Air in the moon
Music for Meliès’ classic film
The duo Air composed the soundtrack for the new colour version of George Méliès’ 1903 classic film Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon). They recorded the psychedelic jungle of sounds in just one month to have it ready for last year’s Cannes Film Festival.
RFI Musique: How did Voyage vers la Lune get started?
Nicolas Godin: The Gan Foundation and Technicolour, who funded the restoration of the film, and Lobster Films, all wanted modern music for the movie. That was actually what Méliès wanted too, because the only instruction he gave was to that it should be contemporary music. So they looked for a contemporary French group who had experience of film music and was obsessed by the moon… watch my eyes! (laughter)
Have you been mooning around ever since Moon Safari?
Jean-Benoît Dunckel: Yes! We’re mooning, gravity-free, floating high on sound, and also into the divine and spirituality! In the film, a kind of God makes an appearance. Our two worlds were pretty much in synch and we like moon stories. The title of our first album, Moon Safari, comes from a science fiction story in Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.
Were you intimidated by this movie classic?
Nicolas Godin: We didn’t know anything about Méliès except for that famous image of the moon with a rocket in its eye. Although film buffs are fascinated by this film, it’s not easy to appeal to audiences with something so outdated and kitsch. We wondered what music we could put with such an old-fashioned, farcical film. And we wanted everyone to like the film, and not just Méliès fans. That was the musical challenge.
What were your feelings the first time you saw the movie?
Nicolas Godin: Pretty horrible feelings! In it, astronauts go to the moon and fight the “aliens” and then destroy everything and bring them back to Earth, throw spikes and laugh at them. It’s very cruel but I don’t think that was the idea at the time, it was just how people in the colonies were viewed back in 1902. We felt sad too at seeing the bleeding moon with a rocket in its eye. It echoes the ecological disasters in the world today. In the film, you see what man is capable of destroying. Those feelings helped us to compose something more timeless and go deep into our emotions. We didn’t want to create music for a comedy.
The first track, Astronomic Club, has a distinct feel, with tampered vocals and loud trumpeting…
Nicolas Godin: The astronomers are in a pretty massive cathedral so we wanted some massive music. We’d wanted to use timbales for some time, but we’d never dared to on our previous albums. It was the ideal opportunity. The swaying rhythm of the timbales is something like the elephants’ march in Jungle Book. Since there’s a bit of jungle in the film, we created a jungle of sounds.
Tracks like Lava and Cosmic Trip are fairly close to The Dark Side of the Moon*…
Jean-Benoît Dunckel: The film is totally psychedelic! The colour tinting, the space, the giant mushrooms… Musically, the psychedelic side comes from sound hallucinations, special effects, repetition, delays, filters and the superimposition of different worlds.
You composed music for three of Sofia Coppola’s films. What was different about doing it for a silent movie?
Jean-Benoît Dunckel: A silent film lets the music fill the space from start to finish. The ear can concentrate on a story told by the music. And we knew there would be no change to the editing and that we were working on definitive material.
Nicolas Godin: With Sofia, we’d receive the rushes of the filmed scenes and use them as a base to compose the music, which she would put where she liked. We also had to find a theme to run through the film, like in a James Bond. With the Méliès film, each scene has its own theme so repetition would have sounded boring and been immediately obvious.
Could this project be performed on stage, like in a Méliès live performance?
Nicolas Godin: I don’t know. The film is such a wild horse that we won’t be looking to compose for other silent movies. It would be a pretty short performance too! Perhaps we could play the music as a curtain call at a concert, or play the whole album, like for Virgin Suicide. We haven’t really thought about doing it live.
*The Dark Side of the Moon: Pink Floyd’s 1973 album
Air le Voyage dans la Lune (EMI) 2012