DO ANDROIDS DREAM?

Is Vangelis the Greek Jean-Michel Jarre? Is Jean-Michel the French Klaus Schulze? Is all European synthesiser music the same?

If you answered ‘No’ to all three questions, go to the top of the class.

Vangelis O. Papathanassiou was born in the town of Agria some 120 km north of Athens as the seagull flies, or three times that by road. He was the compositional force in Aphrodite’s Child, a Greek cult band featuring the vocals of Demis Roussos who produced the memorable psych/prog album 666 in 1972 and split soon after.

Mr V.O. Papathanassiou went solo (as did his kaftan wearing mate, Demis) and produced an album entitled Earth, a semi-concept piece with lots of different styles, lots of percussion, and very little resemblance to the easy listening synthesiser music he became famous for. It’s actually pretty good, if you like your prog eclectic.

Lightening his name by a dozen or more letters, Vangelis raced through the seventies on a wave of eleven keyboard driven instrumental albums (yes, 11 LPs between 1973 and 1979) that vary in texture, but follow similar patterns of strong melodies, layered synthesisers, and frequent grandiose moments that make you think ‘Film Score!’

Fans of 70s electronic music tend to collect them, but don’t necessarily play them too often. Well, that’s true for me, anyway.

Vangelis for Dinner

My favourites from the 1970s are Spiral (1977) and Albredo (1976). I think that is because they largely avoid the grandiloquent gestures that plague Vangelis’ work, while also managing to steer clear of New Age custard. It’s worth remembering that Jon Anderson was impressed enough with the big Greek’s work to invite him to audition as Rick Wakeman’s replacement in Yes, though permit problems nixed that idea and the Swiss musician Patrick Moraz got the gig. Jon and Vangelis did work together, of course, but that’s another story.

Did someone mention film music?

In 1981, Vangelis provided music for the film Chariots of Fire and his career went stellar. Although electronic music seems an unlikely texture for a film about 1920s Olympians, his synthesiser skills created a memorable theme and an enjoyable soundtrack LP that sold truckloads and netted him an Academy Award. More film scores followed; Mr Papathanassiou is one of the most successful soundtrack creators of all time. A lot of that fame rests on Chariots, but amongst music fans his masterpiece is without doubt the music he wrote for Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner (1982).

In Bladerunner, the synthesiser music—brooding, pulsing, melancholy—perfectly fits the dystopian future where Rick Deckard ‘retires’ replicants in a sleazy future-Gotham. It is one of those soundtracks with snippets of dialogue. These barely distract from the music for those unfamiliar with the film and enhance the experience for those who do. The opening track on the soundtrack album illustrates this nicely. It’s a scene where Deckard is viewing a photo (yes, an actual print… that’s the cyberpunk world of Bladerunner) taken from the possessions of one of the rogue machines, discovering a hidden figure. A replicant with feelings? Romantic machines? The sky is crying in Ridley Scott’s future world.

Many of the pieces segue into each other, making for seamless listening. Yet when attention is paid to the individual compositions, they reveal well-crafted structures and melodies. “Wait for me” is an example; the snippet of Rachel’s voice—mixed well back—functions as a kind of vocal, a half-heard female presence reinforced by the sax solo. Saxophone returns for the “Love Theme”, a sumptuous piece full of longing and inevitable heartache. It is played by Dick Morrisey, a British jazz musician who was part of early 70s jazz-rock outfit If and recorded with many rock acts including Peter Gabriel and Paul McCartney. In between these two is “Rachel’s Song” which does use a human voice (Mary Hopkin), but wordlessly. It’s lovely. Which makes the 1930s pastiche of “One More Kiss, Dear” about as subtle as a replicant crashing through a plate glass window.

That, however, is the only misstep on Vangelis’ Bladerunner soundtrack. Even the echoey helium-voiced Demis Roussos appearance on “Tales of the Future” offers an otherworldly incantation that only enhances the atmosphere. Over all, it is a truly wonderful suite of acoustically enhanced electronic music that any fan of the film—or electronic music—will delight in.

Thanks Philip K. Thanks Ridley. Thanks Harrison. Thanks Vangelis. (Greece is the word)

This is the 11th instalment of the ROCKIN’ ALL OVER THE WORLD series

 

43 comments

  1. “Is Vangelis the Greek Jean-Michel Jarre?” Man, I go to bed asking myself that question every night, and then, the next morning I wake having totally forgotten the answer. Help!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Existential crises take many forms, tref. What really matters is whether you dream of electric sheep.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If you could only see what my monthly electric bill is because of those sheep, you’d think differently. Green deal, my butt.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Have you considered going solar? (I do realise that is a problem at night, when dreaming commonly occurs, but have great faith on your powers of invention).

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I’ll get right on it!

            Like

  2. I don’t know much of anything about synthesizer music, but I do have Chariots of Fire here on vinyl. And of course I’ve seen Blade Runner a dozen times. Am I a fan then?

    My favourite synth theme of all time is Galipoli.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. But you don’t own the soundtrack, Mike? Hm. Will have to send that one to the ref for adjudication.

      PS. Do you have a favourite cut of Bladerunner?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No I do not have the soundtrack, the closest I have come to a copy was ALMOST doing this radio show — https://mikeladano.com/2019/11/29/blade-runner-radio-tonight/

        Funny thing, I got sick really bad at the end of 2019, and then again when Covid hit in Jan-Feb of 2020. Thankfully I haven’t been sick since then. Still wondering if I actually had Covid in Feb 2020. But I couldn’t do the show because I was so ill, and Rob’s wife was battling cancer and he couldn’t be near me.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. An excellent show idea to return to when health and safety return?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Well Rob did the episode without me (as he should) so I doubt it! But I do look forward to being on Rob’s show again. Maybe 2022. He does movie, TV and video game soundtracks and he is a genius.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. I must say I’ve tried a good deal of Vangelis music and sadly found only few of his albums to my likings. That would be “666” with Aphrodite’s child, one of his early solo albums “The dragon ” and his work with Anderson, with the first one “Short stories” being my favourite. I always thought I should find more as I’m a fan of electronic music, but it just didin’t click. And I must say I am rather happy he didn’t took the job with Yes. I think he’s to much an individual and I’m sure he would be very prominent, but I’m afraid his style wouldn’t blend well. And Moraz did a stellar job on Relayer.

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  4. You may have persuaded me to give Blade Runner another try. It’s been decades since my last viewing. I could never get into it. Now I can focus on the score.

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    1. pinklightsabre · · Reply

      Blade Runner can have a corny element to it but man, what a film for its time. The latest is amazing, it does have some problems with the story but is so gorgeous to look at and listen to. (The soundtrack I mean.) and Ryan Gosling is well cast as a replicant you care about.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think I am with you in collecting Vangelis and seldom listening. Heaven and Hell was important in my late teens for some reason but I have no idea why, I enjoy the movies he does soundtracks for, not sure what that all means. My cousin Tony used to call it greatness missed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Neat summary, Tony. 🙂
      What about that notion of Vangelis joining Yes, eh?

      Like

  6. When I hear the soundtracks from Vangelis, I immediately feel the mood of “Blade Runner”. The film is set in L.A. in 2019, the year is now 2021 and the future prospects at that time are not that far-fetched. The sequel by Denis Villeneuve is also worth seeing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed, hf. The sequel was way better than I anticipated. Can’t recall much about the soundtrack though!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Sometimes I turn the sound off when watching TV. (Emotionally manipulative sound tracks tend to give me the shuts and sometimes I just feel like reading subtitles; sometimes I simply like to pretend to mesylf that I can mulittaks).
    But…
    You’ve inspired me to ‘watch’ Bladerunner with the picture turned off.

    Thanks

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  8. I was looking for a review of Aphrodite’s Child ‘666’ a week or two ago… I felt sure that if anyone had done one it would have been you. But apparently not? Get to work! Enough of this soundtrack shenganigans!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL. I have it on both vinyl and CD, so I guess that’s a good start. The major problem, Scott, is that I’m not that keen. I find it overrated and underwhelming (though there are some good bits).

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      1. Good to know. I got it recently because I heard The Four Horsemen and thought it was great. But I just can’t get into the album at all. Glad it’s not just me.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. This won’t be soon, Scott, but I’m thinking I should spend some time with 666 this year and feature it in ’22 for its 50th anniversary. Sound like a plan? 🙂

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  9. I like the “Chariots” theme very much. I picked up a 2nd version in a $1 bin, by the London Symphony Orchestra, and it was dull as ditchwater, the original synthesizer version is far better.
    I like the soundtrack to Blade Runner, but while it was effective, I wouldn’t listen to the one for the sequel. Sitting in the theater, I initially thought the soundtrack was the theater’s ventilation system breaking down. Does it strike you, that the man on the album cover looks nothing like Harrison Ford, and a lot like “Million Dollar Man” Lee Majors?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the warning re “2049”. 🙂
      Hadn’t clocked the Lee Majors connection, but found myself wondering, while taking the pics for this post, why they didn’t use a still from the film, given it is so visually stunning. Then I recalled that there were all kinds of clashes and complications around the release of Vangelis’ version. Perhaps the cartoon cover was one aspect of that.

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    2. pinklightsabre · · Reply

      So funny you didn’t care for the soundtrack on the latest one! It was done by the same guy who did Dunkirk I think. That building tension thing like underwater tapping, kind of maddening. I can see where it would be off putting now that I think of it! But I listen to German drone and ambient so there you go.

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      1. It worked well for the movie, definitely, but I’ll tend to listen to the softer, nature kind of ambient stuff, to settle down the nerves.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I have Bladerunner and Chariots Of Fire. A winner is me?

    True Story: I ran along the beach at St. Andrews, singing the CoF theme as I went. Geek.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you were running in slow motion, Aaron!

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      1. Actually I was. Perfect.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    Greece is the word; new age custard! Liked what you said recently too about the classifications and sub genres within soundtracks, never thought so deeply about it. The soundtrack on the latest Blade Runner was remarkable, truly a part of the film. You made me curious to go back and listen to the first one, which I’ve threatened my daughter Lily we need to watch together. I’ve been watching the TV series Homeland the past couple months; you probably haven’t seen it but the soundtrack is wonderful. It’s this eerie jazz saxophone that sounds like it’s melting, dissolving into chaos. Love when sounds can reflect the story themes right? Somehow Vangelis’s work with Chariots manages to do that. Thanks for this deep view Bruce! Deep brew too.

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  12. Nice one Bruce. Blade Runner is probably my third favourite LP ever, sometimes it may even scrabble up to #2. I love it the way you can only love an album you have listened to a thousand million trillion times, my kids both love it too.

    I did own a Vangelis’ greatest hits on cassette many many years ago, but it never took.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ‘Is this to be an empathy test?’
      You know, I think I could construct an enjoyable and interesting hour of Vangelis from the material I have, but it would require trawling through much that is, well, average. Easier to listen to the Bladerunner OST, eh?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Just capillary dilation Bruce. It is pretty much my favourite film too.

        I like it so much that I spent out on the 3 CD deluxe set of the soundtrack, complete with other musical bits from the film and newer bits inspired by the film too.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ooooh, he squeaks, rushing off to research this deluxe set.

          Liked by 1 person

  13. Brooding, pulsing, melancholy that perfectly fits the dystopian future? Sounds like music that would be right up my alley. I need to spend more time with the movie, to include paying attention to the soundtrack. I also need to rewatch so that I can (finally) move on to 2049, which I keep putting off pending the refamiliarization.

    I never really been aware of the overlap between Vangelis and Blade Runner. I have fiddled with twinges of curiosity about Vangelis over the last year or so after hearing Steven Wilson say some positive things about some of the early output. I did not know of the Aphrodite’s Child connection either. I picked up a used Best of… a while back and was unmoved, so much so that I quickly resold it. Only here do I learn that the compilation was not at all the “best of” in reality, all tracks on it having predated this 666 item of which I was wholly ignorant. Path to quelling Vangelis curiousity identified!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand there is a sub-genre called ‘Dark Ambient’. The Bladerunner OST could almost squeeze into that category, especially when the music conjures the dark, rainy city of the film. Could well be up your gloomy, possibly dangerous alley, Vic.

      We watched the Director’s Cut a year or so ago with the boy. It’s my favourite because it is so spare; full of implications and hints rather than exposition. Unfortunately Roy’s terminal interview with Tyrell totally freaked him out, so we are another grouping who is yet to move on to 2049.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dark ambient, darkwave, horror synth… whatever it is being called depending on the website, I seem to be drawn to it of late. The siren call of induced dystopian longing??

        This post has been on my mind for days now… I think a near-term Bladerunner may be the only way to get you out of my head, VC.

        Like

        1. In follow-up, I found Bladerunner: The Final Cut available on one of the streaming services to which I have access last night. It was too late when I made the discovery for immediate clicking but soon…

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Excellent sleuthing, sir. Please feel free to report back later. I’m putting a crisp fifty on you loving its dark, intriguing meditations (amidst the action) on what it means to be human/programed.

            Liked by 1 person

  14. Just know the soundtracks and his work with Anderson. The music for the films add so much to the experience. Both those directors chose well. Maybe time to delve into some of his other work. The ‘Earth’ album sounds interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Great. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Logi.

      Like

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