Ex-Air man Nicolas Godin talks us through the often refined inspirations for ‘Contrepoint’, his new solo album
THE GARDENS OF VERSAILLES
I grew up in Versailles and I’ve been going to the Gardens of Versailles since I was born, so this place has given me some of my strongest memories. I had most of my earliest experiences there and it’s where I first found inspiration to make music later on. It’s a timeless landscape dating back to Louis XIII and you can imagine that you’re somewhere in ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’ – it takes you out of the real world and it’s very pure, really Zen. Every day you can walk there and take a different route.
Everything in the gardens is parallel and geometrical. Even the trees are square. It’s all about the parallel lines for me, they’re totally amazing. The lines are not supposed to cross one another but they do, they change with your perspective, so it’s like a magic trick, and it gives you a feeling of weightlessness. I always say that Air has a free spirit that never lands, and being in the gardens is like that. If you listen to any Air album and go there, you’ll see that we made a soundtrack of this space. I think it’s very unique.
I live near to the gardens and I drive there all the time. I go there for inspiration. I take my car and my dog, and sometimes I’ll spend the whole weekend there, renting a room at the hotel that’s in the gardens. At night, I just feel it even more. It’s a very strong magnetic place. It’s one of the strongest energies I know.
I like it when architects or designers build worlds that have nothing to do with reality and sort of make you live a fantasy world. The Biba store in London was an example of this. It’s terrible to think it has been destroyed and I’ll never get to step into it. I love my home in Versailles too, because the architecture is French classical with very pure lines – combining geometry and l’art de vivre, you could say.
I used to live in the Castel Béranger in Paris, a masterpiece by French architect Hector Guimard, who later designed the entrances to the Paris metro. The building exemplifies his art nouveau style. He wanted to construct a manifesto, an embodiment of his vision, and he built the Castel to show people his concept of modern architecture and modern living. It’s like a reference building – I knew it before I lived in it. I was passing one day and saw there was a place to rent in it. I thought, “Oh my god”. So I took it.
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH’S ‘THE WELL-TEMPERED CLAVIER’
Bach is the god of music, you know. Bach is everywhere. Any song you hear on the radio, on the TV, when you go into a store, any melody that exists on this planet is in Bach’s ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’ book, which is a collection of keyboard pieces. It’s like the air. There is nothing you can add to that.
If you are a musician, ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’ is written in the greatest creative language. It’s like the grammar book of music. It has something like 96 songs, all the minor and major harmonies you can have in music, and all the tricks you can do. It was after playing through this book that I came up with the idea for my new album, ‘Contrepoint’, which is named after the technique that Bach was the master of.
Glenn Gould is a Canadian pianist who, in my opinion, revealed something about Bach that had previously been hidden. He played the melodies in a completely different way. He created something new, but it was still connected to the past – and that was my aim with ‘Contrepoint’ too. I learned about this approach from watching two documentaries on Gould that my friend Bruno Monsaingeon directed, ‘The Alchemist’ and ‘Hereafter’.
I watched these two movies while I was on tour with Air and it was then that I decided to make ‘Contrepoint’. My main aim was to produce something I thought Glenn Gould would approve of and the song ‘Glenn’ is my homage to him. Bruno Monsaingeon, who is quite elderly now, came to my apartment to listen to the album and he told me that Glenn would have been very intrigued by this new version of Bach. I don’t know if he was just being polite, but it was enough for me. After I heard that, I could move on to something else. It was a loop and the cycle was finished.