Qualifying Vangelis as a genius is not an opinion, it is an incontestable fact. And perhaps it is necessary, once again, to make the distinction between what we like and what we don’t, with respect to what deserves the description of good, normal, mediocre or bad. Vangelis may or may not like it, and that is the most normal thing in the world, but it is enough to listen to some of his most relevant compositions, such as the unbeatable soundtrack of Blade Runner, to leave little room for discussion about the indisputable talent of the.
A talent that, unfortunately, has been extinguished. And it is that, as we can read in the media, social networks, etc., Vangelis, 79, died last Tuesday in France, (although the news was made public today) as a result of complications from COVID-19. Yet another name added to the monstrous list of lives cut short by the damn coronavirus, just a few months after the release of their latest album, Juno to Jupiter, last September.
And why talk about Vangelis in a technological medium like MuyComputer? To explain it we have to get into the time machine to travel to the seventies of the last century, which sounds like something further away every day. A period of fascinating effervescence in what concerns us, electronic technology and information technology. Times in which some young people surnamed Wozniak, Gates, Jobs, Dell, Grove, Ellison etc., began to build on the foundations established in Mountain View by those who were known as “The Eight Traitors”, Blank, Grinich, Kleiner, Last , Moore, Noyce, Roberts, and Hoerni. The revolution had begun.
In a more or less parallel way, electronics also began to gain more weight in the musical field. From the precursor Telharmonium to the tremendously popular Theremin (I have always wanted to have one), first electricity and then electronics were introduced into musical composition, first as experimentation, and at the same time with more commercial proposals or, at least, something more affordable. to the ear than many of the creations of the decades of the forties and fifties.
in the sixties Artists and bands begin to appear that integrate electronic sounds and instruments into compositions aimed, with greater or lesser success, at the general public. Perhaps the most important of them is Kraftwerk, creators of some songs that were well known at the time and well remembered today, such as The Robots, Autobahn, The Man Machine or Tour de France. Kraftwerk not only made (and continues to make, as the band is still active) heavy use of electronics, they also showed their fascination for technology in many of their compositions.
The traitorous eight laid the foundations for the technological revolution of the 1970s, and at the same time the more or less experimental musicians of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s laid the foundations for a generation of musicians, including Vangelis, Brian Eno, Jean Michelle Jarre, Giorgio Moroder, Mike Oldfield and many others, who de somehow replicated, in the musical world, the revolution of information technology and technology that was going to change our lives so much in the following decades.
Vangelis and the computer soundtrack
To say that Vangelis was the main author of the soundtrack for the explosion of computing would be excessive, but there is no doubt that the sound of many of his compositions, in which the presence of electronics was key, contributed decisively, due to the auditory path, to the normalization of the presence of electronics in our lives. This is a characteristic of his musical style that begins to consolidate in his career in the mid-seventies, and for which it will reap multiple and very sweet fruits in the early eighties.
Chronologically we can put the first great milestone in 1980, when some of his compositions are used in the documentary series Cosmos, by Carl Sagan. This collaboration will mark the beginning of Vangelis’s compositions related to space and its exploration, with moments as symbolically remarkable as NASA commissioning a composition for the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission. Vangelis went further in composing an entire disc, Mythodea, dedicated to the mission to map the surface of the red planet.
Vangelis’s next milestone was to compose a soundtrack that millions of people born between the 1940s and 1970s have burned into our memories. I am referring, of course, to the work that led him to win his first Oscar, Chariots of Fire soundtrackin 1982. If his participation in the Cosmos soundtrack gave Vangelis enormous prestige, that of Chariots of Fire made him one of the most recognizable (for his style) and recognized artists of his generation.
And the third milestone, probably the one for which he is most remembered, despite the fact that at the time it did not seem like it was going to be like that, was for another soundtrack. The year was 1984 and a daring director filmed a futuristic dystopia that had a fairly average reception, with quite negative reviews and quite poor numbers at the box office. Surely you have already imagined it, the director was none other than Ridley Scott, and lhe film, later raised to the threshold of cult cinema, was Blade Runner.
Coincidentally, or perhaps not so much, they coincided that same year, 1984, the premiere of Blade Runner and the broadcast, at the Superbowl, of the Apple commercial that changed everything, and that had also been filmed by Ridley Scott, coinciding in time with his collaboration with Vangelis.
All this happened, musically, when words like computer, operating system, client-server, machine code, bits and bytes, BASIC, memory addresses and a long etcetera they began to creep into our lives whether it was children or adolescents, whose brain sponginess made them soak up them to make them something basic in their lives, or young people and adults who saw the enormous potential of what was happening and joined, without hesitation, that revolution .
In 1975, my year of birth, in case you were curious, Vangelis begins to consolidate his musical style supported by electronics, Microsoft is founded (Apple will do it a year later) and the fascinating Isao Tomita (another lover of space and its exploration ) published Snowflakes are Dancing, an album with versions of Debussy compositions passed through a good stack of electronic instruments (an experiment that William Orbit would recreate decades later with his hypnotic Pieces in a modern style). It may seem like a mere coincidence, but in my opinion it is pure and simple causality.
The seventies brought what was possibly the last great countercultural current in history, in which technology and culture went hand in hand, in a union that Steve Jobs did not hesitate to emphasize for decadesand in which artists like Vangelis, who took precedent musical genres such as symphonic rock (in which the musician himself wrote his beginnings), traced a path that was first converging and later parallel that has lasted until today.
The music of Vangelis, Tomita, Jarre, Moroder, etc. was inspired by that technological revolution, but in turn fed it by adding an exceptional soundtrack. To this day, the legacy of action and its reaction is still very present due to its evolution. Information technology, in those years, made us perceive a surprising future. The music of composers like Vangelis helped many of us to project that future with our eyes closed. And as if that were not enough, it also took us into space, just when the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes began what, until now, is the most remote journey of the human being.
That is why, in my opinion, the death of Vangelis is so relevant and deserves to be picked up by a medium dedicated to technology such as MuyComputer. Because, along with other geniuses of his generation, represented and musically sounded a movement that changed everything.
Images: Piano Piano! / Vintage Synth Explorer / NASA