This past year has seen a sudden craze for pioneering French filmmaker Georges Méliès—a mere 110 years after he released his most famous film, A Trip to the Moon. Méliès and his work, of course, are the basis for Martin Scorsese’s film Hugo (itself an adaptation of the graphic novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret). And as that film awaits judgement for the Best Picture category at this year’s Academy Awards, French electronic duo Air have revisited the 1902 film, widely considered the first in the sci-fi genre, for sonic inspiration.
The subject matter couldn’t better suit Air’s propensity for space-rock drum kits and hovering melodic synthesizers. For more than 15 years, Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel have been exploring science-fiction themes on records like Talkie Walkie, 10,000 Hz Legend and, what might even be considered a sort of prequel, their ’98 debut LP Moon Safari. Film scoring, too, is nothing new to Air. In 2000, they received acclaim for their soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides. The nature of Le Voyage Dans La Lune, however, is slightly different. Using the silent, hand-colorized 14-minute film as their starting point, the band penned 11 tunes that come in at 31 minutes, more than twice the duration of the film. Therefore, the record is an extrapolated collection of themes and effects the band composed to first suit the onscreen action. An iTunes download of the record will also get you the soundtracked film, which reveals a much clearer sense of narrative than does the full album version.
“Astronomic Club” enters with a foreboding march of kettle drums as Méliès’ band of astronomers plot a mission to the moon and go about constructing their craft. Tracks such as “Décollage” and “Retour sur terre” serve as the connective tissue both on the record and film, atmospherically illustrating Méliès’ gorgeous sets as the narrative builds to a climax. The centerpiece of both mediums is “Sonic Armada,” an infectiously groovy synthesizer workout reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters era, which perfectly illustrates the astronomers’ battle with the Selenite moon men and eventual escape back to Earth. Highlights from the album version are, no doubt, “Seven Stars,” a Bowie-esque space anthem featuring Beach House’s Victoria Legrand, and the fractured, haunting bilingual “Who Am I Now?” featuring Brooklyn’s Au Revoir Simone. “Parade,” the record’s most triumphant instrumental, comes four tracks in, but serves as a perfect closing to the film, as the top-hatted astronomers return home to oversized medals. It’s the original steampunk dance party.