The first track on French electronic duo Air’s new album, “La Voyage Dans la Lune,” is 18 seconds long and the perfect sonic accompaniment to reaching the pearly gates. Yet the band’s label, Astralwerks/EMI, thinks Air’s 10th release will grab the attention of lapsed followers.
“The people that were into Air early on and then maybe drifted away are very likely to come back now,” Astralwerks senior project manager Nick Clift says. “We have an incredible press story behind the album. We have very strong NPR support across the board to tell the story [including a “First Listen” album stream the week before release] and support from SiriusXM satellite radio, too.”
The duo, Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin, came out of the gate strong in 1998 with “Moon Safari,” an album that became an electronic classic, eventually selling 386,000 copies stateside, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But more recent releases, including 2007’s “Pocket Symphony” (77,000, according to SoundScan) and 2009’s “Love 2” (24,000), have seen diminishing commercial returns. Perhaps it’s only fitting, then, that things are now coming full circle with another album inspired by the moon: “La Voyage Dans la Lune” (A Trip to the Moon) arrives Feb. 7.
The project, which takes its cues from French director Georges Méliès and his 16-minute silent film of the same name, sprang from another: the score to the restored version of the 1902 movie. (“La Voyage Dans la Lune” plays a storied role in film history; it also serves as a central plot point in this year’s Academy Award-nominated “Hugo.”) Only one hand-painted color print of Méliès’ film was ever produced, long gone until its rediscovery in 1993. French organizations Fondation Groupama Gan and Fondation Technicolor later took on the restoration of the film’s color version, and a few months before it was set to premiere at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, the foundations approached Air about scoring the film.
Watch a clip from the restored, Air-scored “La Voyage Dans la Lune”
The band, which was already in the studio at the time and has a slate of soundtrack work to its credit — including “The Virgin Suicides,” “Lost in Translation” and just recently, a short film for jeweler Cartier (“Painted Love”) — shifted its attention to the 16-minute score, a theme upon which a 31-minute, 11-track album would grow.
Aided by vocals and lyrics from Beach House‘s Victoria Legrand and indie-pop act Au Revoir Simone, the results are weirder and woozier than one might expect from a score accompanying a film from 1902. Air chose to channel the druggy psychedelia of Paris in the early 20th century, as well as incorporate inspiration from the sound effects and scores of “Planet of the Apes” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” Animal noises are used to represent the deafening chatter of village idiots in one scene, quickly shifting gears to more celestial sounds.
“It was just so unexpected, the best we could have ever dreamed of,” Dunckel says of being asked to score Méliès’ film. “Plus,” he adds with a laugh, “now we don’t have to make any videos for this album.”
As for the unique sound of the finished project, Godin says, “It would have shown a lack of respect for us to create something that sounded purposefully old. Méliès really conceived this movie to entertain-to watch in the theater, not to become a part of a museum.”
With the film and music contextually linked, a crucial aspect of the album’s rollout involves art house screenings in the United States and a limited edition of the album (70,000 copies worldwide) that includes the CD and a DVD of the film. Additionally, three clips from “La Voyage Dans la Lune” have been offered for free, through iTunes, NPR and the band’s Facebook page, respectively, in the last several months.
“Air’s core foundation is primarily people in the design, film, art and fashion communities,” Astralwerks’ Clift says. “We’ve found such a fit with this project.”