Interview in Proposa magazine, November 1985
By Manuella Paulidou.
At last we can begin, you've been harassing me a lot. The tape is running.
Am I wrong? Did you not exhaust me?
Mmmm... Do you have any questions ready?
No, we'll talk in general. Don't get upset, we'll say various things while the tape recorder is running. (Vangelis shakes his head) Come on Vangelis, we're doing an interview, not a pantomime.
(the phone rings, it's Vangelis' girlfriend asking for his personal masseur for Ian McEllen who needs a strong waist massage after attending "Coriolanos". Vangelis always travels with his personal masseur)
You went to see "Coriolanos" too. I saw you there, yesterday evening.
Yesterday the time had arrived for one of the performances, regardless whether it was good or bad. For me the point is not whether it's a good or bad performance. For me the point is that I think this genre doesn't quite concern me anymore, while it does concern me as a human being.
Is it that theatre as a genre doesn't concern you?
No, not theatre in itself. Theatre is a kind of expression. The point is about the content of this expression. Surely it's a kind of expression that has stopped. Of course when we talk about ancient tragedies, Shakespeare etc., there is no doubt that they contain universal, timeless and eternal truths. But I've been fed up with that somewhat, I wouldn't concern myself with that kind of truth. There isn't only that kind of truth and in the theatre I don't see any responsible expression, or something else existing other than...
For you, where does truth exist?
Everywhere, everywhere truth can exist, but this kind of truth...
Does any kind of truth exist in music?
How can it not, everywhere truth can exist, in all things, whatever you do there is truth. But we've been confining ourselves and everyone always concern themselves with life, death, justice, injustice. Man facing society, facing death. Great truths. But all that is beginning to annoy me, I'd like to concern myself with other things, things I don't see, more natural, more organic, more... Listen to the sea, we can hear it saying "how beautiful are the sounds of the sea" but we don't actually listen to it, we don't identify ourselves with it. We go through whole lives discussing politics, football, separations, nothing else. I mean the mind of everyone, their tape recorders, computers always store the same things over and over. And meanwhile there so many other things, you cannot begin to mention how many, that also exist. Maybe they haven't invented their names yet. Anyway, coming back to what we were talking about before, regarding the stage performance of "Coriolanos", I'm bored. What can I do about it, I am terribly bored, I'm not interested in all that. And I don't care whether it was a good stage performance, or how good the lighting was and all that stuff - because they're products of something that DOES NOT interest me. Do you understand?
And what are you interested in?
I'm not about what "interests me" or what "doesn't interest me". I'll explain to you how I function. I function through what touches me, what I'm feeling or not. The "interest" for something (when I say "I am interested in something") relies on a program being enforced on me to make me interested in certain things.
I don't think so. Theatre concerns a lot of people.
Really, indeed. But remember when you were a child. You didn't say then "I'm interested in this or I'm not interested in that". At that time you liked something or you didn't, you felt it or not. Only when we grow up we start to say "I am interested in this".
Why have you identified the word "interest" with "I like it or I don't like it"?
I bring it up as an example. You have an interest for something when you're an expert, when you're a specialist. A chemist is interested in chemical reactions, a mathematician in an equation. Yes, all those are "interests" to everyone. But for the rest life is a matter of existence, to exist within things. There's a lot of theoretical discussion. Too much discussion so there isn't time to breathe anymore. Especially here in Greece, people have so many discussions that I'm wondering how they breathe. Between air pollution and discussion there is no oxygen anymore.
Yes, the Greek does discuss a lot.
And when does he breathe? Does he leave any room for feeling things? There are a lot of "viewpoints" by everyone. It's become a way of life, a mask. But why? And I'm not talking about Greeks, I'm talking about every human being. You know what I mean? If we start discussing this or that, we're able to talk about five hours. That's why I'm not good at interviews. I'm not a good customer for journalists.
I won't give up. Tell me something else...
Yes, let's be more commercial.
In 1972 we met in Paris and in 1974 you went on to live in London. Are these cities different to you?
They are tremendously different. You can't compare them. As you know the French and the English love, hate and snob each other.
Yes, and they say that whoever loves Paris doesn't like London and vice versa.
That's right. Nevertheless there is a huge exchange between them and...(laughing) hate. It's impossible for them not to fight each other like cats and dogs.
Where are you able to work better?
In London. Look, when we say London or Paris we're not talking about something which is static. They are living and changing every day. They're not the same as they were 10 or 20 years ago. But over the last 15 years they've changed tragically. Paris has changed even more. It's a rather inconvenient city, it has Athenian features. London on the one hand keeps a kind of silence, and on the other a kind of craziness which is interesting. But the weather is worse and the people are more oppressed - and through all that, trying to exist. Though I'm properly working in London I consider Paris the most beautiful and well-built.
Tell me about your work.
What can I tell about my work. I don't even know whether or not it's a job what I'm doing. The only thing I know is that every day the tap opens and out comes music, I don't know how or why. I write music, I don't evaluate it. How can I say that - it's difficult. Whatever any composer or painter creates has been connected with a commercial or artistic value, a connection which doesn't have any meaning. I mean, if I go out tomorrow and tell the newspapers "I am preparing a work such and such" and provide explanations, then everyone will pay attention to my own work. But I may be doing 15 important things without any excuse, and then it doesn't interest anyone.
But usually you are working rather silently.
But dear, when you eat an orange, do you want to give press interviews? When you're drinking water does it explain to you how it is? The same happens with music. Of course, there are certain moments when out of fear big matters come up, "big questions". In that situation a person tries to find the link - but he's already got it. People have this link, they don't need to try and find it. But it's all that fear - as if we get lost.
And there must always be a "theme". When you provide a theme and explain it they say: "oh, how beautiful !". But when you don't provide one they say "what's that again?". Water! Have you ever asked what water is and how if freshens you up? It's just water, it is whatever you understand it to be. As you can see I'm working every day wherever I am (note: on Vouligmenis in his hut there are all his synths and equipment to do his work) and it doesn't make any difference whether that becomes a record and if so, when. Since "Chariots of Fire" I've done 500 things and very important ones too, but just without any specific excuse.
The Oscar was a great change, I can imagine.
No, it was just an experience, nothing else. An Oscar is like the joke of Hodja with the furcoat.
What is that?
Don't you know that? Let me tell it to you. Well, nobody invited Hodja in his home, until one day he bought a furcoat. Then everyone began to call on him because he wore an expensive furcoat. So when they laid the dinner table and sat down to eat, Hodja took the platter filled with rice and threw it over his furcoat saying: "eat this my dear furcoat !". The Oscar is like the furcoat: social recognition and highest artistic honour. To me many times it became a headache.
Why a headache?
Because from the moment you've been awarded with the Oscar it must be yourself on the one hand and mister Oscar on the other. Playing two roles is very tiresome.
Is it the same when writing music for records, movies, ballet or do you function in a different way there?
When you write commissioned music, say for a movie, that's a given situation. You start with a plan saying "I'm going to go from here to there". More of this or that you can't extend further, there are boundaries defined by the script, or the hypothesis. While music limited by the weather conditions of the day, your pressure, you joy, sadness, or whether you went to the toilet this morning - all that creation without any theme is purely natural. Creation in relation to a theme is just more spectacular.
Is London the city you're working from, or the place you're living in?
It's more the place I'm working from. I can't say it's the most beautiful place in the world, or that I'm comparing it with the beauty of my own country. But from a working point of view, it's rather useful.
What do you mean?
What is Greece?
I knew for certain you'd end up here...
That's normal. How could I not?
In Greece you're faced with more difficult social conditions. Because creation in Greece relates to "position". What kind of position you manage to secure, that's the point. Positions that you ensure as yours, whether from doing something yourself or grabbing them from others. I don't have any time to face up to such things. There is a corrosion here in Greece that doesn't facilitate for someone to just concentrate and work. And the other thing is that in general import-countries don't facilitate creation, because they're used to importing things and not to exporting things. I can't stand listening to "it's good for Greece" or "what can we do, we can't afford the expenses" - as if we're different from our expenses. We are the expense, as we are the problem. So the moment Greece begins to export things, it will be a safer place to live in for somebody. They say of course that they are not practical, financial and economical commodities. But I think, at least in art, one doesn't need a lot of money to make something. One does if you want to stage an opera or shoot an enormous historic movie, but for the rest it requires less corrosion, fewer quarrels, and more talent. Decency, co-operation, love...
"Loneliness" is such a difficult word to explain, as is "love".. When you say "I love you" it can mean 500 things, and when you say "loneliness" you mean so many others.
Are we living in the century of loneliness?
Did any century go by without loneliness? Except if you mean there isn't any hope at this moment.
Why isn't there any hope?
No, I'm asking you.
There is hope. There will always be hope for something better.
Hope for something better. You're not the only one saying that. We say it, everyone does. What does it mean? If you were to explain it, hope for something better is always connected with the conviction that you're something worse - anyhow that something better must happen. It's rather hard to accept that. To be honest, I don't feel it that way.
That's a great achievement.
Look, we've been exaggerating the values we're giving to things. We're putting value on grief, on better or worse. And the more you're grading things, the more you're descending into chaos, enslaving yourself. Things are very simple: Nature doesn't have any values.
Yes, but Man does.
Why? He too might not have any. Just think about it. Must everything be evaluated? As if there isn't any language other than that of values. That is misleading, where does it all lead? To restlessness. And restlessness doesn't lead to creation. Humans are born to be creative. And I don't speak of music, painting or pottery. Creation is everything we do.
Are some people creative by nature, while others are not?
I believe people generally are creative, but of course there are levels of creativity. But today a "creator" is considered to be a musician, say, while a creator is also someone cooking two eggs or taking a fruit and turning it into a teaspoon. Even interfering with someone's life, positively or negatively - even that is creation. Creation isn't just for artists, creation is for everyone. You don't have to be a pop-star to be considered as a creative person. From one point of view, maybe they're less creative.
But recently (summer 1985) they did the famous rock festival for Ethiopia in Philadelphia and Wembley, and Bob Geldof was nominated for the Nobel for peace.
This is the greatest utopia of our century. The local good and the worldwide deception. They collected some money for Ethiopia and at the same time the pop-business collected 12 million dollars. Why do you think all that happened? Why are fashion houses now doing the same thing? Because it was a success. And I don't consider it a sacrifice for someone to go on stage and shake his body for three hours in order for 400 million people to see him. Today nothing happens without economic motives, because everything is controlled by the all-invading market. They don't collect money for all those people. Common people do, it's always they who pay for it.
Are you always travelling with all those instruments and machines?
Do you feel safe with them?
(laughs): I'm feeling more comfortable.
Is inspiration something that comes to you automatically or must you have a stimulus?
(deep sigh) If we analyse now what is "inspiration" and what is "stimulus", I fear that will take a long time. Everything must be so responsible. And I don't quite trust the word "inspiration", I prefer "function". But don't you find that too much blah-blah? What do you prefer: more blah-blah or a warm handshake?
Interview by Manuella Paulidou
Transcribed and translated by Jani (email@example.com)
Edited by Ivar de Vries