A breath of fresh Air

The French duo of Ni­co­las Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel aim to keep their live show in­ter­est­ing when they ar­rive in Tel Aviv with just one other band mem­ber

The Jerusalem Post - - Arts - • By DAVID BRINN

There’s per­haps never been a band whose name so ac­cu­rately re­flected its mu­sic as Air. Over the course of 12 years, The French duo, con­sist­ing of Ni­co­las Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel, have per­fected a dreamy elec­tron­ica sound that has been de­scribed as a re­lax­ing Prozac vi­sion of the late ’70s, built upon syn­the­sizer mae­stros like Jean-Michel Jarre and Van­ge­lis, new wave mu­sic of the non­spiky va­ri­ety and ob­scure Ital­ian film sound­tracks. But to 39-year-old Dunckel, it’s just mu­sic.

“I grew up lis­ten­ing to all kinds of mu­sic – clas­si­cal but also a lot of elec­tronic mu­sic like Kraftwerk, then all the English dark rock like Joy Divi­sion, Siouxie and the Ban­shees, and of course, I was a big fan of Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed,” said Dunckel in a phone con­ver­sa­tion from Paris, ahead of the group’s de­but in Is­rael on Oc­to­ber 2 at Hangar 11 and Oc­to­ber 3 at Zappa, both in Tel Aviv within the Heinekin Vibes frame­work.

The band’s name is an acro­nym for amour, imaginatio­n, rêve – love, imaginatio­n, dream – a com­bi­na­tion that adeptly de­scribes the mes­mer­iz­ing tones the duo pro­duce.

I re­mem­ber hear­ing “Cherry Blos­som Girl” from their 2004 al­bum Talkie Walkie for the first time on the car ra­dio and get­ting so im­mersed in the den­sity of the track that I missed my exit home. An­other fan who caught the Air bug early on, and was in a po­si­tion to ad­vance the band’s ca­reer, was film­maker Sofia Cop­pola.

She asked the group to com­pose the mu­sic for her 1999 de­but film The Vir­gin Sui­cides, and since then has cho­sen Air tracks to ac­com­pany scenes in both Lost in Trans­la­tion and Marie An­toinette.

“I think our mu­sic works well in films be­cause it’s quite melan­cholic – it just fits well with some scenes. Our mu­sic is light, of­ten in­stru­men­tal and it has ro­man­tic melodies. It just has that cer­tain fla­vor that com­ple­ments vi­su­als,” said Dunckel. “I’m very pleased with how Sofia has uti­lized our songs.”

Cop­pola be­came en­thralled with the band af­ter hear­ing its 1998 de­but Moon Sa­fari, which was the cul­mi­na­tion of a three-year part­ner­ship by the duo, who met in the mid-’90s while study­ing at the Con­ser­va­toire in Paris. Em­bark­ing on an am­bi­tious tour af­ter the release of the al­bum, the group achieved moderate in­die cir­cle suc­cess in Europe and, in some­what of a break­through for a French act, the US.

“Our in­ten­tion wasn’t to only play in France – we wanted to make mu­sic for the hu­man race,” said Dunckel. THAT GOAL has come to fruition, with re­sul­tant al­bums, 10 000 Hz Leg­end, Ev­ery­body Hertz, Talkie Walkie and last year’s Pocket Sym­phony, winning the group wider ap­peal, re­sult­ing in a fea­tured slot at last year’s Coachella Val­ley Mu­sic and Arts Fes­ti­val.

De­spite us­ing a high-pro­file pro­ducer Nigel Go­drich for Pocket Sym­phony, and guest ap­pear­ances by Bri­tish rock­ers, Pulp vo­cal­ist Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon of The Di­vine Com­edy, Dunckel claims that he and Godin haven’t made an at­tempt to overly com­mer­cial­ize the band’s sound.

“When we find an idea, we try to push it fur­ther. We’ve al­ways done that, through chang­ing the in­stru­ments we play, to find an­other way to do things. Ul­ti­mately, I think you can al­ways rec­og­nize that the song comes from Air,” he said.

How­ever, ac­cord­ing to Dunckel, Go­drich, who’s been at the helm of Ra­dio­head’s opuses, pro­vided a unique take on the tra­di­tional Air sound.

“Work­ing with Nigel was like col­lab­o­rat­ing on the en­gine of the Con­corde. The Con­corde was made by the Bri­tish and French – with the sci­ence com­ing from the French in­dus­try which they’re good at and the de­sign and style from the Bri­tish.

“It was the same thing with Nigel. He added the charm and style to our in­ner work­ings. He al­ways tries to find a new trick to use on each song, which helps make the mu­sic sound fresh,” said Dunckel.

Keep­ing Air fresh is fore­most in Dunckel and Godin’s minds as they em­bark on a three-week jaunt – dubbed the “Close Up Tour,” which in ad­di­tion to Tel Aviv, will find them per­form­ing in Ro­ma­nia, China and Latvia.

“For us, it’s a spe­cial tour. We’re try­ing out a new for­mula to per­form live. We’re only go­ing to be three band mem­bers on stage, just us and a drum­mer. Usu­ally, we’re a five­piece tour­ing band,” said Dunckel.

“We want to try a more min­i­mal­ist ap­proach, to get more out of less. The sound may not be as loud as usual, but it will have a dif­fer­ent charm. I think our mu­sic works be­cause we have good songs, and good songs can be played with many dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tions.” LIVE AIR has a dif­fer­ent sound and feel than the band’s recorded works, said Dunckel, but it’s more of a tex­tu­ral dif­fer­ence than any con­crete changes made to the ma­te­rial.

“We try to find the fire in the song, to get to this warm en­ergy that makes the song cool. On the al­bum, the songs are pris­on­ers of the tapes, but live you can get some feel­ing into them. How­ever, there’s not a lot of im­pro­vi­sa­tion go­ing on. The songs are well com­posed,” he said, adding with a laugh, “some­times we change ver­sions of songs, but when we change them too much, peo­ple tell us they don’t like it.”

De­spite his free­dom within Air, Dunckel felt the need to branch out, and in 2006, re­leased a solo al­bum, Darkel – Ger­man for ‘dark’ – a move he de­scribed as cathar­tic.

“I wanted to push my­self in a cer­tain way. The songs were mine deal­ing with my own sub­jects. I don’t think it fit into any cat­a­logue. And my ap­proach was dif­fer­ent. I was alone for the whole process and it gave me clar­ity about the mu­sic. It felt like a new start for me, al­most like go­ing to self-anal­y­sis,” he said.

Dunckel, how­ever, re­mains happy within the Air fold, and doesn’t see any ma­jor up­heavals ahead. The Paris-based mu­si­cian said he was tak­ing in stride the new com­pe­ti­tion on the mu­sic charts from within his coun­try pro­vided by an un­likely source, the wife of French Prime Min­is­ter Ni­co­las Sarkozy, Carla Bruni, who re­leased an al­bum this year called As If Noth­ing Hap­pened.

“I’ve heard it. There’s def­i­nitely some­thing cool in it, it has some charm,” said Dunckel.

“I don’t re­ally feel any com­pe­ti­tion with her, it’s a dif­fer­ent type of thing she has go­ing. Any­way, we don’t have the same ac­cess to the me­dia that she does.”

LOFTY MONIKER. The band’s name is an acro­nym for amour, imag­i­na­tion, rêve – love, imag­i­na­tion, dream. Pic­tured: Jean-Benoît Dunckel (left) and Nicolas Godin.

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