Nicolas Godin of Air on His Debut Solo Album, “Contrepoint”

A New Status Quo

Feb 04, 2016 Photography by Camille Vivier Issue #55 - November/December 2015 - EL VY
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Nicolas Godin, one half of the band Air, is nothing if not pragmatic when evaluating his skills. When describing Contrepoint, his first solo effort in his 17-year career, he notes that the project was born, not out of a desire to say something different, but rather exploring to see if he could break his own self-prescribed mold.

"I think I was reaching my limits, and then that's why I decided to make this record," says the French musician. "To push my limits. I was not getting better. I was the same musician year after year for the last five years."

As part of his mission of self-improvement, Godin began seriously studying the piano in between tours with Air and writing the band's most recent album, 2012's new soundtrack to Georges Méliès' 1902 silent movie classic Le voyage dans la lune (aka A Trip to the Moon). Through his self-prescribed course he began noticing something interestingthe ghost of his favorite composer was seemingly everywhere.

"There's always a piece of Bach music in every piece of music that I hear, in the radio, in the supermarket, in my car, on my records," he muses. "I feel like the source of everything was in [his music]. I just wanted to prove it. To make an album inspired by it. To tell the people, 'Look! It's all in there. You just have to listen carefully. Then you'll find everything you know in music written 300 years ago.'"

True to its name, Contrepoint's eight tracks feature a meticulous swirl of contrasting melodies, borrowed from Bach and then pulled apart and liberally repurposed. The harpsichord (one of the Baroque era's primary instruments) gets plenty of action. But its powdered-wig resonance is met with slinky baselines, retro-futuristic synths, saxophone, and lyrics crooned in French, German, and Italian. More than just an exercise in musical excavation, it's a playful song-cycle that demonstrates just how easy it is for the pop and classical music universes to live side by side, from the frenetic "Bach Off" which comes off like a soundtrack to a 1970s cop movie and brings to mind film composers Lalo Schifrin, Ennio Morricone, and John Barry to the jazzy amble of instrumental interlude "Club Nine."

"This is exactly what I wanted to prove," confirms Godin, offering up the equivalent of a verbal smirk. "I just wanted to show to my children that all their video game music on all their consoles were coming from Bach. It's a very close world."

But is it an arena that can be improved upon? Contrepoint track "Glenn" uses an audio sample of the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, whose Bach performances also served as a major album inspiration. "All the basic statements have been made for posterity," Gould says. "Now I think what we must do is try to find our way around these things."

Godin says he agrees with this assessment. Trailblazing isn't the goal, curiosity is.

"I think my aim isn't new," he notes. "But the way I put these pieces together is new."

At this, Godin takes a long, thoughtful pause.

"Most bands think of their career," he continues. "But I think more about my inside world. I see music as a big adventure, and now I wanted to discover new territories in terms of songwriting. It was important. I had to do that."

(Nicolas Godin's Contrepoint was released in Europe last year but is officially due out in the U.S. on February 26 via Because Music.)

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar's November/December Issue. This is its debut online.]

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