Interview in the "La Repubblica" newspaper, Tuesday March 28 1989, page 28.
His desire for freedom, his inability to depend on things, whether it's a place or a style of music, and the strange fear of being tracked, caught in his lair, make him resemble a gentle bear, or perhaps a lion. "In reality I'm an Aries", he says on the terrace on top of the hotel in Rome. He's having a tasteful brunch, with the sunlight in his eyes, strong, but not enough to be irritating. He adores Rome and says, without rhetoric, that he would love to live here.
Vangelis, you are here for "Francesco" by Liliana Cavani, for which you provided the soundtrack. Are you satisfied with the result? "I am never I am satisfied with what I do. I always think that I could have done it better." But you liked the movie? "I'm not the right person to say that."
Evangelos Papathanassiou, 47 years of age, is, instinctively, the musician he became at the age of 4. Legend has it that he doesn't write, doesn't read scores: the music arrives from his good ear, playing it out from memories and moreover that he learned composing before talking. After the Colonel's coupe he left Greece and moved to Paris, just in time for the student riots. In 1968 he founded the group Aphrodite's Child, which in less than five years sold approximately 20 million records. But Vangelis today refuses to talk about that period. "It's not as important as it might seem. I was so young..." How young? "Does it matter? It depends on the place, the moment, the encounters."
How important was the figure of saint Francesco? Was he important for your decision to work for the first time with an Italian director? "I liked the idea very much, but the figure of the saint has not influenced the way I compose. I made the music for what I was felt while looking the pictures. Maybe today I would write them in a different way. Music for movies comes from many emotions, and they are not only yours: to talk with actors, with the director is important as well. I never have read a script or a screenplay. And I was never satisfied with the result."
Not even with "Chariots of Fire" for which you received the Oscar in 1981? For "Missing" by Costa Gravas? "The Bounty"? "Blade Runner"?"Absolutely not; for Blade Runner I was so tired at the end that I had no more strength to complain. The movie was edited so many times, so deeply changed, that I remained too weak and exhausted." Your work is often accompanies images... "It's music, and nothing else."
Yes, but your work has been associated with everything: there is no adventure series on TV, before or after his score for Antarctica, that doesn't use Vangelis' music. And the theme of the Barilla commercial has now become almost a classic... "I'm very surprised as well. In the USA this is also crazy; the music used for commercials is almost always mine or made by my many imitators. I don't know if I like that." And the movies, you like them? "The magic of the movies ended in the forties, perhaps the fifties; today's movies are an industrial product, a mixture of ingredients."
That could also be said about the music. You use a lot of computers and synthesizers; don't you sometimes miss the pure sound of a piano, or a guitar? "That's like saying: you travel with airplanes, don't you miss the bike? They are in fact two machines, one more sophisticated than the other, but both are exactly the same. If I want to I can play piano, guitar, drums, but it's easier to have them combined in one single machine. It's up to you not be overwhelmed by them. I'm not in love with work, it's just that I can't distinguish life from music. They have always been the same thing for me."
Vangelis explains that at the moment he is writing a symphony and at same time working in a recording studio with Jon Anderson, ex Yes front man with whom he has already made three previous albums. Do you believe in the social power of music? "I think that at the moment music is the most powerful medium. I believe in charity concerts, those that have a goal, an idea. I did two for the preservation of the Parthenon; I have also composed the music for commercials against furs and the starvation in Ethiopia, directed by David Bailey."
Are you going to compose more soundtracks? "At moment I have only many requests." How long will you stay in Italy? "Two days, a month, I don't know. I stayed in Athens, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, and now London for the last thirteen years, without ever deciding to actually stay there."
Interview by Laura Putti
Translated from Italian by Giovanni Benzon