Air: Men on the Moon
Holed up in their studio and musical sanctuary—filled to the rafters with vintage keyboards, including a Memorymoog that lived through the rock and roll debauchery and bad hair of Mötley Crüe’s heyday—Godin and Dunckel exist in a beautiful, Technicolor bubble, making the sound they want without compromising their creative vision, even if that means never reaching stratospheric success.
“With the kind of music we do, if you want a bigger audience, [then] you have to make it less and less sophisticated,” Godin suggests thoughtfully as he sits back on the couch, popping a piece of mint gum into his mouth and tossing his locks from side to side. “I think the more vulgar you become, the more big you can become—and there’s a level of vulgarity we don’t want to reach. So I think we have personal reasons not to be more successful.”
And while they might be modest about their achievements, it doesn’t seem like a mere coincidence that the duo were approached last year to write the original soundtrack for the newly restored 1902 silent film Le Voyage Dans La Lune.
The century-old piece of filmic history is loosely based on the novels From Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon and was directed by fellow Frenchman Georges Méliès who employed cutting-edge special effects for the time. Considered to be the first science fiction film ever made, the Le Voyage dans la Lune collaboration seemed like a fated project for Air—like lunar-centric bookends to a career informed by the exploration of musical space. It was a pairing too perfect for this world.
Méliès, a turn-of-the-century auteur, had conceived Voyage to be the first-ever blockbuster film and worked independently by funding the ambitious movie himself. When his studio went bankrupt, the color version of Méliès’ sci-fi masterwork went missing, lost in obscurity—much like the luminary director who left the movie business altogether and died in 1938.
Recovered in Spain in desperate shape, archivists began the painstaking scene-by-scene restoration of the film that would last 12 years. The film, without color or sound, is an almost comedic relic of a bygone era, with Belle Époque costumes and sometimes-cartoonish action sequences.
With the addition of the bold, psychedelic-inspired hues and Air’s moody futuristic soundtrack adding emotive depth and of-the-moment resonance, the original motion picture takes on new life and an almost-sinister quality.
With only a month to compose the soundtrack before the film’s premiere at the prestigious and star-studded Cannes Film Festival, Godin recalls how he green-lit the project without hesitation. “We accepted right away because Méliès is such a myth and, especially for us, because all of our music for the past 15 years has been inspired by the moon. I saw it as a sign or destiny or something.”
While their music-making is a more exacting science, it’s this type of instinct that seems to rule Air’s professional universe. Godin and Dunckel always make crucial career decisions by letting serendipity and chance guide them.
“I think we have a lucky star somewhere because [on] each album, we do collaborations and we are never really responsible for the input of these things,” continues Godin from his seat on the abnormally low couch. “We never look for it and, each time, there’s like the magic phone call or we meet someone at a party and it’s like we had no clue five minutes before that such a thing would happen.”
With a film this legendary and steeped in so much cinematic history, it seemed like a risky and controversial choice to approach the soundtrack using a future-focused aesthetic. While it may have seemed logical or safer to imbue the cinematic relic with era-appropriate sonic accompaniment, it never crossed Godin’s and Dunckel’s minds to play it safe—or to downplay their distinctive sound to fit the feature.
Instead, they saw the soundtrack as a rebirth and resurrection rather than a look at a historical piece of art. “I think when Georges Méliès did the movie such a long time ago, he didn’t know that the sound would exist in movies one day,” coos Dunckel. “And for this reason, this movie can now travel through time. It’s as if a piece of art can be born again, so I think that for us, we felt like we had to give a new life to the movie to match the new colors, the new feeling.”
According to Dunckel, not everyone embraced this creative direction. “I remember when we were at Cannes, there were some people talking about the movie and one of them said, ‘Oh, I didn’t like at all the music,’” he recalls. “I asked him why and he said that it should have been like the music from before and that it was too anachronistic. When he said that, I was glad because that was exactly what we wanted to do. We wanted to shock people and to be bold.”
The subject matter of the film couldn’t be more relevant for Air, who worked non-stop, living and breathing the Georges Méliès film that, until now, has never been shown to modern audiences in color or with sound.
The two were so inspired by Le Voyage Dans La Lune that they expanded the 14-minute long soundtrack into a full-fledged Air album of the same name, allowing these lunar fanatics to recount the voyage with their own narrative.
“If I want to tell the story of the trip to the moon myself, I would need at least 35 minutes—the length of an album,” explains Godin. “This is the musical language I know how to speak. There are certain aspects of the moon that weren’t in the movie that were very important to us and we wanted to put this on the record.”
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