Nightlife (Australia) - Interview with Vangelis, 1989

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The Love Affair Continues

by Ray Purvis

VIA AN appalling telephone line that echoes and frequently drops out completely, Vangelis Papathanassiou manages to make himself heard. "I don't give many interviews. I'm not a recluse or anything, I just believe they are not necessary. What is most necessary is the work itself,"

I only got my interview by sticking my foot in a lot of doors, being a nuisance on the phone and being in the right place at the right time. Of the three phone interviews Vangelis agreed to do with Australia, one was cancelled and one was aborted because of phone problems. Mine was the only one to survive the difficulties with the Rome telephone system.

Vangelis was holed up in a Rome hotel after just completing the recording of a new album with Jon Anderson. As yet untitled, this fourth Jon and Vangelis record sees him reunited with the former Yes singer. They scored such early 80s hits as I Hear You Now and I'll Find My Way Home.

The main reason Vangelis agreed to the interviews was the imminent release in Australia of his new album called Themes, is a collection of his film themes which have not been released on album since 1982 despite massive public demand. But more of that later.

The surprising thing about Vangelis is that, in spite of what some music critics would have you believe, he is not a man of mystery. He is ready to answer any questions put to him but as he says, he is not prepared to use the music for self publicity. His private life is his own business and has no bearing on the music he creates. At times when he talks about his music he becomes philosophical. He believes he is only a conduit through which music from the spheres passes. Because of this belief he is very humble in describing his role in pioneering electronic music and forging a path along which musicians such as Eno, Jean Michel Jarre and Laurie Anderson have travelled.

Vangelis' records sell in massive quantities, particularly in Europe and America. He has achieved this superstar status through his unique use of keyboard-based orchestral and electronic textures. It is only necessary to think of his Oscar-winning score for Chariots Of Fire and you have a perfect example of his lyrical, adventurous style. He has been primarily concerned with recording sound tracksfor TV series and films since the early 70s.


Over the years he has collaborated with vocalists such as Jon Anderson, the Greek actress and good friend Irene Papas and European Diva Milva. Vangelis has also recorded a number of "location" albums such as China, Antarctica, The Mask and Odes.

"My main career is not scoring movies. It's music in general," says the bearded Greek musician, who at the age of four used to experiment with his family piano by stuffing it full of kitchen pans to create different sounds. "I can write for movies or ballet or anything. For me music has to reach out into all different areas."

Vangelis' first compositions were for the French film director Frederic Rossif in a series of outstanding wildlife films. Collections of this music appeared on the two compilation albums L'Apocalypse des Animaux  and Opera Sauvage. At the same time he was the leader of a flower power group called Aphrodite's Child. The Paris-based group was one of the first to use the early synthesizers that had been developed in America by Robert Moog.

In 1974 Vangelis moved to London and set up a studio or sound  laboratory which was his creative base for more than 10 years. From it emerged tricky original musical works in which he pioneered the use of the electronic synthesizer. Although he has championed the use of electronics in music, he sees the dehumanising effect of computers creating music.

"I put first the human being and then the machine. I see the computer being at the service of the human being. There is nothing wrong with science and machines if they are used as tools of the musicians."


"I started very, very early. It was obvious to me that synthesizers were a continuation of the modern instruments. They were much more adaptable than other instruments. Sound is very important and synthesizers give you the key to go into unknown areas more than any other conventional instrument. I love every instrument because every instrument makes a unique sound. But a synthesizer can copy sounds and make up its own sounds."

Vangelis says his only opposition to synthesizers is the way their makers design them.

"I want an instrument that I can involve myself with, that I can have a love affair with. I have to be able to talk to the instrument like you talk to a computer. Sometimes if the answer is a bit slow you lose the immediacy. The way that electronic music is created today unfortunately does not help the creativity of the composer. That's why so many electronic records sound the same - the musicians are obliged to go through the same system of computerised music and end up with the same result whether you want it or not. It is very, very difficult."

The new Vangelis album Themes features five haunting soundtrack themes available for the first time. There is the slow piano melody from Costa Gavras' political thriller Missing, two pieces from Bladerunner which did not appear on the soundtrack, the opening music from Mutiny On The Bounty and the theme from Japanese director Kurahara's masterpiece Antarctica. In deciding the films he will score Vangelis never reads the script.

"It's dangerous to read the script. As soon as you do that you create your own movie. I always see the film before I decide," he says. "No matter what I do, whether it is a ballet or a film, I have to feel something about it. I never look at it as a business proposition."


He has written soundtracks for a wide range of films from documentaries to political thrillers to science fiction.

"I never asked myself whether these films would be successful or not. Something like Chariots was quite a humble production with a low budget. Nobody thought it was going to be successful. Most of the films I'm interested in do not have the recipe for success."

Since his early days in Greece Vangelis has been very interested in ethnic music. His album Odes made with Irene Papas is a collection of traditional Greek songs and in 1983 he created the stunning electronic score for Michael Kakayanis' staging of Elektra at the historic amphitheatre at Epidauros in Greece. His music is truly international and he is able to create musical portraits of many different countries.

"Australia has very important ethnic music. I believe that all the ethnic musics of the world have common points, because they refer to the common truths, the biological laws and cosmic laws."

And how has he managed over the space of 20 albums to come up with an unlimited supply of melodies?

"Well, I think melody is around us inspace. It's in nature. We are bathing in sound. We either hear it or we don't hear it. If we make ourselves available it comes to us. I'm no more than a radar that receives a message from the spheres."

Vangelis has never travelled to Australia and seldom performs live. His current preoccupation is with his studio and the creation of even more different kinds of music.

He says: "I don't know what I'll be doing tomorrow. It could be another film score. Who knows!"

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