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|Vangelis, a name derived from his birth name of Evangelos Odyssey Papathanassiou, is widely known as a talented musician and composer of electronic music. He was born in Volos Greece on March 29, 1943.
He is a very enigmatic figure, and prefers to stay out of the public eye and do what he does best - realize the music within him. He is a charitable individual who frequently donates him time to perform concerts for the preservation of the Acropolis.
The musical talents of Vangelis first became obvious at the age of four. His parents tried to encourage him to study with a professional teacher, but he did not respond well to formal education as he was generally unwilling to follow instructions.
Vangelis explains, "I have always felt that you should not borrow knowledge from others, because personal experience and development are of utmost significance."
After leaving school he and some friends formed a group called Formynx. In the early 60s this band packed Greek stadiums with thousands of music hungry fans. Vangelis was virually the first artist that brought pop music to his home country. Formynx was soon Greece’s most popular musical group.
During the Greek upheaval in 1968 Vangelis moved to Paris. Together with Demis Roussos and Loukas Sideras he formed a band called Aphrodite’s Child. This group scored an immediate world wide hit with their first release, Rain and Tears.
Aphrodite’s Child went on to release several further European number-one singles over the course of three years. The band split up after their controversial double album. Vangelis remained in Paris for a while, recording a couple of film soundtracks for the French director Frederic Rossif (among these L’Apocalypse Des Animaux and La Fete Sauvage and giving an amazing performance at the "Olympia" to promote his first solo album, Earth, on the Philips label.
In 1974 he moved to London in the midst of a storm of rumors that he would be joining the group Yes as Rick Wakemen’s replacement on keyboards. After rehearsing with Yes for several weeks Vangelis left, explaining that his musical theory and directions an d the group’s were too far apart. It was during his stint with Yes that he and Jon Anderson became friends and collaborators.
Vangelis soon signed a recording contract with RCA, and assembled his own 24 track studio known as Nemo Studios. Nemo Studios is near London’s Marble Arch, and is referred to by Vangelis as his laboratory. The first album cut here was Heaven and Hell . This first album on the RCA label, a collection of extraordinary and forceful music, catapulted him to the forefront of popular music in Europe and the United States. To this date, all albums that followed Heaven and Hell were equally internationally ac claimed and enormous sellers. Vangelis achieved an array of awards, among them an Oscar in 1982 for the soundtrack of the film Chariots of Fire.
The music of Vangelis is too diverse to be described as either pop, rock, classical, jazz, or new age. Explaining his music, Vangelis says, "All I try to do is let people know what I think through my music. I just bring the music to you and it is up to yo u to do what you want with it." Taken from the Greatest Hits Album (1981).
Vangelis: Keyboard Interview Vangelis Papathanassiou by Bob Doerschuk, Keyboard Magazine August, 1982 Background Winning the academy award for Best Soundtrack marks a milestone in the career of Evangelos Papathanassiou, known for years to his fans and now to the world by the name of Vangelis (pronounced, incidentally, with a hard ‘g’, as in agree). But more than th at, it has a special meaning for the world in general. Not only does it take the synthesizer one step further as a principal compositional and orchestral tool in movie scoring, the Oscar also signifies its undisputed arrival in the community of instrumen ts. The ascendancy of Vangelis, a self-taught artist whose melodic and colorative gifts soar unencumbered by his inability to read music, demonstrates that synthesizers, like pianos, violins, and every other accepted Western instrument, can cater to any and a ll compositional schools. Wendy Carlos takes center stage in adapting them to the precise demands of Baroque performance, and Kraftwerk pioneers their application to a blend of neo-Futurism and rock, but Vangelis is the great Romantic, the inheritor of mi d-nineteenth-century approaches to lush mixtures of sound and the sweeping thematic line. He is, compositionally, the electronic Tchaikovsky.
It is another reflection of the times that Vangelis has done what he has done without the benefit of a formal musical education. The great composers of the past generally could not have written full scores without having had some basic grounding in the co mplexities of transferring their inner music onto paper effectively enough to bring the sounds out into the open. But in his London studio, surrounded by banks of keyboards, percussion instruments, and recording apparatus, Vangelis is able to let his ima gination run directly onto tape, improvising the basic melodic track first, then augmenting, altering, and enhancing as his mood dictates. Some traditionalists in the musical world complain that the impact of technology has been to drain music of its life forces; they fear that the process of filtering their expression through electronics will somehow move it further from the fingertip immediacy to which acoustic musicians are accustomed. This may be true in the work of certain artists, but to the genera l public Vangelis is surely the first clear and undeniable exception to this idea. This burly bearded Greek expatriate is no white-smocked technician; he is as emotional in his conversation as in his art, at times verging on the mystical in his expostula tions on the relationship between his music and his equipment. He, perhaps more than any other synthesist, has demonstrated that technology can be brought to the service of romantic expression.
Though he seldom performs live these days, preferring to spin complex synthesized webs in the shelter of his studio, Vangelis has been through the pop star experience. At one point, he was even invited to replace Rick Wakeman in Yes, a post many multikey boardists would have killed for. Yet Vangelis turned it down, since the pressures of fame, and the compromises it would have demanded on his work, were unacceptable to him.
For similar reasons he is somewhat uncomfortable with his Academy Award. Proud as he is of Chariots of Fire, Vangelis does not see it as his high-water mark. Music to him is not a flood, a contest to pile one wave higher that the next against some meas ure of public acceptance. In Vangelis’s eyes, it is more of a river, a steady stream of inspiration, twisting here, falling there—perhaps to accommodate dramatic action in a film, for example—but always flowing outward, from the heart. If the Oscar seems to represent a standard for him to beat in his future work, Vangelis may well at times wonder whether he would have been better off without it.
Vangelis was born in Volos, Greece, and raised in Athens, 200 miles to the south. He began experimenting with music with music at the age of four, composing his first piece (for piano) and exploring other, more unusual sound sources by playing with radio interference and stuffing the family piano with nails and kitchen pans. Attempts to subject him to piano lessons proved fruitless; an indifferent student, Vangelis preferred developing his own ideas to playing those dreamed up by someone else in some dis tant time and place.
Rock attracted him at an early age. At 18 he acquired his first Hammond organ, and soon formed a group with some student friends. Called Formynx, it quickly became one of the top bands of the early ’60s in Greece. However, partly because of limited opportunities for musical progress in his homeland, and partly because of the ominous political atmosphere stirred up by the 1968 Greek military coup, Vangelis packed up and moved to Paris at 25.
There he formed another band, Aphrodite’s Child, which also featured the popular singer Demis Roussos. Their theatrical style of progressive rock fit in perfectly with European tastes at that time, and with their major hit record, "Rain and Tears," they b ecame one of the top bands on the continent. Vangelis enjoyed him success at first, but soon found his interest shifting away from the rock arena. He began working with French television and film directors on his first soundtracks, including the music f or Frederic Roussif’s Apocalypse Des Animaux and Opera Sauvage.
By the time of his move to London in the mid-’70s, Vangelis was already well on his way toward his goal of building a self-contained music studio, or “laboratory,” as he calls it. Today it sits in London, tucked away near Marble Arch behind an unobtrusiv e side-street door. Inside, up some stairs, it unfolds into two enormous rooms. The ceilings tower overhead, dark and indistinct, but a wonderland of keyboards and equipment spreads out brightly below. A simple walk-around tour offers a taste of the Va ngelis arsenal: a Minimoog, Yamaha CS-40M synthesizer, Roland CSQ-600 digital sequencer, Yamaha CP-80 electric grand, Roland Compuphonic synthesizer, modified vintage Fender Rhodes electric piano, Roland VP-330 electric piano, Roland CR-5000 Compu-rhythm , Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer, E-mu Emulator, Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 and Prophet-10, Simmons SDSV drum machine, Linn LM-1 drum computer, Roland JP-4, nine-foot Steinway grand piano, Yamaha GS-2, 24-track Quad-8 Pacifica mixing console, and an RSF one- octave Blackbox synthesizer. And, on an elevated platform overlooking the whole array, three timpani, a trap drum set, and rows of gongs, chimes, and exotic bells.
Of course, the laboratory is never quite finished. New additions come along, old instruments are stored. But despite the changes, Vangelis is comfortable here. He visits with friends amidst this maze of hardware, playfully punctuates his conversation w ith rim shots on a nearby snare drum, and ambles from one keyboard to the next, trying out new sounds, musing over new ideas, and storing them on tape. This is a home of sorts for Vangelis. It was here that he put together his popular solo albums, like : Heaven and Hell, Albedo 0.39, Spiral, China, See You Later, as well as his duo albums with singer Jon Anderson of Yes (Short Stories in 1979 and The Friends of Mr. Cairo in 1981), his 1978 project with Greek actress Irene Papas who sang traditional Greek tunes to his less traditional accompaniment in ODES, and his other film or television assignments, like the ethereal theme to the Carl Sagan PBS series COSMOS, the Costa-Gravas movie Missing, and his most recent effort, the Ridley Scott adventure film Bl ade Runner.
And it was here that KEYBOARD met Vangelis. The bustle of the city seemed far away as we settled done in the stillness to discuss his music and the machines that make it.
The Interviews Part1. July 1990 issue of Sound On Sound Vangelis by Richard Buskin Sound On Sound Magazine July 1990 Background "In over 20 years there is not one synthesizer that has become a classic. Nobody created one as a performance instrument instead of as a computer, and then developed it. I’m not saying the computer approach is bad, but there should have been a balance be tween the two. Today everything is geared towards pop music, and whilst I’m all for pop music I’m against this being the only consideration."
Vangelis is not a man given to making light and generalised statements about the current state of his art. Music has been his life and he a part of that music, ever since he began composing at the age of four, and from the very start he strayed from the conventional and strived for the unimaginable.
Through a list of 17 solo albums stretching back to 1972, as well as two ballets, five collaborations with Jon Anderson, several television themes, and film soundtracks that include Blade Runner, Missing, and the Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire, Vangelis h as continually explored the creation of musical forms via the integration of the acoustic with the electronic.
Uninhibited neither in terms of his work methods nor in terms of his geographical location, Vangelis has brought his unique talent to wide-ranging projects around the globe, moving from his native Greece to Paris during the late 1960s, on to London -and h is own studio/music laboratory - in the mid 70s, and across Europe and the States since the mid-80s.
Taking his collection of instruments with him as he travels, he is currently located back in Paris, where he chooses to employ his synth setup either in his hotel suite or in the larger confines of Mega Studios.
Heavily involved, as usual, in his life-long programme of making music, Vangelis took time out recently to talk not only about his own work methods but, more specifically, about his views on the current technological scene. Not at all interested in a sel f-promotional exercise, his sole desire was to express his forthright opinions about contemporary electronic keyboards; their design, manufacture, marketing, and utilisation.
Part2. Keyboard Magazine, December ’92 The Navigations of Vangelis by Christian Jacob Keyboard Magazine #61, December 1992 Translated by Piet Verhoeven Background Vangelis Papathanassiou has known for a long time that music is the best ship to discover new worlds. As an indefatigable traveler, he explores the archipelagos of modern music, the sunny winds and the perfume of sounds. And in 1992, at last, he meets Ch ristopher Columbus ... While others discover only one continent, Vangelis likes to navigate islands and multiply the anchorages. Complex wake, elusive, where solitary waves and the collective rash deeds alter, the great maneuvers and the people with sty le and refined elegance.
Vangelis, born in Greece, was raised with a piano. For his country, he guards the light and the spirituality, a poetry which is colored with nostalgia, the love for a thousand year-old tradition which has survived in the songs of the shepherds and the far mers, quite remote from doubtful tunes of the Plaka, with it’s industrial brochettes and paltry bouzoukis.
Vangelis revives that luminous Greece, which has nowadays the strength of mirages, namely by his collaborations with Irene Papas, ‘Odes’ (1981) and ‘Rhapsodies’ (1986), where subtle musical textures surround magnificently interpreted popular chants. Vang elis’s generous temperment has without any doubt to do with his Mediterranean roots, as is his lyric spirit, which manifests itself so well in the improvisations, the lightning fast impulses, the intuitive orchestrations which characterize his style.
From Lyre To Synths Vangelis, the Greek, also comes from another country: pop music. In the sixties, he had his first successes with his group Phormynx (the lyre). But the dictatorship of the Colonels in 1968 rendered Greece unlivable and dangerous, and like many others Va ngelis left in exile. He created Aphrodite’s Child in Paris together with the singer Demis Roussos. They would become an international success, especially with the double album.
The group breaks up in 1971 and Vangelis starts his solo career. But he never really gave up the interaction between musicians playing in a group and on his records, he would be surrounded by accomplices who brought him the music of a rare instrument or simply the beauty of their voices. Vangelis also represents an astonishing suppleness in his methods of working: he enjoys his solitary experiments as much as his collaborations, in which his talent meets the talent of an other creator.
In 1974, people even thought he would become the new keyboardist of Yes; and the bacon of symphonic rock even did some repetitions with him. — Excerpt from ‘Galerij der Groten: Vangelis’ taken from ‘De Wending’: At that time, there were some wild specula tions about Vangelis replacing Rick Wakeman in Yes. Jon Anderson, who had been a friend of Vangelis’ for a while, introduced him to the band. But when Vangelis saw the enormous drum set, he couldn’t resist and played a 15 minute solo. A solo which wasn ’t easy to forget. It rapidly became clear that there wouldn’t be much place for the other band members if they let Vangelis do his thing. Clearly too much ego.
Afterwards, he admitted that playing in a group wasn’t quite his cup of tea; he didn’t want to climb on stage each week and play the same keyboard pieces over and over again. He already had changed his way of working to a more creative way. — The attemp t would fail, but Vangelis started a solid friendship with Jon Anderson: it resulted in a series of astonishing albums: Short Stories (1979), The Friends of Mr. Cairo (1981), Private Collection (1983) and in 1990 Page of Life : the listener can only be se nsitive to the great complicity of these two sacred monsters, who bring together the best of their talents in compositions in which the play mingles with humor, great virtuosity and perfect efficiency.
Later on, the voice of Jon Anderson accompanied the synths of Tangerine Dream (Legend) and, recently, Kitaro. From his pop roots, Vangelis also kept his taste for a swinging kind of music, in which his latest solo album The City is a good example, with it s sometimes heavy rhythms and sounds of distorted guitars.
Without doubt, one can show that an essential component in Vangelis’s talent came from those years of formation: the sense of melody, so rare in electronic music, which unlaces pertinent recallable lines from sonic textures, which can be sung.
Music For The Image A man of collaborations, Vangelis had to meet people working with images. Frederic Rossif was the essential man in this: he permitted a new kind of alliance between music and film and prepared the soundtracks which would make the glory of Vangelis. L’Apo calypse Des Animaux, La Fete Sauvage, Ignacio (Entends-Tu Les Chiens Aboyer?), L’Opera Sauvage are the sonorous beacons of a new way of filming the animal kingdom and creating poetry from it, dramatic lyric poetry. Music of strong emotions and moments of grace, extreme delicacy of sounds and notes which touch every chord in our intimate sensitivity: in the animal films of Rossif, the language is superfluous. One can also find Vangelis on the soundtracks of Cantique Des Creatures (dedicated to painting) and Nuremberg a Nuremberg (history of Nazism).
From the little screen to the big screen, it’s just a step, but a giant one for Vangelis. The score for the Hugh Hudson movie Chariots of Fire earns him an Oscar in Hollywood and immediately a place in the very select club of great soundtrack composers. Vangelis had only followed his natural instinct, letting his melodic sense loose, in order to mix the emotion of his music with the emotion of the images.
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner allowed him to make, besides some strong themes, the urban obsessed atmosphere of the futuristic Los Angeles, oozing through and hazy. A superb work, resting unreleased in it’s major part. Which is also the case with Missing and The Bounty, but not with Antarctica or 1492: Conquest of Paradise (Ridley Scott, 1992) from which there were made albums.
One compilation Themes reunites the best pieces from these different soundtracks. With Bitter Moon (Roman Polanski, 1992), ‘1492’ is the most recent work of Vangelis for the cinema, symphonic and lyric if you wish, with a visionary strength which solely fits to that of the enlightened seaman Columbus.
If Vangelis brings to the cinema, the quintessence of his talent, and tenfolds the poetry, the emotional needs of the images by using melodic themes which haunt the spectator for a long time, the cinema will also influence his music. One could say that al l the albums with Jon Anderson and discs such as See You Later or the The City are soundtracks of possible movies, with their plots, their sketches of scripts, their pieces of sonoric atmospheres, their references to the classics of cinema, seeing their n oises which recall the golden age of polar. An other similarity could be the predominant role of an powerful kind of electronic music in which a lot of times Wagnerian choirs are mixed: the total releases a symphonic force, which doesn’t have to be envy of (= is not at all inferior to) that of an acoustic orchestra; especially Mask (1985) and the last soundtracks.
The Synth Without The Technique But, one can not reduce Vangelis’s work to his guidelines, pop music, the collaborations, his work for the movies ... Contrary to a good deal of musicians who have followed, during their career, determinated aesthetics (were they prisoners of their machi nes?), Vangelis innovates, experiments, moves: in short, he explores and discovers. Without doubt because he is a musician, more than he is a real synthesizer player, whom he blames their computer interfaces which deprive the musician a part of his creati vity. Vangelis never [ab-]used the mystification of technology. And paradoxically, he is one of the people who have used the greatest spectrum of possibilities of creating music offered by synthesizers. Heaven and Hell, Albedo 0.39 and Spiral explore so me of the royal roads of the "classic" electronic music, floating or sequenced, but always showing an undeniable originality in proportion to the other gourous of the genre.
In 1978, with Beaubourg, Vangelis even adventures into the electro-acoustic abstraction, creating the most anti-commercial music possible, but of an fascinating beauty: rarely ever has the sound of synths been materialized in a visual way like this, combi ning, crossing, flying away, flickering. That visionary hymn to modernity needs no envy of the work done at the IRCAM or GRM, and it has a human part. Invisible Connections in 1985, which was released on the prestigeous label Deutsche Grammophone, testifi es the acknowledgement of Vangelis in the world of contemporary music. But far from locking himself up in a room, he opens new doors, creates an imaginary orient with China, explores the poetry of minimalism with Soil Festivities and rediscovers in 1987 t he pleasure of playing synthesizers in a direct way, while the refinement of studio technics and the explosion of music software are influencing the creation methods of electronic musicians in depth.
Vangelis is most probably above all the power of an intuition which has tried to destroy all barriers between the idea and its execution: it’s the weight of the hands, the instinct of the gesture, the core of the sound, the buttons of the CS80 which react by osmosis on the spirit of the composer, the direct recording, the first take which releases the most strong and right emotion, the absolute sincerity of a kind of music which is the mirror of the mind instead of that of the machines.
Neuronium & Vangelis - In London : 4U 952 027 Artist: Neuronium & Vangelis Album: In London Catalog Number: 4U 952 027 In London Year Released: 1992 Total Playing Time: 11:57 Tracks: 1. In London 2. In London (radio version) Style: Ambient Comments: CD single, recorded somewhere in 1981, mixed & released in 1992.
With a host of solo albums, film soundtracks and collaborative efforts to his credit, Vangelis is one of the most influential synthesiser composers in the history of modern music. Yet until now, the methods, incidents and philosophies behind his unique co mpositional style have remained a mystery...Dan Goldstein
Being told in advance of its whereabouts doesn’t necessarily make finding Vangelis’ recording studio any easier. It’s located on the fourth floor of a large, unprepossessing, and unadorned building in a tiny back street that even the most experienced of L ondon’s cab drivers has to consult his atlas before tracing, yet a good aim and a following wind would take a pebble from one of its windows to the ground beneath Marble Arch, one of the capital’s best known and most central landmarks. The studio is calle d Nemo, and has been Vangelis’ only place of work since he came to England from Paris over a decade ago. Even before his soundtrack to the film Chariots of Fire put his name on the lips of cinema-goers the world over and brought him the vast collection of gold and silver discs that now adorn his studio walls. Vangelis was an electronic composer whose brilliantly-conceived and originally-arranged music had earned him considerable respect among the burgeoning synthesiser fraternity and a cult following that grew in significance with the release of every album.
Yet in many ways, Nemo is an uninspiring place. Iacking not only the mass of hi-tech hardware now considered standard in commercial studios with any serious pretentions to the title ‘State of the Art’, but also the visual and acoustic decorations that mak e so many recording venues appear similar: the shag pile carpet, the triple-glazed windows, the subtle back-lighting. None of these things are included in Nemo’s specification, nor are they ever likely to be. In many ways, Vangelis’ workplace is a reflect ion of the worker himself. Unconvinced by the worth of technology for its own sake and unimpressed by the conventions imposed by commerce and marketing, he remains true to the musical philosophies that impressed themselves on him when he first began tinke ring with his parents’ upright piano in his native Greece at the age of four.
History “That is my earliest memory. Playing piano, some percussion and whatever else that was available that made a noise. Right from the start, I was only interested in playing my own music, not other people’s, and very early on I had a desire to create my own studio in which to write my music.”
“But at the time I was very young and still at school. I had a very good time in Greece, but after a while I felt I wanted to get away so I moved to Paris, where I worked my way up through the music industry to get enough money to start a studio.”
While in Paris, Vangelis played keyboards in a couple of rock bands he considers too embarrassing to talk about, as well as meeting Yes’ Jon Anderson - who would later become the composer’s partner in a number of joint musical ventures - for the first tim e. Around 1972, he made the move to London, where he signed his first major recording contract (with RCA), the proceeds from which were used to construct Nemo Studio. ‘That was not a very easy time for me’, the composer reflects. “I was trying to put toge ther the studio while recording my first album Heaven and Hell, at the same time. In fact, the studio was Hell because there was unmixed concrete everywhere, builders all over the place making a lot of noise, and next to all that, there I was, trying to f inish my album.”
“There was no limit as to how much time I could spend working on the album, but I felt I just had to do it, and in any case, the only way you can complete the construction of a studio quickly is to start working in it before it’s actually finished. If you try to wait before the building work is complete, you’ll end up waiting forever!”
Electronics In the technological thunderstorm that is 1984, it’s perhaps difficult to imagine how refreshing the delicate synth soundscapes of Heaven and Hell were when the album was first released. While the rest of Britain’s pop culture was still under the spell of Glam Rock and Glitter Power, Vangelis’ first vinyl product was stunning in the beauty of its arrangement and the originality of its structure. Its creator used synthesizers as the sonic base for his compositions, and paradoxically, their solid state auto mation added warmth and colour where most other contemporary music had none.
Keyboards have always been my main instrument and as soon as synthesizers became available, I had to have one. My first electric instrument was a Hammond B3 organ. At the time I got it, it provided me with a whole new spectrum of sound (though obviously i t had its limitations), and it served me very well: I drive all my instruments very hard, so that’s a compliment.’
‘My first synthesizer was a Korg 700 monophonic. It’s a lovely little machine. I still have it - I never throw any keyboards away - and I still enjoy playing It. It’s full of possibilities no organ can even approach.
‘Once I’d got the Korg, new synthesizers started becoming available every six months or so and I used to: go around the shops in London to see if there was any synthesizer offering anything new. Luckily. I was in a position where I had enough money to buy more or less what I wanted.’
Vangelis describes the electronic instrument market during the early and mid-seventies as a ‘low-key situation: synthesizers were still quite basic, but they weren’t really all that expensive, either’. Nowadays, he views the hardware scheme of things in a detached and philosophical manner rarely found amongst the synthesizer world’s elite.
‘One half of the market is now completely oriented towards domestic users, with the Lowrey and Hammond organs and little Casio keyboards, while the other side embraces the Fairlights and Emulators of this world. Those instruments are very sophisticated an d - I think - unnecessarily expensive. You could say there’s also a kind of middle-ground made up of the programmable polysynths from the likes of Roland and Korg, which I think is going through a bit of a crisis at the moment.
Well, perhaps crisis is too strong a word, but those polysynths haven’t offered anything really new for quite a while.’ Nothing really new? What about MIDI? What about the DX7? Vangelis has sensed my disagreement.
‘The DX7 is a nice, commercial little toy, at a reasonable price. But it’s a little bit noisy, and I think the main reason so many people have bought it is that it has such a clever library of sounds. I don’t want to criticize it too much it’s good for st udio work and nice to have around. I’ve used one myself quite a bit, but to me it’s the equivalent of what the Korg 700 was ten years ago. A popular instrument, it is to the synth world what the Renault 5 is to cars. The Renault 5 was a hit because it was very versatile and you could park it anywhere . . . What I really don’t like about it is that, for Yamaha, it’s a step back from the CS80.’ It transpires that there is no instrument Vangelis admires more than Yamaha’s late seventies synthesizer flagship.
In the couple of hours I spoke with him, his individual command of English was used to describe his feelings on the CS80 more than any other subject.
‘The most important synthesizer in my career - and for me the best analogue synthesizer design there has ever been. It was a brilliant instrument, though unfortunately not a very successful one. It needs a lot of practice if you want to be able to play it properly, but that’s because it’s the only synthesizer I could describe as being a real instrument, mainly because of the keyboard - the way it’s built and what you can do with it.’
‘Today, the only thing that matters to synth makers and synth players is the supply of different sounds - nothing else. I think the manufacturers have a responsibility to fit synthesizers with better keyboards so that people get some encouragement to play better, because if all you do is use synths as a source of sounds, you’ll never be a complete performer. You’ll never be a player in the practical sense, you won’t acquire fast reactions.’ But if the likes of the DX7 are enough for most players, what’s w rong with the manufacturers giving them what they want ?
Nothing, really. I can understand why manufacturers do what they do for the middle ground, but that should only be one part of the market. Take Yamaha, which is an enormous company: they can go ahead and sell DX7s, but there’s no reason why they can’t als o build an extraordinary instrument. There’s the DX1, but to me that’s a disappointment - awkward to use, and really quite inflexible. When Yamaha created the CS80, I expected them to refine it and improve it, make it lighter, put new sounds on it, but th ey didn’t. ‘I think what I’m saying will make more sense in 10 or 15 years’ time. By then, someone somewhere should have created The Instrument - the ultimate synthesizer. I don’t mean in terms of sound, because we can create anything we want these days, but in terms of being an extension of the performer a true performance instrument.
"To explain, if you look at the piano today, it’s the result of about 2OO years’ continuous development, but there’s not one synthesizer that’s been developed over anything like that length of time. When a synthesizer comes out it’s Top of the Pops for tw o years, then it’s scrapped and replaced by another one with more memories or whatever. When manufacturers stop adopting that attitude, that’s when they’ll get closer to creating the sort of instrument I'm after - a tune performance synthesizer. "
So we’re still quite a long way from that?
‘Well, nothing since the CS80 that I’ve used can act as a natural extension of a player’s ability. Nothing can be as immediate. The situation is even worse now with the arrival of computers.’
Computers Aha! Now we come to the real bone of contention. It seems computer technology doesn’t really fit into Vangelis’ scheme of things at all. He’s used them, of course, as and when they’ve become available, but he remains unconvinced by their usefulness as per formance instruments, while grudgingly acknowledging the enormity of their sonic potential.
‘In terms of communication, computers are the worst thing that has happened for the performing musician. Why? Because you have to learn to talk to the computer. Having to talk to a piece of equipment moves you one step away from spontaneous creation, thin gs are no longer immediate. When you want to play a piano, you just sit down and play it - you don’t have to talk to it. You don’t have to say give me some sustain here’, but unfortunately that’s exactly what you have to do with the Fairlight, for example .
‘Of course, if you take the time to program computers you can do quite incredible things, but you still lose the immediate contact and response. In that respect, all the new digital and computer instruments are a failure. ‘The one computer instrument I’ve used a great deal is the Emulator. I wasn’t expecting much from the Mk I because . . . well, because it was the first. It had its problems but I could understand that, and although it was primitive it was a very useful instrument. But again, the new Emul ator is a bit of a let-down to me. They should have fitted a bigger, better keyboard, and made it more human, easier to use. Still, I don’t want to be too critical. The sound is much, much better now, and it’s very useful for studio work.
OK, End of Hardware Story. Vangelis’ tirade against what the latest modern technology can offer the performance-oriented musician has been a surprise. It’s certainly strange, the idea of a man who received no formal classical training whatsoever, who has access to the most sophisticated electronic instruments money can buy, putting immediacy and response highest on his list of synthesizer priorities.
Then again, perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising. After all, comparisons between Vangelis musical output and those of his contemporaries almost invariably show his to be the less contrived, the more natural-sounding, the more immediate. And that’s someth ing that’s true of his solo work (he refers to it as ‘pure’ music), his collaborations with the likes of Jon Anderson, and his scores for film, ballet and opera.
How does he keep up the standard?
‘Well, I think it’s important not to get stuck doing one thing all the time. For instance, since I did Chariots of Fire I’ve had about 50 offers to do soundtracks every year, but I’d rather not do too many because I don’t want to be known only as a filmsc ore composer. The most important thing for a composer is to have the freedom to become involved in any musical field -that’s the most inspiring way of working.
‘Of course, inspiration can come in different ways, depending on what field you’re working in. When I ‘m writing music for a film, inspiration will come from the subject matter and visual images, because I don’t agree to any offers of film work unless I b elieve I can add another dimension to the film. But if I’m writing music purely for myself, inspiration comes naturally, from everything around. I absorb every experience in life, every situation. Because anything can become a source of inspiration - posi tive or negative. In general I ‘m influenced more by everyday concepts - nature, the city and so forth - than by hearing other pieces of music. Neither do I find any special inspiration from working in a studio. Obviously it makes life a lot easier to hav e 24 tracks to record on, and I use the studio as a tool to help in the writing process. I see the mixing desk really as another instrument, the conductor for all the others. But although the tape recorder and the console are just as important as the keyb oards, I haven’t equipped my studio with a lot of hi-tech effects: I’d rather spend time searching through my sound library to get the exact colour I want.’
Commercialism The longer our conversation continued, the more it became obvious that Vangelis regards his own commercial achievements with amusement rather than excitement. It’s clear that he has little time for what he calls ‘junk food music’, or records that are made merely to fulfill commercial ambitions, and dreads the thought that he might one day be forced into a similar way of working.
‘For every album I’ve ever made, I’ve written many times more music than has actually been released, and the way I choose which music appears is almost totally random, but one thing I have never done is to make music for the sake of commercialism.
‘I write music primarily for myself, though it’s lovely, everybody goes out and buys the records. My new album “Soil Festivities” was made because I wanted to make music, not sell a million records. I don’t think it’s possible to guarantee commercial succ ess for an album anyway, because nobody really knows what is commercial and what isn’t. Even if I went out of my way to make an album that was more accessible to the public, that would not guarantee its commercial success.’
Soil Festivities is in fact Vangelis’ first album of ‘pure’ music to be released for some while, though as this conversation has already shown, that’s unlikely to be due to lack of endeavor on Vangelis’ part. An album inspired - more than any of its p redecessors - by the beauty of nature, Festivities is a celebration of the natural elements, with their characteristic sounds sampled by Emulator, mixed in with ‘conventional’ polysynth sounds, and occasionally backed by Vangelis’ now familiar acoustic pe rcussion patterns.
And although it’s unlikely to match the commercial success achieved by his film soundtracks and Anderson singles, Vangelis can draw satisfaction from the fact that his latest album reaffirms his position as a leading electronic arranger and a composer of the highest caliber. Perhaps more excitingly, it may well be that his own happiness at how Festivities has turned out brings him back to the concert arena, something he’s visited all too infrequently during his long career.
Playing Live From the creative point of view, live music is always different to what appears on a record because everything is spontaneous and you’re influenced as a performer by your audience. The negative aspect of live work is that the audience expects to be entert ained, and not only that, the record company and the promoters expect you to be successful. But to me, the theater is a meeting place where something unpredictable happens, not necessarily successful, maybe pleasant, maybe not. That’s how I think a concer t should be, but in reality things have to be planned down to the last detail, you have to rehearse with other musicians so the scope for improvisation is lessened, and these things prevent a concert from being a truly spontaneous affair. In a way, this r eality makes me less keen to do concerts, but in essence I do like playing. I enjoy the risk.’
So the idea of live improvisation is important?
‘Yes. I’d really like to do some concerts of completely improvised music, but one of the reasons for doing a concert is to experience the enjoyment of the people there, so you have to include excerpts of music from previous albums because they want to hea r something they already know and like. There’s nothing wrong with limiting your spontaneous playing to just improvising around old themes, but what is wrong is playing a concert solely to promote a certain record. I’ve never done a concert tour just to promote Heaven and Hell or Chariots Of Fire or anything like that. That sort of thing seems pointless to me.’
Closing Comments Returning to the subject of the sound-generating hardware that’s now available to the modern musician, it seemed reasonable to inquire whether the magician had ever considered delving inside, say, a CS8, in the hope of bringing it up to the standards of h is ‘ideal instrument’. Well, to be honest I don’t think it’s necessary to find out how pieces of equipment work. I would prefer to know how music works, or how my body and my mind work. After all, it’s more useful to know how to drive a car than it is to know what makes it go.
‘Of course it’s important to know certain things about a machine, but I don’t need to be able to build my own synthesizer. It strikes me that the people who do build them don’t know how to play them, so I’d rather find out more about playing.
‘That’s probably why I don’t rush out to buy all the latest technology. In fact, I find it quite boring at the moment, simply because so much of it is just technology - nothing more. I buy something if it really appeals to me, if I think it will add anoth er dimension to what I have at the moment. Don’t misunderstand me: I think it is important to have as many different instruments as possible, with different libraries of sounds, and different characteristics. But some people adopt the attitude that if the y had enough money they could have all the machinery they wanted, and that would somehow make their music better. That’s simply not the case.
‘The way I see it is that the ear works on several different levels, like the eye. If you’re trained to look carefully you see more than people who aren’t and the same goes for the ear. If your ears are well-trained, you can hear not just a range of pitch es but other sounds that most people just miss. ‘This is another reason why it’s important not to become obsessed with technology. You’ve got to remember that however a sound is generated - acoustically, electronically, digitally - it’s still just a sound , a part of nature.’
There is a trace of sadness in Vangelis’ expression as he contemplates, perhaps, a musical future dominated by the will of technicians and marketing men.
There’s no doubt that Vangelis has done as much to bring electronic music into the realms of public acceptance as anybody else. All he desires now is for those who design electronic musical instruments to take the needs of musicians into account a little more than they seem to be doing at present. And there aren’t many more honorable desires than that.
Going on means going far,
Going far means returning.
(TAO TE CHING)