Although most now associate the name with the Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner soundtracks and the score for Carl Sagan’s epic Cosmos TV series, Vangelis’ career as a composer, musician and producer spans more than half a century.
Vangelis shuns publicity and rarely gives interviews. We are therefore truly honoured to get a few words from the Greek aster, during the recent launch of his remastered solo album series.
RC: How did the remastering project come about?
V: When the technology of today gives the opportunity to achieve a better quality without changing the sound, it becomes a must. For a long time, I have felt the need, if you will, to remaster my albums, and finally the record company has more recently agreed.
RC: What were your goals when you started remastering your work? What kind of alterations did you want to make?
V: The least amount of alteration as I could, because I believe the sound of the original recording must be preserved as much as possible. That which I try to achieve is, as I mentioned for the previous question, a better quality with a fuller sound that is more in focus, but without changing the original character.
RC: SACD and other surround formats would seem ideal for your music, which has so many layers of sound. What could be done with surround sound that perhaps has not been done so far?
V: For this to happen, every piece of music would need to be re-mixed from scratch using today’s surround sound system. I agree with you that this approach is very interesting, and it is something different than what was required, but it may be a possibility in the future.
RC: Listening to your earlier recordings, such as L’Apocalypse des Animaux, it is clear you were using the Hammond effectively as a synthesizer. How did you create such a range of sounds from this instrument and the other keyboards available at the time?
V: When I recorded L’Apocalypse des Animaux, I used the Hammond organ, as there was hardly anything else, and I tried to extract various and different sounds by pushing this instrument to its limits – something I continue to do today with all the different synthesizers I use.
RC: Your mastery of the Yamaha CS80 is well known. What is it about this instrument that allowed you to make such expressive use of it?
In the middle of the 1970s, Yamaha made a synthesizer that, for the first time, offered to the user the ability to perform, because of a very successful approach to ‘playability’ in relation to other synthesizers. This very successful technological achievement, unfortunately, was not continued, perhaps because it demands a certain level of knowledge of performing technique, and for this reason, it may have been considered a difficult synthesizer and not easy to sell.
If, however, this approach had been continued and improved upon, then maybe music today would have been more natural and more interesting, instead of ending up with awkward and difficult to use boxes that do not offer anything other than a library of sounds.
RC: When was the last time that a new instrument excited you with its possibilities?
Although many of today’s synths offer improvements in sound quality, for playability and expression there have been none.
RC: What role do sequencers play in your recording process, and how did you go about designing unique devices such as Direct?
As I have mentioned several times on other occasions over the years, in trying to reduce the time between the inspiration and the execution of a work, something that for me is of the utmost importance, I have developed a system that gives me the ability when playing to reach the final recording on the first take, without the need to overdub and without pre-programming and the use of computers. In this way, the development of this system over the years, allows me to compose, perform and record simultaneously, without any intervention and to achieve the final result instantly.
RC: How would you like synthesizers to progress in the future?
A synthesizer needs to be built (as the technology already exists) to achieve playability analogous to traditional instruments, and not to be reduced to boxes that are simply libraries.
RC: What advice would you give young composers trying to navigate the music industry, especially those tempted to rely on technology?
The electronic approach to music leads, most of the time, down an awkward path, not due to the technology itself, but due to the uncomfortable and sometimes puzzling way of synthesizer design, which often neglects the human factor. Ideally, technology should be a help to young musicians and not a burden, just as the music industry should support creativeness and not only be a profit-oriented exercise.