is the goddess, the Maria Callas of the Orient. Then I heard “Georgia on My Mind” by Ray Charles, and I realised that music can talk to your tummy. I was so impressed by the organic sensuality coming from Ray Charles’s music – there was no intellectual process and it was great.
As a young man Jarre earned money by selling his paintings, exhibiting some of his works at the Lyon Gallery – L’Œil écoute, and by playing in a band called Mystère IV. While he studied at the Lycée Michelet, his mother arranged for him to take lessons in harmony, counterpoint and fugue with Jeannine Rueff of the Conservatoire de Paris. In 1967 he played guitar in a band called The Dustbins, who appear in the film Des garçons et des filles. He mixed instruments including the electric guitar and the flute with tape effects and other sounds. More experimentation followed in 1968, when he began to use tape loops, radios and other electronic devices, but joining the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM) in 1969, then under the direction of Pierre Schaeffer (“father” of musique concrète), proved hugely influential. Jarre was introduced to the Moog modular synthesizer and spent time working at the studio of influential German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen in Cologne.
In the kitchen of his flat on Rue de la Trémoille, near the Champs-Élysées, Jarre set up a small recording studio. It included his first synthesiser, an EMS VCS 3, and an EMS Synthi AKS, each linked to Revox tape machines. For a 1969 exposition at the Maison de la Culture (Cultural House) in Reims, Jarre wrote the five-minute song “Happiness Is a Sad Song”. His first commercial release was La Cage/Erosmachine, a mixture of harmony, tape effects and synthesisers in 1969.
In 1971 Jarre was commissioned by choreographer Norbert Schmucki to perform a ballet called AOR (in Hebrew, “the light”), at the Palais Garnier. He also composed music for ballet, theatre, advertisements and television programs, as well as music and lyrics for artists like Patrick Juvet and Christophe. Jarre composed the soundtrack for Les Granges Brûlées and in 1972 wrote music for the International Festival of Magic. That year he also released his first solo album, Deserted Palace, and from 1973 to 1974 wrote music for Françoise Hardy and Gérard Lenorman, and wrote lyrics for Christophe and directed Christophe’s Olympia show.
Jarre’s 1976 low-budget solo album Oxygène, recorded at his home studio, made him famous internationally. It comprises six numbered synthesiser tracks that make strong use of melody, rather than rhythm or dissonance. A Scully eight-track recorder was used to record instruments like the Eminent 310 (with an Electro-Harmonix Small Stone phaser on its string pads) and the Korg Minipops drum machine. Liberal use of echo was used on the various sound effects generated by the VCS3 synthesiser. Jarre’s ARP 2600 synthesiser, previously used on his collaborations with Christophe, also featured, as did his EMS VCS 3.
Oxygène initially proved difficult to sell. Jarre was turned down by several record companies, until another of Schaeffer’s students, Hélène Dreyfus, persuaded her husband to publish the album on his label, Disques Motors. The first pressing of 50,000 copies was promoted through hi-fi shops, clubs and discos, and by April 1977 had sold 70,000 copies in France. When interviewed in Billboard magazine, Dreyfus’s director Stanislas Witold said, “In a sense we’re putting most of our bets on Jean-Michel Jarre. He is quite exceptional and we’re sure that by 1980 he will be recognised worldwide.”Oxygène has since sold an estimated 12 million copies, the best-selling French record of all time. It reached number 2 in the UK. It also contains his most recognisable single, “Oxygène IV”, which reached number 4 in the UK single charts.
Jarre’s follow-up album, Équinoxe, was released in 1978. It was composed with sequencers, particularly on the bass, and features a more baroque and classical style than Oxygène, with more emphasis on melodic development. Though its sales were still healthy, it had less of an impact than Oxygène, but the following year Jarre held a large open-air concert on Bastille Day, at the Place de la Concorde. The free outdoor event set a world record for the largest number of spectators ever at an open-air concert, drawing more than 1 million spectators. Although it was not the first time he had performed in concert (Jarre had already played at the Paris Opera Ballet), the 40 minute-long event, which used projections of light, images and fireworks, served as a blueprint for Jarre’s future concerts. Its popularity helped create a surge in sales—a further 800,000 records were sold between 14 July and 31 August 1979—and introduced the Frenchman to Francis Rimbert, who worked for Jarre during two decades on a full-time basis (per Wikipedia).
Here is Jean-Michel Jarre performing Oxygène IV in a live concert from 2012. The first 4 minutes of the clip is the live performance with the rest of the clip being his interview (in German). I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer.” – Dave Barry
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Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky