AIR at New York's Museum of Modern Art
For fans of the French electronic duo AIR, a trip to the moon is fairly routine.
“All our music from the last 15 years has been inspired by the moon,” said one-half of the pair Nicolas Godin at New York’s Museum of Modern Art last night (Jan. 17).
His partner Jean-Benoit Dunckel concluded, that in this latest case: “People are going to be tired of it… but we had no choice.”
He’s referring to AIR’s new album and soundtrack experience “Le Voyage Dans La Lune” (“A Trip to the Moon”) out via Astralwerks on Feb. 7. Originally conceived as a 15-minute modernist score and “narrative structure” to the Georges Méliès’ 1902 film of the same name, the themes are expanded into a full, standalone album, informed by the craggy lands, creepy moon creatures and strong-headed space explorers of that trailblazing silent film.
AIR was approached to participate after almost two decades of work had gone into restoring an original, hand-painted reel of the film; as documented in Martin Scorsese’s recent “Hugo” (and the book that yielded it) Méliès’ did a knock-up job in nearly destroying all of his works himself, but eight months ago at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, “La Lune” made a return to the big screen, more than a century after it was created.
And AIR only had one month before its premiere to create its soundtrack.
The result is in the film and on the full-length album: 11 playful, daunting and sometimes psychedelic tracks include guest contributions from Victoria Legrand from Beach House and Au Revoir Simone. In the film, those voices help to build tension or to bring a human element to the otherwise spacey instrumental landscapes.
When it comes to this particular space journey, human nature is a problem, said the duo. While Méliès’ original vision of “La Lune” was a comedy – what was then considered to be a “blockbuster” feature-length film– the musical duo brought conflict and drama to the soundtrack due to the “colonialism” in the film. Dunckel said he “felt sorry for the moon,” with the rocket in his eye. Godin said “La Lune” even makes him sad, because the space travelers’ “colonial mentality” reminded him of Conquistadors, as they came and eliminated the moon men and even took one captive.
Check out a clip from the film and exclusive tracks on Air’s website
A bridge between what Godin called “funny and darkness”: that’s why he incorporated in some braying farm animals into the score as the astronomers sat bickering over their trip, “always doing some stupid noise.” Au Revoir’s contribution was a nod to Roman Polansky’s “Rosemary’s Baby,” while the bickering sounds at the film’s beginning hearkens back to “Planet of the Apes.” Both are films, notably, about invasion.
I had a chance to ask the duo about their desire working specifically in soundtracks, considering they previously released their score to Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides” (2000). Godin described the music in “La Lune” as the dialogue (considering it was a silent film), and that it didn’t serve the same function as a traditional Hollywood soundtrack.
But furthermore, their joy in crafting this particular music was that there were no cooks in the kitchen lengthening or shortening scenes, that the final edit was in front of them, with no possibility or their hard-fought conceptions would be wasted due to post-production.
“It was from 1902, there was no chance it would be longer or shorter. I said ‘Look, you can give me the sh*ttiest cut of the movie you want but I want one thing. I want the final edit,” Godin said. “So we knew what we were going to do will stay forever.”