The influence of Jean Claude Vannier on French popular and film music cannot be overstated. A composer, arranger, conductor, and producer, he is best known for work he's done for other artists, but his own recordings and scores have gained critical notice too. Vannier's list of collaborators includes Serge Gainsbourg, Michel Legrand, Johnny Hallyday, Jane Birkin, Mort Shuman, Françoise Hardy, Sylvie Vartan, author Michel Houellebecq, and dozens more. As a recording artist, Vannier's 1972 debut album L'Enfant Assassin Des Mouches has become the stuff of cult legend. Initially issued in an edition of 100 copies, its bizarre narrative was framed by a dizzying array of sounds and styles that included library music, cartoon and film soundtracks, the works of Raymond Scott and Carl Stalling, classical tropes, Euro-funk, Eastern modalism, prog, and hard rock. It was reissued in the 21st century to global acclaim. During the '70s Vannier also cut a series of charting chanson albums for Warner and RCA — all eponymously titled culminating in 1981's Brune 20/25 for Saravah. In addition to producing and arranging albums for many other artists, Vannier also scored a slew of films including 1985's L'Amour Propre... and 1990's Bienvenue À Bord. When Gainsbourg was rediscovered by English-speaking audiences in the 21st century, so was Vannier. His catalog was reissued and he began recording again, releasing Fait Maison in 2005, Roses Rouge Sang in 2011, and Corpse Flower with Mike Patton in 2019.
Vannier was born in 1943 in Courbevoie, Hauts-d Foere-Seine, while the town was waiting out an air raid. A self-taught musician, Vannier began playing the piano when he was 18, and learned the basics of arranging and orchestration from reading a book in the Que Sais-Je? ("What Do I Know?") series of instruction manuals. A meeting with flautist Roger Bourdin led to a job working at the Pathe Marconi recording studio, where he was an assistant and session musician, and Vannier soon put his new skills to work writing and arranging material for pop singers Alice Dona and Michel Magne. By the early '70s, Vannier was one of the top arrangers and studio players in French pop music, composing and orchestrating Serge Gainsbourg's La Histoire de Melody Nelson, Jane Birkin's Di Doo Dah, Françoise Hardy's Message Personnel, and dozens of other recordings of note. Vannier also enjoyed a successful career writing music for films; beginning with Jacques Poitrenaud's Qu'est-Ce Qui Fait Courir les Crocodiles in 1969, Vannier composed the scores for dozens of movies and television projects. In 1972, he recorded his first solo album, an eccentric instrumental song cycle titled L'Enfant Assassin des Mouches ("The Child Killer of the Flies"), which was accompanied by a short story by Gainsbourg; the album went unreleased for years, but became an underground legend thanks to the distribution of a handful of promo copies, and finally received an official release in 2003. Vannier continued to record in a more traditional singer/songwriter fashion through the '70s and '80s, and as French pop gained a new audience among American record collectors and tastemakers, Vannier's work slowly began to find an appreciative audience in the United States. In 2011, he made a rare appearance in the U.S., conducting the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra for a special concert of the music of Serge Gainsbourg, and he released two albums stateside: Electro Rapide, a collection of unreleased recordings from the '60s and '70s, and Roses Rouge Sang on Finders Keepers/B Music, his first studio recording of new material since 1990. Vannier also worked with the label to compile a series of rarities, issued as Electro Rapide, the same year.
At the Hollywood Bowl concert, Vannier worked with a large number of singers and players. Among them was Mike Patton. The pair bonded immediately and kept in touch. The composer began sending Patton rough versions of songs to get his thoughts on them. He'd wait impatiently for a response. In an interview Vannier stated that "he made my music awaken with his unique perspective and interpretations of my songs." The pair decided to record these works and enlisted a host of top-flight musicians on both sides of the Atlantic. They included Smokey Hormel, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, and James Gadson in Los Angeles, and Denys Lable, Bernard Paganotti, Daniel Ciampolini, Didier Malherbe, Léonard Le Cloarec, and the Bécon Palace String Ensemble in Paris. The finished recordings were issued as Corpse Flower by Ipecac in 2019, paired with striking cover imagery shot by famed Japanese-American photographer Kenro Izu. ~ Mark Deming