Vangelis – A Personal Voyage
I was sad recently to hear of the passing of Vangelis at the age of 79, being a reclusive and private man it took a few days for the news to come out. I have been enthralled by his music for decades there has barely been a week where I haven’t listened to at least one of his compositions. There are plenty of obituaries published which will tell you of his full life, I thought though as my tribute I would talk about my personal Voyage through his music.
One of my first loves in music was film soundtracks, like many people my age John Williams Star Wars music was the catalyst. My love of soundtracks meant that my tastes and Vangelis was going to collide at some point. Vangelis was probably first on my Radar in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, hearing on the radio his collaborations with Jon Anderson they released a hit album and several singles that topped reached the Top ten in the U.K charts. At the same time the theme to the film Chariots of Fire was everywhere, as a 12 year old Science Fiction Fan the film held little interest for me but you couldn’t avoid that soundtrack.
In 1980 Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage appeared, this television program I lapped up along with it’s soundtrack. My Mother bought me the record (Vinyl to the youngsters out there) along with classical music and avant-garde electronic music the curated soundtrack included two pieces of Vangelis Music Heaven and Hell Part 1 and Alpha. Heaven and hell was the main theme and it’s slowly building melody is now iconicaly related to the Television show. I just have to listen to it for it to pull me back into the world of the show. Listening to the whole album ‘The Music of Cosmos’ both Vangelis pieces sit perfectly within the classical and avant-garde music on the record. I still listen to the whole album on a regular basis.
In 1982 I was lucky enough to see Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner on release, I loved the film (sorry the theatrical version is still the best version) and one of the things that made the film was the sweeping score from Vangelis. He managed to perfectly set the mood of the film. The decaying futuristic landscape along with the noir detective feel of the film was perfectly accentuated by the sweeping electronic score. The only soundtrack album available originally was an Orchestral version by the New American orchestra (which I believe was a group of session musicians) but even in that version the scope of Vangelis’s compositions shine through. 12 years after the release of the film finally an official Vangelis soundtrack of Blade Runner was released. As much as I love this record there are some tracks that weren’t actually in the film. I do love the inclusion of scenes and sound effects from the film on some tracks, this adds to the ambience. The introduction of Rutger Hauer prose on the track Tears in Rain is inspired. In 2007 there was a 25th Anniversary version release that includes the 1994 release along with a disc of extra material plus music inspired by Blade Runner. The most complete and accurate version of the soundtrack is not an official release but a fan project ‘The Esper Edition’ I will discuss the weird history of the Blade Runner soundtrack in a separate article. I personally rotate which version I listen to and surprisingly I still have a soft spot for the orchestral version.
As my musical taste diverged through the 80’s and 90’s to Thrash Metal and various offshoots I still had my love for soundtracks and Vangelis, from that period 1492:The Conquest of Paradise another Ridley Scott film sticks out. The use of voice in the opening track builds until it explodes into a full orchestrally sweeping track. Even though Vangelis plays all the instruments himself the layering and production make the sound feel huge.
In 2006 I moved 800 miles for work on the journey up we stopped in a shop and they had a Vangelis compilation CD Odyssey which we picked up. This ended up being our soundtrack as we drove through England and the Scottish Highlands. Vangelis is now permanently joined with the memories bringing us to our present home.
His collaborations with NASA and the European Space Agency were in reality a soundtrack for space exploration. To me these thematically linked back to his inclusion on The Music of Cosmos. In 2001 Mythodea which NASA used as the soundtrack to the Mars Odyssey mission. In 2014 he composed three short pieces for the ESA and the Rossetta mission which was later released as part of the Album Rossetta (2016). Last year 2021 I was excited by the release of Juno to Jupiter, which ended up being his last Album and it was inspired by the Space Probe Juno on it’s orbit of Jupiter. I personally think the Album perfectly captures the vastness of space and that album along with Rossetta are probably the most common music I put on whilst writing. In some ways if you have to have an end to such a distinguished and creative career Juno to Jupiter and what it represents in space exploration is the perfect bookend
If you look through the back catalogue of Vangelis you will see a wide variety of projects. If you only know a few select tracks that have appeared on film soundtracks I would recommend exploring his back catalogue. I am still finding music that I have never heard. I recently listened to the soundtrack to the Oliver Stone film Alexander for the first time and even though I have never seen the film the soundtrack is stunning.
Vangelis along with artists such as Tangerine Dream, Jean Michelle Jarre and Wendy Carlos was a trailblazer in the use of synthesizers, but no matter what in the end it came down to what he could create with those tools. We are left with a stunning and inspirational back catalogue from one of the greats to listen to.