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Members include Jean-Benoit Dunckel, keyboards, piano, clavinet, synthesizer; Nicolas Godin, bass, guitar, vocoder, percussion. Addresses: Record company--Astralwerks, 104 W. 29th St., 4th Fl., New York, NY 10001, phone: (212) 989-2929, fax: (212) 643-5573, website: http://www.astralwerks.com.

Although Air--the diverse electronic French duo of Nicolas Godin, a former architect, and Jean-Benoit Dunckel, a mathematician--are associated with an emerging ambient-dance scene in France for their combining of open-ended pop forms with atmospheric effects, their music stands apart from typical electronica. One might assume that Dunckel and Godin rely heavily on sampling and other high-tech devices because of their connection to the genre, but in reality, the pair prefer to play their own instruments. "We liked playing instruments, you know, it's a pleasure," Godin said, as quoted by the MTV website. "It's a chance to make a record and to hear me playing the piano or the guitar, and I could say to my children later, 'hey, look here, it's me, I'm playing.' So I don't understand why I should program what I play, because, when I wake up in the morning the first thing I'm doing is playing the piano."

Another noble characteristic of Air is their insistence on not duplicating instrumentation or sounds presented in previous work. For example, with their pivotal 1998 album Moon Safari, the duo provided the tracks with a retro feel through the use of mini-Moog and vocoder, while the romantic themes of space travel and star-gazing gave the recording a futuristic sense. Moving forward to 2001's 10,000 Hz Legend, a computerized, space-age set exploring vacant pop culture, Godin and Dunckel introduced flutes and gentle rhythms into their repertoire. As former Redd Kross drummer Brian Reitzell, who joins Air for live shows, recorded with the duo their score for the Virgin Suicides film soundtrack, and worked in the studio on 10,000 Hz Legend, told Corey Moss of Sonicnet.com: "With Moon Safari, they use a lot of vocoder and Fender Rhodes [keyboards], and when they did the score they wanted to explore other instruments. They're constantly reinventing themselves."

Dunckel and Godin, both originally from Versailles, France, first united musically while attending university in Paris. At the time, in the early 1990s, Dunckel, a mathematician and teacher, was already a member of the independent rock group Orange with producer Alex Gopher (born Alex Latrobe), who introduced Godin, an architect, to the band. Soon, Godin accepted an offer to join Orange. The trio played together as Orange until the mid 1990s, when Gopher left to begin producing for the influential Paris-based dance music labels Source and Solid; he also released material as a solo artist. Meanwhile, Dunckel and Godin, after a period of concentrating on their respective studies, morphed into Air in 1995.

Upon reuniting, Dunckel and Godin began forging a new electronic direction different from their experiences with Orange. Their trademark would soon become what the press dubbed "ambient-kitsch electric French pop." Also in 1995, the duo signed with Source, a Virgin Records offshoot label based in Paris, and released a handful of singles for both Source and Mo' Wax, another Paris label. Later that year, in November, Air released their first Modular Mix EP for Source.

In July of 1996, Air released a second EP on Source called Casanova '70, followed in August by a second Modular Mix EP for Mo' Wax. Their next EP, Le Soleil est Pres de Moi, surfaced in November of 1997 on Source. Previous to this record, though, a cumulative album of their four EPs arrived in July of 1997. Issued by Source under the title Premiers Symptomes, the record brought Air to the attention of Europe's most prominent DJs, leading to remixing opportunities for the likes of Depeche Mode and Neneh Cherry. Some sources, however, claim that Godin and Dunckel have since disowned their earlier work compiled on Premiers Symptomes. Overall, though, critics received the record favorably, but some nonetheless called the songs a little hesitant and underdeveloped. Still, it was a substantial beginning and offered plenty to admire.

When it came time to record a proper debut album, Godin and Dunckel retreated to an abandoned, eighteenth-century chateau located just outside Paris. Here, on an eight-track console, the duo recorded and produced ten songs of new material. The result, 1998's Moon Safari, proved a striking mixture of dance loops and jazzy pop melodies that moved from instrumentals to effortless techno-pop. The album and subsequent tour across Europe and the United States propelled Air to international stardom. In the United Kingdom, the set reached number five on the charts, and the singles "Sexy Boy," "Kelly Watch the Stars," and "All I Need," featuring vocals by Godin and Beth Hirsch, an American singer based in Paris, all became hits. At the end of the year, Moon Safari appeared on several "best of" lists; Select magazine as well as Muzik named it the number one album of the year, the Oakland Tribune ranked the album at number seven, and the Chicago Tribune listed Moon Safari at number ten.

In 1999, after both Dunckel and Godin became fathers within one week of each other (Dunckel had a girl and Godin a boy), Air set out on their next project--composing the original score for the film The Virgin Suicides, directed by Sophia Coppola and based on the book by Jeffrey Eugenides. According to Dunckel, Coppola was a big fan of Moon Safari and knew Mike Mills, who directed videos for Air and provided all their artwork. Dunckel and Godin, who always wanted to work on a soundtrack, jumped on the opportunity to try something new. "We're big fans of soundtracks--they were my first introduction to classical music," said Dunckel in an interview for Uncut magazine. "I like pop songs too, of course, but here you can use more strings, and have a theme you return to." The album soundtrack, released in February of 2000 on the American label Astralwerks and on Virgin overseas, further solidified Air's reputation, and the first single from the record, "Playground Love," received wide airplay in both Europe and the States.

Staying true to their rule about not re-using instruments or past ideas, Air spent much of 2000 working on their follow-up to Moon Safari. "It's very different from Moon Safari and nothing like the soundtrack," commented Reitzell about 10,000 Hz Legend, a "masterpiece," hailed the drummer. "The Virgin Suicides score was Air working incredibly quickly. There weren't a lot of arrangements. This new record, every song is a contained work of art. But every song is a song. There's no art damage." The sublime, expansive, and intoxicating album, released in May of 2001 on Astralwerks in the United States, also enjoyed critical acclaim, as reviewers compared their journeys into psychedelic panoramas to that of Pink Floyd, Gong, Can, and post-rock groups like Oval, Tortoise, and Radiohead. Notable tracks from the eleven-song set included "Radian," "Electric Performers," "People in the City," "Don't Be Light," and "The Vagabond," with a guest appearance by the abstract funk-rock superstar Beck.

by Laura Hightower

Air's Career

Formed in Paris, France, 1995; released Moon Safari, 1998; composed original score for the 2000 film The Virgin Suicides; released 10,000 Hz Legend, 2001.

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