The French duo Air has written music for films before — its compositions appear in Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation, The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette — but never before had it composed music for anything as classic and internationally treasured as French filmmaker Georges Méliès' groundbreaking 1902 film Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip to the Moon).
The innovative silent film was the first movie in the science-fiction genre, and used ingenious special effects to re-create a fantastical trip to the moon and back. Originally released in black and white, a rare hand-colored version of the film was discovered in Barcelona in 1993. Restoration work was completed earlier this year.
With that version of the film fully restored, Air's Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel were asked to write a new, modern score.
Watch the colorful and climactic parade scene from the fully scored film here:
Inspired by their work, Godin and Dunckel decided to expand their composition for the original 16-minute film into a full-length album, also titled Le Voyage Dans La Lune. The album, which includes vocal contributions from Beach House's Victoria Legrand, will be released in the U.S. and Canada on Feb. 6.
Severine Wemaere (who, as head of the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, was involved with the film's restoration) and Air's Godin and Dunckel recently explained what it was like to work with Méliès' film:
We're very proud to be here today to present a masterpiece that was not visible for almost 100 years and that was almost considered lost, and then it was found in 1993 in Spain. ... In the history of restoration stories, I've never seen such a crazy project. It's huge, because it's 13,375 frames that were completely fragmented, and we had to play like a huge puzzle, and this was done in Los Angeles by the team of Tom Burton at Technicolor Creative Services. In early April, we decided that we would add an original soundtrack to this 1902 masterpiece, so we contacted the French band Air. They just said yes because it was Méliès.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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... Our role is similar to Madame Thuillier's, who colored Méliès' film, or to the 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.