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Entry updated 20 May 2022. Tagged: Music, People.

Pseudonym of Greek composer and performer Evangelos Odysseas Papthanassiou (1943-2022). As a member of the band Aphrodite's Child – whose lead singer was Demis Roussos (Artemios Ventouris-Roussos, 1946-2015) – he was largely responsible for the musical portion of some strenuous global-apocalypse prog rock, notably the band's debut End of the World (1968), and the ambitious double album, 666 (1972). This latter work rock-operatically renders the Biblical book of Revelation into music – a project full of Gothic pomposities and intricate aural curlicues characteristic of Vangelis's musical style. This taste for grandiose religious projects carried over into Vangelis's first solo success, a sub-Dante two-part suite called Heaven and Hell (1975). This music rather over-obviously represents Heaven with syrupy melodies and Hell with hammered out chords and male choric groaning; but, that said, the looping repeated figure at the end of the first half of this work acquires considerable momentum and power, and there are flashes of inspiration throughout. (Carl Sagan used this music to soundtrack his popular CBS television series Cosmos [1980].) A couple of further science-fictional 1970s Vangelis releases followed: Albedo 0.39 (1976), whose title records the albedo of the Earth from space (the album's opening track "Pulstar" enjoyed some success as a single), and Spiral (1977), which suggestively constructs futuristic aural topographies, especially in the rapid and echoing arpeggios of its title-track. The two-part Hypothesis (1978), originally been titled Visions of the Future, is interesting from a genre point of view, despite the fact that it was released without the composer's permission. The album's cover-art showed the eponymous Spaceship of Brian Stableford's Hooded Swan series, encouraging a reading of the music as an adaptation of Stablefordian Space Opera. His soundtrack recording for Ridley Scott's film Blade Runner (recorded 1982, released 1994), a nicely low-key and noir piece of music that won Vangelis a BAFTA for best original score to add to the Oscar he had previously won for Chariots of Fire (1981). He also composed a concert celebrating NASA's Mars Rover mission Mythodea: Music for the NASA Mission: 2001 Mars Odyssey was performed in 1993 (and released 2001); but the music is swollen and overboiled, mixing in symphonic orchestration, Gustav Holst's Mars theme, to lyrics sung in ancient Greek, and everything else you might think of, pretty much, save only the musical kitchen-sink.

Vangelis's sound relies at base on a distinctive, slightly nasal synthesizer tone, more brass-like than most synth-musicians, and many of his compositions are structurally stolid, relying too heavily on the same chord progressions, and utilizing melodies so familiar that the artist has on occasion been sued for plagiarism by other composers. But every now and then he would hit exactly the right spot, and evoke a Sense of Wonder appropriate to aural sf. [AR]

Evangelos Odysseas Papthanassiou

born Volos, Greece: 29 March 1943

died Paris: 17 May 2022


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