AIR: Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip To The Moon) film; album + interview

AIR Le Voyage Dans La Lune

Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip To The Moon) by Georges Méliès

Album to be released February 7, 2012 on Astralwerks

Featuring Au Revoir Simone and Victoria Legrand (Beach House)

Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip To The Moon) is a classic black & white silent film by revered French director Georges Méliès.

Released in 1902, this legendary 14-minute film is widely considered one of the most important works in film history, and the very first to use science fiction as its theme, incorporating special effects that were very state-of-the-art at the turn of the 19th century. It was loosely based on two popular novels of the time: Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon and H. G. Wells The First Men In The Moon.

A hand-colored print, the only one known to survive, was rediscovered in 1993 by the Filmoteca de Catalunya. It was in a state of almost total decomposition, and many years of painstaking, manual restoration took place until 2010, when digital technology finally came to the rescue. Following another year at the Technicolor Lab of Los Angeles, it was ready to share with the world.

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Eager to put a contemporary spin on this classic silent film, the producers decided to approach AIR's Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel, to compose an original modern soundtrack, an enormous honor for French musicians, considering the film's place in the canon of French cinema.

With the aim of premiering at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, AIR set themselves a tight deadline, locking their studio doors and working around the clock to serve these classic images with brave new sounds.

Complete with a new soundtrack by AIR, the film debuted at Cannes on May 11, 2011 to immediate and unanimous acclaim.

Spurred on by their work on this short movie, AIR decided to develop the project into a full album inspired by the film.

Expanding the original musical themes beyond cinematic instrumentals, the album also features the vocal talents of Au Revoir Simone and Victoria Legrand (Beach House). The band's lunar fascinations have been evident since the beginning of their career with the release of the seminal 1998 classic Moon Safari.

Now in 2012 Nicolas and JB have returned to explore the further regions of their very unique musical "space."

Nicolas explains: "'A Trip to the Moon' is undoubtedly more organic than most of our past projects. We wanted it to sound 'handmade,' knocked together, a bit like Méliès' special effects. Everything is played live … like Méliès' film, our soundtrack is nourished by living art."

The three producers of the restored version have agreed to let EMI release a special Limited Edition version of the AIR album Le Voyage Dans La Lune, which will be released on February 7, 2012 on Astralwerks. This will consist of the album plus a bonus DVD or digital download of the restored colorized film with AIR's original film score, strictly limited to 70,000 global copies.


1. Astronomic Club
2. Seven Stars
3. Retour sur terre
4. Parade
5. Moon Fever
6. Sonic Armada
7. Who Am I Know?
8. Décollage
9. Cosmic Trip
10. Homme lune
11. Lava

Copyright A Trip to the Moon (1902), by Georges Méliès - original color version restored - 2011 © Lobster Films-Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema-Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage

* * *

Q&A with Jean-Benoit Dunckel & Nicolas Godin of AIR (courtesy EMI).

Almost thirteen years after your first album, Moon Safari, you've put your name to the soundtrack of the colorized version of A Trip to the Moon. In what way are these two lunar expeditions connected?

Nicolas Godin: Moon Safari corresponds, for us, to a period of innocence: we were starting out, we weren’t thinking in career terms. In a way, the images of A Trip to the Moon revived that lost innocence in us. They’re part of our unconscious: we don’t remember when we saw them for the first time, but we just know that they marked us - I especially remember a video by the Smashing Pumpkins which was based on the film, which bowled me over, in the 1990s. Seeing these images again to set them to music took us way back to the world of childhood.

Jean-Benoît Dunckel: Between Moon Safari and the original soundtrack of A Trip to the Moon, we learned how to compose for images. Our music, in its beginnings, was very pop; it’s become more experimental over time.

From Virgin Suicides to Quartier lointain, all your original soundtracks are about voyages in time and in space. This is the case again with A Trip to the Moon...

Nicolas Godin: For each album, we take the listener by the hand and lead him somewhere. That’s what music does. We have no other pretensions than that.

Jean-Benoît Dunckel: Travel helps the mind to open, to change. Our music has the same ambition: to affect the body and the mind. Our role is similar to Madame Thuillier's, who colored Méliès’ film, or to role of musicians who played live in cinema theatres during a showing: it’s about prolonging the experience of film by stimulating the spectator's brain. We don't make rock music but psycho-acoustic music, ambience. That's why our music works so well for voyages, and original soundtracks.

You had less than 20 days to write and record the soundtrack. How did the recording sessions go?

Nicolas Godin: The music gushed out very quickly, as if we'd been nurturing it for a life-time. Méliès' universe belongs to the world's collective memory: the image of the moon with the rocket in its eye is anchored in each one of us. This film has come through decades with its evocative power intact.

Jean-Benoît Dunckel: Melies laid the base for several generations of film-makers, set decorators, creators of special effects - in the same way as the Beatles defined the pop format in the 196os. Had the definitions of Melies or of the Beatles been different, cinema or music would have been radically different.

Your soundtrack is striking for its great synchronicity with the images of Méliès: each sound gives rhythm, stress, or punctuation to the action of the film. Drum and percussion play a dominant role...

Nicolas Godin: We had great freedom compared to our previous experience of composing for images. For once, since the director is dead, there was nobody above us telling us what to do: we were able to work with each image, because we knew that everything we recorded would be preserved in the film. We played facing the screen, to synchronize the music better - which caused a bit of neck ache... In fact, this was our first time composing for a silent film: with no dialogue, the soundtrack becomes one of the main narrative threads. That freed us up, I think. The euphoric aspect of our score comes partly from that.

Jean-Benoît Dunckel: Méliès thought of his film as a series of scenes: it's practically filmed theatre. With that static, vintage look, our music had to have dynamism, energy, modernity. Hence the importance we gave to rhythms: the drum is what allows you to most easily date a piece of music, to anchor it in the contemporary world.

From a technological point of view, the film brings together very primitive special effects, from the stage or from painting, and the very latest restoration techniques. Your writing juxtaposes, in the same way, the organic and the electronic, acoustic instruments and analog and digital effects.
Have you favoured one of these two approaches?

Jean-Benoît Dunckel: In our music the acoustic and the electronic have always lived together to try to surprise and move the listener : the acoustic brings unctuosity and sincerity, while the electronic stimulates the imagination.

Nicolas Godin: A Trip to the Moon is undoubtedly more organic than most of our past projects. We wanted it to sound “hand-made”, knocked together, a bit like Méliès' special effects. Everything is played live. We used the mellotron for the sound effects, an ancestor of the synthesizer which you could find in all the English theatres: like Méliès’ film, our soundtrack is nourished by living art. We also did a lot of work on wind. Afterwards, it’s true that we like to play around with voices: we have no respect for them, we don’t have a sound hierarchy. Here, it seemed interesting to us to make the humans talk with animal sounds (hens, elephants, etc), the opposite of Disney productions, where animals talk like humans. This is particularly the case in the astronomer sequence, where everyone is clucking as if in a hen-house: original ideas - to go to the moon - are fought against by the crowd of right-minded people.

Your music is an admirable mix of differing moods, alternating between light and more melancholy sequences.

Jean-Benoît Dunckel: We used classic film music techniques, like modulating harmonies. For example, when the moon changes, the harmony changes. We really adapted ourselves to each scene of the film.

Nicolas Godin: For the very burlesque jumping scene on the moon, we imagined some fun music, a bit surf and psychedelic. But we also bore in mind that discovering a new territory often corresponds to the end of a civilization: that’s what happened with Christopher Columbus and it is I think, in places, what the film of Méliès evokes.

Jean-Benoît Dunckel: Managing to balance the emotions is something that French musical composers, such as Michel Colombier or Georges Delerue, more easily succeed in doing than the Americans.

© Fondation GroupamaGan pour le cinéma & Fondation Technicolor pour le Patrimoine du Cinéma

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