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 stargazing 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 Re-itzell, 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
Members include Jean-Benoit Dunckel, keyboards, piano, clavinet, synthesizer; Nicolas Godin , bass, guitar, vocoder, percussion.
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.
“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.
Singles and EPs
Modular Mix (EP), Source, 1995.
Casanova ‘70 (EP), Source, 1996.
Modular Mix (EP), Mo’Wax, 1996.
Le Soleil est Pres de Moi (EP), 1997.
“Sexy Boy,” Source/Virgin, 1998.
“Kelly, Watch the Stars,” Source/Virgin, 1998.
“All I Need,” Virgin, 1998.
“Playground Love,” Virgin, 2000.
Premiers Symptomes, Source/Virgin, July 1997; reissued, Virgin, 1999.
Moon Safari, Source/Virgin, 1998.
The Virgin Suicides, Virgin, 2000.
10,000 Hz Legend,Astralwerks, 2000.
Uncut, April 2000.
The Biggest Air Site Online, http://www.airfrenchband.co.uk (May 17, 2001).
MTV, http://www.mtv.com (May 17, 2001).
The Raft, http://www.theraft.com (May 17, 2001).
Sonicnet, http://www.sonicnet.com (May 17, 2001).
Yahoo! Music, http://musicfinder.yahoo.com (May 17, 2001).
Air (and its variant spellings eir, eyr, aier, ayre, eyir, eire, eyer, ayer, aire, ayere, and ayr) all stem from the Latin aer. It is the most transparent but immediately necessary of all the classical Greek elements. It surrounds the Earth as atmosphere and was considered a mediating element, somewhere between fire and water, both warm and moist, the driving force behind the birth of the cosmos. As a spiritual element it pushed along the soul—the Greek work for spirit, pneuma, also means breath—and spread messages and ideas across the world in its guise as wind. In the early twenty first century, as gas, air represents one of the fundamental states of matter (the others being solid and liquid), while its pollution by technological activities constitutes a fundamental ethical challenge.
Air in Science
Air figures prominently in both physics and chemistry, and as atmosphere is subject to its own special science. Indeed among the achievements of early modern natural science was the distinction between air and atmosphere. In 1644 Evangelista Torricelli, a student of Galileo Galilei, invented the barometer and thereby discovered the phenomenon of atmospheric pressure. Later in the century it was shown that air/atmosphere is a mechanical mixture of at least two gases, and in the period from 1773 to 1774, Carl Wilhelm Scheele and Joseph Priestly are credited with identifying oxygen as one such element.
In 1784 Henry Cavendish published the first accurate information about the composition of naturally occurring air in the atmosphere, which is approximately 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen. The remaining 1 percent is mostly argon (.9%) and carbon dioxide (.03%), with even smaller trace amounts of hydrogen, water, ozone, neon, helium, krypton, and xenon. Atmospheric air extends to approximately 350 miles above the Earth, is divided into a number of different layers (from the troposphere to the stratosphere and beyond), and undergoes tidal motions like the oceans. The study of those motions and other atmospheric phenomena, especially the weather, is known as meteorology. Of increasing importance as well is atmospheric chemistry and the study of air pollution.
Technologies of the Air
Even before the advent of humans the air served as a medium of communication for animals, a possibility that has been progressively developed by humans through speech and music. From early periods of human history the motion of air in the form of wind was been harnessed to power ships for transportation. During the late Middle Ages wind became a source of mechanical motion in windmills. And in the late-eighteenth and early-twentieth centuries it became a medium of transportation with the invention of balloons and the airplane, which has led to the science of aerodynamics and the technology of aeronautical engineering.
Air in the from of wind has also been a design problem, especially in the construction of tall buildings. Since the late-twentieth century wind has again been exploited as a source for the creation of electrical power. From the earliest periods of human history, the heating of air has been a major technological issue, and as such air is closely associated with fire. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution the circulation and eventually the cooling of air became further technological design issues.
Toward an Ethics of the Air
The human ability to inhabit the world in a fashion that is sensitive toward the environment is reflected in the air people breathe. Throughout the course of the day each person consumes between 3,000 and 5,000 liters of air. But especially in the industrialized world, the air is full of notoriously harmful pollutants such as benzene, toluene, and xylenes, which are found in gasoline; perchlorethylene, which is used by the dry cleaning industry; and methylene chloride, which is used as a solvent by a number of industries. Examples of air toxics typically associated with particulate matter include heavy metals such as cadmium, mercury, chromium, and lead compounds; and semivolatile organic compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are generally emitted from the combustion of wastes and fossil fuels.
The latter (aromatic hydrocarbons) have to do with the formation of ground-level ozone. This is different from the stratospheric ozone that protects the Earth from ultraviolet radiation. Ozone is the same molecule regardless of where it is found, but its significance varies. Ozone (the name is derived from a Greek word meaning to smell) is a highly reactive, unstable molecule formed by reacting with nitrogen oxides from burning automobile fuel and other petroleum-based products in the presence of sunlight. It is also produced during lightning storms, which is why the air has that peculiar electrical odor during a storm. This type of ozone, however, is very short lasting and does not represent a significant risk to health. The real problem stems from certain volatile organic compounds such as those produced by the shellac of furniture finishing plants, cleaning solvents used by dry cleaners and computer manufacturers, and terpenes from trees; these atmospheric chemicals linger in the air and prevent the break up of the ozone molecule back into oxygen.
High concentrations of ground-level ozone may cause inflammation and irritation of the respiratory tract, particularly during heavy physical activity. The resulting symptoms may include coughing, throat irritation, and breathing difficulty. It can damage lung tissue, aggravate respiratory disease, and cause people to be more susceptible to respiratory infection. Children and senior citizens are particularly vulnerable. Inhaling ozone can affect lung function and worsen asthma attacks. Ozone also increases the susceptibility of the lungs to infections, allergies, and other air pollutants.
The greatest ethical issues concerning air involve the collective reluctance of humankind to take responsibility for the negative effects its way of life has upon the air, this essential element that has been recognized and harnessed for thousands of human years. Since the 1800s industry has been slow to admit that its technologies have seriously compromised the health of the air. In 1948 a killer fog caused the death of twenty and sickened 6,000 residents of the industrial town of Donora, Pennsylvania. For years local steel and zinc plants refused to admit that their effluents could have had anything to do with this Act of God. Thousands more died over the following decade. Even in the early twenty-first century industries tend to avoid taking responsibility for air pollution fatalities and illnesses caused by their routine operations.
This tendency to shirk responsibility extends to human obligations regarding the atmosphere as a whole, especially where the United States is concerned. Global climate change is one of the greatest harmful consequences of human industrial activity on Earth, and can only be controlled by managing air pollution.
Abram, David. (1996). The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. New York: Vintage. Chapter 7 presents a phenomenological description of "The Forgetting and Remembering of the Air."
Davis, Devra. (2002). When Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle Against Pollution. New York: Basic Books.
Olson, John. (2003). "Inebriate of Air." In Writing on Air, ed. David Rothenberg and Wandee J. Pryor. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
air / e(ə)r/ • n. 1. the invisible gaseous substance surrounding the earth, a mixture mainly of oxygen and nitrogen. ∎ this substance regarded as necessary for breathing: get some fresh air. ∎ the free or unconfined space above the surface of the earth: he tossed his hat high in the air. ∎ [as adj.] used to indicate that something involves the use of aircraft: air travel. ∎ the earth's atmosphere as a medium for transmitting radio waves: they've sold products over the air. ∎ air considered as one of the four elements in ancient philosophy and in astrology (associated with the signs of Gemini, Aquarius, and Libra). ∎ a breeze or light wind. See also light air. ∎ air conditioning. ∎ a jump off the ground on a snowboard. 2. (air of) an impression of a quality or manner given by someone or something: she answered with a faint air of boredom. ∎ (airs) an annoyingly affected and condescending manner: he began to put on airs and boss us around. 3. Mus. a tune or short melodious composition, typically a song. • v. 1. [tr.] (often be aired) express (an opinion or grievance) publicly: long-standing grievances were aired. ∎ broadcast (a program) on radio or television. 2. [tr.] expose (a room) to the open air in order to ventilate it. PHRASES: by air in an aircraft: all goods must come in by air. in the air noticeable all around; becoming prevalent: I smell violence in the air. on (or off) the air being (or not being) broadcast on radio or television. up in the air (of a plan or issue) still to be settled; unresolved. walk on air feel elated.
Members: Jean-Benoît Dunckel, Rhodes piano, organ (born Versailles, France, 7 September 1969); Nicolas Godin, bass, mini-Moog, tambourine (born Paris, France, 25 December 1969).
Best-selling album since 1990: Moon Safari (1998)
Hit songs since 1990: "Sexy Boy," "Playground Love"
The French duo Air, composed of a former architect, Nicolas Godin, and a mathematician, Jean-Benoît Dunckel, are closely associated with the ambient-electronica dance music trend of the mid- to late 1990s. Air's innovative music often combines moody vocals in French and English, atmospheric keyboard flourishes, and elements of jazz. Ironically, given the band's nomenclature, Air grounds an otherwise lofty and airy music form by playing its own instruments and using programmed samples, loops, and effects. The approach makes it part of a growing movement in electronica music, rooted in the 1990s, in which bands employ both organic and synthetic musical effects. The British trip-hop groups Morcheeba, Massive Attack, and Portishead exemplify this trend.
Dunckel and Godin, both originally from Versailles, France, met at university in Paris. In the early 1990s Dunckel played with the band Orange and was introduced to Godin through Alex Gopher, the other member of Orange. Godin joined Orange, and the three formed a trio that lasted until the mid-1990s, when Gopher decided to leave the band and produce music for the Paris-based dance labels Source and Solid. Godin and Dunckel teamed up to form Air in 1995, creating what the press called "ambient-kitsch electric French pop," a clumsy but effective description of the group's sound.
After some forays into recording, including the EPs Modular Mix for Source (1995) and Casanova '70 (1996), Air eventually released four EPs under the album title Premiers Symptomes ; that work helped the duo gain the attention of French and European DJs. For their first full-length album, Moon Safari (1998), the pair recorded in an eighteenth-century chateau outside Paris. The album features mini-Moog keyboards, the warm vibey feel of Rhodes keyboard, and ethereal strings to back up songs that are sung in a mix of French and English, often meander for five minutes or more, and tend toward the instrumental. The title track is tinged with hand claps, Rhodes' keyboard, and splashes of keyboard noise; "La Femme D'Argent" is a laid-back, jazzy, space-age, improvisational jam; the instrumental "Ce Matin La" features Burt Bacharach–like trumpets and acoustic guitar. The single "Sexy Boy" features an equally spacey mini-Moog, guitar, drums, and minimal lyrics that alternate between French and English.
Air released several albums after Moon Safari, including its unofficial follow-up, the haunting soundtrack to the film The Virgin Suicides (2000). Thanks to the precision of its music, with its signature loops, esoteric instrumentation, and experimental jazz, Air carved out a unique niche in the 1990s.
Premiers Symptomes (Source/Virgin, 1997; reissued Virgin, 1999); Moon Safari (Source/Virgin, 1998); The Virgin Suicides (Virgin, 2000); 10,000 Hz Legend (Astralwerks, 2000); Everybody Hertz (Astralwerks, 2002).
A. atmosphere XIII;
B. appearance, manner XVI;
C. melody, tune XVI. prop. three words, but, as in F., the earliest has absorbed the others. In A, ME. eir, air — (O)F. air — L. āēr, āer — Gr. ā́ēr. In B, — F. air (XVI), prob. repr. OF. aire place, race, quality (cf. DEBONAIR); see EYRIE. In C, like later F. air (XVII), repr. It. aria, orig. :- L. (Gr.) āera, acc. of āēr, but later infl. by OF. aire.
Hence air vb. XVI. airy XIV (cf. AERY).
- Aeolus god of the winds. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 9]
- Aether god of whole atmosphere. [Gk. Myth.: Jobes, 42]
- Aurae winged nymphs of breezes. [Rom. Myth.: LLEI, I: 323]
- Juno in allegories of elements, personification of air. [Art: Hall, 128]
- sylph spirit inhabiting atmosphere in Rosicrucian philosophy. [Medieval Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 1055]
Alarm (See WARNING .)