Inspiration can arrive from a variety of destinations. When French architecture student and amateur musician Nicolas Godin was first commissioned to record his first song in the mid-Nineties, he thought of the pioneer of modernist architecture, Le Corbusier. The band he formed with fellow student Jean-Benoît Dunckel was named after the acronym for “Amour, Imagination, Rêve” (“Love, Imagination, Dream”) – and AIR proceeded to imagine a wondrous world drawn from modern pop, film soundtracks and more retrospective pop (soft rock, exotica, ‘80s Eurodance, Yé-yé), to create a unique fusion. The duo’s last studio album, Le Voyage Dans La Lune, was an alternative soundtrack to Georges Méliès’ classic 1902 silent science fiction film.
Now Godin, for his first solo album, has reached further back to move forward. On AIR’S last tour, in 2010 following their 2009 album Love 2, Godin realised that he’d reached an impasse. “I observed that music was taking up only a small part of my daily life,” he recalls. “And every day on tour was the same. I had become what Glenn Gould called ‘a travelling monkey in the concert circus…’”
Glenn Gould: “A legendary name,” Godin ventures. The late Canadian pianist had extraordinary abilities as well as eccentric disciplines and personal obsessions, one being the work of Classical music genius Johann Sebastian Bach. One of the 18th century German maestro’s key disciplines was counterpoint – contrepoint in French; namely, the relationship between interdependent harmonies that remain independent in rhythm and contour.
Godin: “A musician friend had told me about the two documentaries Bruno Monsaingeon had made about Gould, Hereafter and The Alchemist. I watched Gould, who’s one of the greatest musicians of all time, playing the most beautiful music of all time, Bach. I think the extremely personal way that Gould interpreted Bach goes against all the normal rules of performance, which for me created a new art form. I was immediately attracted to this mysterious and inaccessible universe, which I wanted to explore when I got home to Paris.”
The end result is Contrepoint, a dazzling experience that conjoins Godin’s former habitual musical fusions with classical forms, taking the listener on multiple adventurous journeys, often within each song, with counterpoint just one of its many landmarks. It’s remarkably varied in tone and rhythm, splicing genres with a bold, punchy and yet sensual and sweeping feel, with a variety of enticing lyrical narratives, and a starry international cast of guests, such as French vocalist Gordon Tracks, Brazilian singer Marcelo Camelo, Italian author Alessandro Barrico, New Zealand guitarist Connan Mockasin and the choir from Macedonia’s F.A.M.E.’S. Project. But the unifying force of Contrepoint is Johann Sebastian Bach. Each album track uses a Bach piece as its source, before jumping off to all manner of new places. Glenn Gould is also in the mix, though more of a spiritual guide than compositional. The predominant influence on Contrepoint is Godin himself, composing at a new-found level of inspiration, both structural and emotional.