KLEMblad 107, October 2001
KLEMblad is a Dutch publication by Stichting KLEM, uniting not only Dutch but also German and international fans of electronic music. In 2001, shortly after the Mythodea concert took place, a series of 3 of the magazines contained detailed descriptions, reviews and other info about the concert and the new album. The last in this series featured editor Frits' long but rewarding interview with Vangelis. This is an English transcription of the entire conversation plus parts translation from Frits original article in Dutch. Thanks very much, Frits and Ivar!
In KLEMblad edition 105 and 106 we already wrote about the concert Vangelis gave in Athens on June 28, 2001. Two days later Sony Classical enabled me to do a "one on one" interview with Vangelis. That of course is something really special, as he only gives very few interviews. Knowing this, it was a great honor to do our own, exclusive interview. For this reason I did my very best to think of some good questions, en the other Vangelis fans in the hotel really helped me with that.
I was quite nervous when I went on the Sony bus to the Astir Palace Hotel, just outside of Athens, on a beautiful bay. There were two suites were reserved for the interviews. In one of them the press was waiting, and in the other one the interviews took place. The "KLEMblad from the Netherlands" was in the schedule between a Spanish press agency and the American "Billboard Magazine".
The time-schedule went not as it was planned. First of all because Vangelis arrived late (he got stuck in traffic) but also because he really took his time for the interviews. All interviews therefore took longer than the 15 or 20 minutes that were planned per interview. I did not mind, as I did not have to go anywhere else, and in the end I could do an interview that lasted almost 40 minutes instead of the 20 minutes that were planned.
The lady from the Spanish press agency who came before me, was also quite nervous, but when she returned, she told me Vangelis had reassured her right away en that it had been a very pleasant, relaxed talk. Well, that's exactly what my talk with him also became....
Vangelis met me at the door of the suite, and after the introduction and shaking hands, also with his assistant, he took a comfortable chair. He was sitting there really relaxed, and answered my questions extensively. And next to him was me, sitting on the couch, but not as relaxed as he was...
First I had to arrange my dat-recorder, and Vangelis made suggestions where to put the microphone. Then his assistant told she had run out of cigarettes, and Vangelis asked her whether she wanted a cigar. She checked whether I would mind (of course not) and with a big Havana she sat down in the corner of the suite. Then an other lady from the hotel came in to ask something, and there was a lot of talking in Greek. Unfortunately I did not understand a word, of what was said and laughed, but it was clear that Vangelis is a real charming man. His assistant explained what the procedure would be: I had 20 minutes, and when these would be over, she would come walking over to me. That would be the sign to make an end to the interview....
Frtiz: We have a magazine on Electronic Music in the Netherlands, and we write about all artists including Vangelis, and I'm really honored that I have the option to speak to you now.... I'm a fan of your music for many many years now, and you always seemed very far away and now you're so close.
Vangelis: (laughing): I am!
Frtiz: Well, not just because you're in Greece, but also...
Vangelis: But always I don't want to give a lot of interviews and talk about myself. I just try to be as distant as possible.
Frtiz: Is that because you need your privacy or does it distract you from music?
Vangelis: No no, it doesn't distract me, it's just... I think it's unnecessary to talk about myself. I think it's better to work, to do my work and try to offer things and try to help as much as possible (if it's possible of course) rather than to go around, and to show off and to talk, and you know... (To his assistant) You look like Winston Churchill there, with the cigar...
Assistant: I feel like it! That's what it is.
Frtiz: In 1993 Mythodea was played for the first time, that was on a I think smaller scale than it was today. Were you yourself waiting for an opportunity to do it on this scale?
Vangelis: No, I never thought it was going to end up like this. I never planned anything, it just happens. And that's actually why it's quite interesting, when you don't plan something, which was already composed 8 years ago, like many other things that I composed and have never been released. So it's a surprise, you know how things in life develop and this... One day it came and it emerged like that and it connected with the Space Odyssey and being somehow enriched by the symphony orchestra and by these two beautiful voices and...
Frits: So it was in fact Sony who asked you to do this?
Vangelis: Yes, Sony wanted to release this work. To which actually of course, I said: "why not?"
Frits: Of course. Did you consider other pieces, other compositions you may have (unpublished or published) before?
Vangelis: Many, I have many similar types of symphonic works. Even things that I've done 20 years ago. You see, in this world and this approach if you want, it doesn't matter if you compose it 20 years ago, 50 years ago, 100 years ago.
Frits: Yes, we also listen to Bach and Beethoven, and that's a lot older.
Vangelis: And it's not the current as you call it "single" or "hit" or that you have to follow a fashion, which I never wanted to do. I've been through that, I mean I've done that and I know how to create somehow a hit or what we call a success. But this is not what I'm interested in to do and of course record-companies are very interested when you give them hits, isn't it? (Makes a money-gesture) But I'm not interested, I like to just compose spontaneous music and that's it. And then maybe the next piece is going to be something which I'm going to compose on the spot, or from the same period or maybe I'll take something maybe older, or...
Frits: Did you change anything from the 1993 version?
Vangelis: No, I just added a symphony orchestra and I added only 1 extra piece, that's all. All the rest is exactly the same.
Frits: How do you imagine what will be on stage, because what we saw was so huge, so overwhelming, so impressive. Did you already see that beforehand or was it also a surprise to you?
Vangelis: No, it was not a surprise because when it was proposed to me, I mean by the record-company (back then not the record-company) because the record-company wanted to promote this work, at the same time they asked me "where do you think it's going to be the best place to perform this piece?" and I thought that, because of the content and the style of the music, Greece was really appropriate. Of course, we could have done it in America; we could have done it maybe in London, in Italy, maybe Egypt or somewhere. And then I think I convinced the record-company that the best place for that particular piece was Greece and they thought "why not?". And at the same time I had a proposition from the Minister of Culture because of the Cultural Olympics to do something in Greece and I said "this is maybe the appropriate time" and then he said "why not?" and this is what happened. And by that time I knew exactly how I wanted to present it on stage.
Frits: Did you also choose Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle?
Vangelis: That was a common choice with the record-company.
Frits: It really sounded magnificent...
Vangelis: I'm glad you liked it, because I have chills sometimes when I...
Frits: How do you look at it now it's over? Are you happy with the final result?
Vangelis: Yeah, I think I am but it's too soon for me because I was too much involved. So I need a distance to see if I was right or wrong. I think I was right, I don't know. But it's not up to me, after all.
Frits: No, but you said, "I knew what I wanted and how I wanted it to be on stage", so...
Vangelis: Yes, I mean the moment that everything started to come together then I started thinking, "This is the way it has to be presented". So even you said to me that you liked it, then I was right.
Frits: Your preparations for Thursday, of course you've had rehearsals, but have you been doing other things the weeks before, apart from organizing?
Vangelis: No, only organizing, nothing else. It was an extremely difficult thing and I spent a lot of time organizing that.
Frits: I saw some things and I'm interested in how deep you went in organizing and thinking about things. I saw the ladies with cloth on their heads and when the spotlights came from behind you could see through it, you saw a dark face and red or orange patterns around their heads. It looked ever so magnificent. I had binoculars and looked at it... was that calculated and not a fortunate coincidence?
Vangelis: No, everything was calculated. Nothing was left to chance. And we had a lot of difficulties because of the archeological place and it took so much time and we really lost a lot of time. And I think it would have been even better. It's true, I know! (Laughs)
Frits: Well, this was already perfect. We also saw a red disc first when Mars was shown, then there was this really big sound of "danger", I would almost say and there was this red disc ...
Vangelis: That's Mars! Again, that was Mars. A different picture of Mars.
Frits: Yes, the same thing is on the cover of the album, with those lines on it and... I wondered what that was.
Vangelis: Yes, like a map. Yes, that's Mars (laughs).
Frits: And I saw it back on the cover, I thought it has to be something important, but I just missed it. And the projections, they were really so magnificent, the big ones came off the screen, they were not flat projections.
Vangelis: I'm glad you liked it. But the screen you saw, actually I designed it even bigger, but because of some archeological problems we had, we changed it a little bit. It's a big screen, it's 180 meters long and 24 meters high and I've been working really hard, using all these projections. This is something for example I use a computer for. I couldn't do it otherwise. Because we have to say the positive and the negative things about it. Everything that is for creation, the computer doesn't help me with. But for calculations, putting things together, storing things, programming things, the computer is fine. So I've been working really hard in order to produce all these images.
Frits: Is the team that did it the same as does the projections for Jean-Michel Jarre? He also has huge projections, but the quality with him is less. What I saw was really perfect...
Vangelis: No, this was a different team.
Frits: When you were sitting behind your keyboards while everything was going on, who were you then: were you the composer enjoying his own music or were you the director of all things going on?
Vangelis: No, the composer... the composer joining in: I was part of the orchestra. And if I was not a keyboard-player, in this case I would have happily played maybe a triangle, or I would have played the cymbals, or the bass drum or a snare drum. I was part of the orchestra, nothing else.
Frits: Wasn't it hard, I mean, when you're in the studio you can do what you want yourself, now you had to stick to the score because you had agreed with the orchestra what they were going to play. Was that not hard for you?
Vangelis: No, because you see when I composed the piece... As you are a technical magazine, you talk about technology, although I avoid talking about things like that, it is very important to say but this piece was composed in an hour. Yes, it took me an hour, and I mention that (some people might think something is wrong with me to say this) for the sake of technology. Because the reason that I composed this piece in an hour is that I'm not using the technology in the conventional way. (Profound voice:) I'm not using computers.
Frits: You still do it on paper?
Vangelis: Not on paper, I don't read and write music, I just play.
Frits: So in effect it's real-time because the piece lasts an hour....
Vangelis: It's real-time, the piece lasts an hour, and so you have a piece, that's all. And I'm saying that because if, from the technological point of view you use the computer, imagine how long it would have taken to write, to orchestrate and to record this piece. Actually in this case I compose it, orchestrate it, direct it and record it at the same time, simultaneously. So the result was a symphonic sound in an hour. Sounds strange what I'm saying, and maybe unbelievable, but it's true and I mention it only because your magazine is about technology.
Frits: And afterwards? Because you have to give something to the musicians who are playing it...
Vangelis: Yes, afterwards what we do is, we take note by note what I play, dictate, and then... Because the orchestration is already there: all the colors, all the instruments (because of the way that I'm working) everything imaginable. If you listen to the prototype of Mythodea (played by me) it sounds exactly the same. The thing is, why use a symphony orchestra? For two reasons: because, when you combine that with a symphony orchestra, you have a better, a much more generous maybe, sound. Which I like, not always, in this case, right? And also because this piece can travel without myself. I don't have to go around and perform, I mean, this can be performed without me.
Frits: With somebody else doing the keyboards then?
Vangelis: Well, yeah, not so much, a little bit. Very little effects, you see? As I composed the piece and know it, I just add some things but without that, it's exactly the same. So, it's important to... (Because of what we were saying), because today we think that we can produce music only when we use computers and I don't think this is... I'm totally the opposite, I'm against that.
Frits: I've read that you have been designing some instruments yourself, to have direct access to what sounds you want.
Vangelis: Yes, that's right.
Frits: Was that also the instrument you were using, because what I saw did not look familiar to me...
Vangelis: Exactly, because it's unique, nobody else uses it, because I designed those things.
Frits: Will they ever be available to other musicians?
Vangelis: No, but even if they are available, I don't think they can use it, because they apply another technique, another direction. They are already taken; they are colonized by the computer, especially very young people. So they are distant from expression, I mean if you have to be a musician you have to "play", you know. If somebody sits in front of my system, nothing will happen.
Frits: It's like an expensive suit that is made to fit you and nobody else.
Vangelis: Yes, but not because it's an exclusive thing but because I'm thinking like this and I approach music like that. Every time in the past I've tried to explain how these things work, people are very impressed but they don't do it. They prefer to go back to the computer.
Frits: It's up to them.
Vangelis (hesitant): Yes...
Frits: Can I ask you a question about your own sounds that you're using? I know musicians who travel all over the world and try to find sounds, ethnic, or natural or whatever...
Vangelis: Well, most of the time I produce my own sounds or maybe I use sounds that are already in the market. You see, the thing is that when you play one sound it's this particular sound, but once the sound is mixed with other things, it's changed completely. I can change the already existing sound, I can produce my own samples or I can mix sounds with... not samples, just some synthesized things.
Frits: So you don't have to go out and find them somewhere else.
Vangelis: No, but even in this room I can produce sounds and record them. It's what you do with it is what's most important, after all.
Frits: Frederick Rousseau did the mix during the concert. Did you leave that fully to him or did you first instruct or discuss with him, how you wanted it?
Vangelis: Oh, they're two people: there's Frederick and Philippe Colonna. We have been working together for years, they know perfectly what I want and what I need, and they're very good, very competent.
Frits: So in fact you've left that part fully to them?
Frits: Will they also do the mix for the DVD then?
Vangelis: Yes, you see, there are so many things. For me to do them all, it will take me 24 hours. But we work closely together and I do a lot of things as well. I mean, one day I'm on the desk and do something and if I can't do it, they do it, so you know...
Frits: Close cooperation.
Vangelis: Yes, because I've known these people more than 10 years. It's a team!
Frits: With the coming of the DVD, there's a possibility of this "5.1 digital sound". What facilities will you be using that this gives for your music? Because you had stereo up to now, and that was it. Will you be making music that uses this?
Vangelis: Pfff. Well, you see, the thing is about things like this: it's good for people that they have this kind of facilities because you need to not only make the sound but also have the system to listen to it. So, most people usually when they listen have stereo, could be a CD in the car (I mean, even in the car you can have that system) but you know, I am for the best all the time, the better and better quality. So I think that it's very important to use the best way that we can listen to music.
Frits: During the concert what I heard also came from behind, from below...
Vangelis: Yes, that was a big problem. And normally, the usual thing during concerts, you go there and you get one tower stacked with speakers left and right. And this is the usual thing that people do. That, to me, is unacceptable, I don't like that, and I don't like these speakers, first of all. So I did a kind of study and for me it was obvious that I had to embrace the place and make it like one speaker, the whole thing. And this is what worked!
Frits: Yes, at first I couldn't find them and then I saw they were under a brown cloth.
Vangelis (laughing): It was full of speakers but you couldn't see where! And it worked, because not only you heard it but also you felt it. Where were you?
Frits: During the concert I was in the middle at row eight, so a really very good spot. And last night, with the other "concert", I was also sitting at the front. I noticed that that is where you have to be, because I was also at the back and there something was happening, but when you are sitting at front, it's all around you and in you, and that's when the emotions come.
Vangelis: I was quite happy that after all I achieved this result. (In between Vangelis tells his assistant, who was approaching us because 20 minutes were over, to get back and sit down again - Frits) That's a nice result, because an open-air space is very difficult.
Frits: Yes, and the bass is the most difficult I think to get good outside. That was really good.
Vangelis: I'll tell you something. Most of the times, the very few concerts I gave in my life, I always find myself against the conventional way. People said to me "you shouldn't do this because this is not done" and always I do the contrary and it works!
Frits: That's I think a trademark of a renewer or inventor or...
Vangelis: Because I mean, you have to try things, take risks and one of the things is what you felt and that is was something completely different and an unconventional way to do it and it happens.
Frits: Well, it worked very well. Those two encores you played on Thursday, will they be on the DVD?
Vangelis: No, I don't think so. I say no just... I don't know. That's up to them (Sony Classical - Frits) to decide, I don't think so.
Frits: I also want to thank you for letting in all the fans last night. I heard your promise at the press conference and I never expected that it would be done already so soon, the evening afterwards. So that was a very good gesture to all.
Vangelis ... (modestly smiles)
Frits: What's next for you now after having this, well, huge success?
Vangelis: I don't know. I'm not really planning anything for the moment. Could be another research-project, could be a movie, could be nothing, anything...
Frits: "Socrates" with Sean Connery, the soundtrack?
Vangelis: Ah, well, that film is a beautiful idea, I proposed that to Sean Connery and he likes the idea. But I can see him as Socrates, it's really beautiful. But "if" that happens, because when you have an idea about a film, it might take years before... It's not easy to put a film together, but if that happens... My first concern is for the film to happen, even if I don't do the soundtrack.
Frits: So it's not just the music, but you would do the film as well?
Vangelis: Oh yeah, I'm talking about the film, this is the main point. And my idea was to make the film, not the soundtrack. If for example the film was made, I will be quite happy, even if somebody else does the music, I don't mind.
Frits: You are now with Sony Classical, you've made many records that were in the Electronic Music area, can we conclude from that that you will be moving more towards classical music?
Vangelis: Well, maybe we can conclude that I am coming back to my much more natural approach. Because I've been sailing in this music industry "rough sea", trying to survive. And many times I've felt quite uncomfortable, because basically I'm not the usual type of person/composer...How can I put it?
Assistant: You're unique!
Vangelis: No, no, it's not unique, I don't want to say that. But I don't have the ingredients that other people have to play the game of the music industry. I'm quite outside, I mean, the odd thing is that I'm inside but outside at the same time. I'm not quite playing the game.
Frits: Well, you've proven the contrary by now.
Vangelis: And I said I don't care. Because I'm here to make music and that's all and then, well, I made a career, good or bad, but I made a career, irrespectively. Somebody, I don't want to mention his name, said to me when I first composed Mythodea, that it's a big mistake and that I took the wrong direction and that I should be extremely careful.
Frits: Did he already apologize?
Vangelis: There's no point. But I'll always remember this; he was very disappointed that I created this piece of music, eight years ago.
Frits: So you say you're feeling comfortable with the classical direction?
Vangelis: I'm much more comfortable. We're not talking "classical/not classical", because I'm not working in a narrow path. I can be more flexible, more free... I mean, I've always been free to compose anything I want, but the problem is to release what you compose, that's difficult. It's like customs; you don't pass anything you want, only what's allowed. The classical label allows you to be a little bit more free, if you have a contract. Of course, what I compose every day has nothing to do with the record-company, I do it anyway. I'm only talking about what you release, not what you compose, the difficulty is in there. And I hope that I will be much more free to release other things that were composed a long time ago, or what I'm going to compose maybe tomorrow, I don't know.
Frits: There was a re-release, a remastered version of "Chariots of Fire", is there a chance there will be more older material from you re-released?
Vangelis: Well, a long time ago I sent a message to... because I'm not with Polygram, Phonogram, how do they call themselves now (assistant: they're called "Universal")? Universal, yes, it's like a washing powder (laughs)
Frits: Same powder, different name...
Vangelis: So I sent a message and I say "I think it's time now, if you allow me, to remaster all those things"... and the "powder" didn't answer back. (With emphasis:) Yet. Properly. Or maybe "yes, it's a good idea" and all that, but... I'd do it, really!
Frits: Many of our readers make electronic music themselves, they have one or two or maybe more keyboards, sit in the attic and play. Do you have any hints or tips for them, like "do this, don't do that", a word of help to them?
Vangelis: Get rid of this idiotic box (laughs). Don't get square eyes looking at the screen all the time. Might be very rewarding for yourself, but not for music. They have to free other things. I understand why they get caught, because it's like a drug, this thing. You get addicted to a computer and you think that without a computer you can't do anything else, this is totally wrong. I never use computers in my life, only for completely different works. This doesn't mean that I'm right, but I think that very soon we're going to start talking about the side effects of the computer.
Frits: The disadvantages?
Vangelis: The disadvantages are greater than the advantages.
Frits: For example, RSI on the wrist?
Vangelis: This actually is not so important. The disadvantages are mental.
Frits: People lose mental capacity?
Vangelis: I think so. I already watched some people after some years using the computer, they're different now. Different as in worse, not better. I can sense that, I can see it, smell it that they don't act and perform the same way. True, it sounds maybe very heavy what I'm saying but you'll see in a few years what people are going to start saying about computers.
Frits: We'll see, there'll be a lot of patients then...
Vangelis: Of course, one thing you have to bear in mind that there's a lot of money behind it, and they make billions every year by selling computers. Actually, we can't get away from technology, so the moment we can't get away from technology, at least we should try to use technology with care. And with a lot of thought beforehand, because we talk about "it's not good to smoke, it's not good to drink too much", you know, all these kinds of things. But I think that computers now become an addiction and it's far more dangerous than... I mean, it's better to die because of smoking than to die because of the computer... stupid. (Laughs) You see what I mean? It sounds a little bit heavy but I try to make the point, I'm exaggerating for the moment a little bit more. But it will come, you'll see.
Frits: Well, in effect, I'm through my questions. I only have one request. I got this beautiful gift from you at the after-show dinner. Would you do me the honor of signing it? The blue box, I'm very pleased with it.
Vangelis: Oh, yes, definitely, but I need a felt-pen. This is a collector's item.
(To his assistant:) Do you like this box?
Assistant: You haven't signed mine yet but you will before I leave.
Vangelis (after signing it): I hope it will last. It's nice now that I see it. I like it because you can hardly see my name.
Assistant: I didn't even know your name was on there actually!
Vangelis: That's the good thing about it. You know, the record-company wanted to do a big thing, like this: Bwwwgh, VANGELIS!! On top of all this. I said "no, no, don't do that". It has to be extremely simple; I've never been loud. All this trouble and look: you become a small plastic thing.
Frits: Thank you very much and I'll guard it with my life now.
Vangelis (laughs): Yeah.
Vangelis: Where do you live, in Amsterdam, or...?
Frits: No, just south of Utrecht.
Vangelis: Every time I came to Holland I was quite pleased. Because I'm buying a lot of colors, paint-colors. Yes, I am a painter, so I come and buy a lot of colors.
Frits: The genuine "van Gogh" paint.
Vangelis: There's another one, you have a very nice firm, and they actually have big nice tubes. And if I have the occasion every time I go and I buy.
Frits: Can we ever see your paintings somewhere?
Vangelis: No, I never did an exhibition.
Frits: But you enjoy them yourself?
Vangelis: No, usually not. If the wall "needs something" and I have something, I avoid putting my paintings on it. But sometimes, I put some of mine on. And I don't say it's mine.
Frits: You don't sign them?
Vangelis: No, I don't actually.
Frits: Well, you could use them for your covers maybe?
Vangelis: No, everybody says I should do that. They said to me "why don't you use your paintings for the back of the stage", but I don't want to. That's a different Vangelis and let's not mix it for the moment.
At the door of the suite I again thanked Vangelis and his assistant for his time and for the opportunity.
Vangelis: I also thought it was important, after all you made the journey to here!
And this is how this very extraordinary interview ended....
By Frits Couwenberg of KLEMblad Magazine,
The Netherlands (www.klemblad.nl)
English transcription by Ivar de Vries
Copyright 2001: Frits Couwenberg, Stichting KLEM
Published on this web site with permission.