Ad Astra: Vangelis in his own words
Vangelis, the Oscar-awarded Greek composer and musician whose synth-driven works for Blade Runner and more defined the sound landscapes has died aged 79.
Born Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou in Agria, Greece in 1943, Vangelis won an Oscar for his 1981 Chariots of Fire soundtrack with its signature uplifting piano motif that reached No1 on the US charts.
Self-taught in music and an avid creator -he was creating musical and visual landscapes as a painter- Vangelis grew up in Athens and by 1968 he moved to Paris, then his musical genius conquered the world.
Highly reclusive Vangelis he was not after fame or money -he once deemed the world of commercial pop “very boring”- he moved to London where he signed a solo deal with RCA Records. It was during the seventies and his music was used to soundtrack Carl Sagan’s popular TV series Cosmos.
A decade later his work reached its commercial heights with Chariots of Fire with his score to Blade Runner largely celebrated for its lush quality. “It has turned out to be a very prophetic film – we’re living in a kind of Blade Runner world now,” he said in 2005. Vangelis also scored the Palme d’Or-winning political drama Missing by Costa Gavras.
Later, in a 2008 sitdown interview, Vangelis said he no longer wanted anything to do with the Olympics because they became too commercialized.
“We don’t have Olympic Games anymore, real Olympic Games,” he said. “We have something else that we call Olympic Games, but it’s not what I believe, what I think the Olympic Games meant to be.
“The only point of reference that’s left to humanity today, the gathering together every four years in a ‘peaceful’ way, is the Olympic Games. This may be an opportunity every four years for every company … to make fortunes and to push the Olympic Games artists, the athletes, to push them to advertise their products. That’s what it is. Nothing else. … We all need money, but there are some moments we have to function without this money need or philosophy.”
Fascinated by outer space he released Rosetta, a studio album dedicated to the Rosetta space probe mission, launched in 2004, in 2016. This work was one of his several works which were inspired by space travel such as Albedo 0.39, or produced in collaboration with space missions.
Nasa appointed his 1993 piece Mythodea (which he claimed to have written in an hour) as the official music of the Mars Odyssey mission of 2001. His final album, 2021’s Juno to Jupiter, was inspired by the Nasa probe Juno and featured recordings of its launch and the workings of the probe itself in outer space.
Hailed by many as a pioneer, Vangelis remained wary of commercial success, once telling an interviewer he never saw music as just an entertainment.
“Music is the most multi-dimensional knowledge we have” he once said. “It's as specific as nature can be. Any form nature takes contains a specific sound combination. Music is a language. It's a memory of the cosmic system, a memory of the past and the future. Above all, it's science, not entertainment.”
As a tribute, this is the wisdom of Vangelis in his own words.
“…I am merely a conduit, a kind of big hairy tool. I am just a plastic funnel connected to a Moog...”
“We are living in a cultural dark age of musical pollution. You put the radio on, and five minutes later you need an aspirin.”
“Music is the most multi-dimensional knowledge we have. It's as specific as nature can be. Any form nature takes contains a specific sound combination. Music is a language. It's a memory of the cosmic system, a memory of the past and the future. Above all, it's science, not entertainment.”
“Electronic music is perhaps the only genre – with the exception of 'pure' classical music – that can communicate universally.”
“I believe that our existence is first cosmic, then biological and then social.”
“I do not consider myself a musician, rather a radar ready to pick up the symphonies coming from the sky. It's been like that since I was four years old and I hope it will continue forever. When I compose, any ingredient can be good, the problem lies in the proportions that must be harmonized. It's like the work of architects, you never invent anything.”
“I function as a channel through which music emerges from the chaos of noise.”
“I see the crisis like a theatrical play that concerns the world.”
“If you look for truth, you have to be courageous.”
“Music is science more than art, and it is the main code of the universe.”
“Music is the most multi-dimensional knowledge we have. It's as specific as nature can be. Any form nature takes contains a specific sound combination.”
“Nobody proposed to me anything to do with the Olympics. Nothing. Maybe the Olympics have become too much of a supermarket now. The other athletics events have more of the spirit of the Olympics.”
“Success is sweet and treacherous.”
“The more successful you become, the more you become a product of something that generates money. Instead of being able to move forward freely and do what you really wish, you find yourself stuck and obliged to repeat yourself and your previous success.”
Vangelis quotes set in Parachute Typefoundry’s typeface PF Spekk variable font.