From Composer Vangelis, A True Story Set In Outer Space "We are part of the universe, and the music is the code," Vangelis says. The composer of Chariots Of Fire fame has released a new album, Rosetta, named after the recent European Space Agency mission.

From Composer Vangelis, A True Story Set In Outer Space

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Even if you don't know the name Vangelis, you know Vangelis.


SIEGEL: The film "Chariots Of Fire" is remembered for its music, and it won Vangelis an Academy Award. He went on to compose the original scores for "Blade Runner" and for the Carl Sagan PBS series "Cosmos." His latest album uses his trademark synthesizers to tell another story of outer space, as Tim Greiving reports.

TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: Vangelis' "Rosetta" is a concept album inspired by the European Space Agency mission of the same name. It successfully landed a probe on a comet in 2014 and completed its mission by complete coincidence on the day the album was released.


VANGELIS: I imagine myself being in the position of Rosetta and going there. It's something amazing, can you imagine? You have to go through, sometimes, total dark. You can imagine like a child sometimes.


GREIVING: The 73-year-old composer was born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou in the Greek town of Agria and mostly taught himself to play music. In 1968, he co-founded the popular prog-rock band Aphrodite's Child.


APHRODITE'S CHILD: (Singing) The leading horse is white. The second horse is red. The third one is a black. The last one is a green.

GREIVING: Vangelis began experimenting with synthesizers early on, and they came to define his sound as a solo recording artist and particularly his work as a film composer.

VANGELIS: I've been using synthesizers for so many years, but they've never been designed properly. They create a lot of problems. The computers have completely different logic than the human logic.

GREIVING: So Vangelis built his own elaborate synthesizer system which allows him to perform it like a full orchestra all by himself in real time.


VANGELIS: I prefer to have the music as pure as possible. Most of the time, you have the first take. You don't have even overdubs because I don't want to say, oh, yes, this good, this is not good, you have to do it again. I don't want to do it again. I want to do it once. It's no good, I do another one.

GREIVING: And that's one of the things that sets him apart from his electronic peers from the 1970s and '80s. Artists such as Kraftwerk, John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream are known for layering multiple tracks in the studio.

PAUL HASLINGER: The key difference is melody. Vangelis is the master of the sweeping melodic statements.

GREIVING: Paul Haslinger was a member of Tangerine Dream, the German band best known for its '80s soundtracks for "Sorcerer," "Thief" and "Risky Business." Today, he scores the AMC series "Halt And Catch Fire," and he says Vangelis' sound has its roots in the church.

HASLINGER: He plays with the reverb same way an organist plays with the sound in the church. And with his Greek heritage, it is actually something that you can connect the dots on. And, you know, whether it's "Blade Runner" or the "1492" film, there are big, melodic statements, you know? And he's a master of that particular skill.

GREIVING: Haslinger says Vangelis' music has informed a new generation of composers. One of them is Mac Quayle, who just won an Emmy for his partly-retro electronic score for the show "Mr. Robot."

(SOUNDBITE OF MAC QUAYLE SONG, "1.0_8-Whatsyourask.M4p")

GREIVING: Quayle says the Greek composer showed him that electronics can have soul and life.

MAC QUAYLE: There's a lot of people that are using electronics and samples to imitate orchestras in the studio. But they're not sitting down and playing it. And I think that's something that's uniquely Vangelis, that fullness, that emotion.

GREIVING: Something Vangelis brought to the original "Blade Runner."


GREIVING: Next year's sequel will have a score composed by Johann Johannsson, who saw the original "Blade Runner" in his native Iceland when he was 13. He says he's still influenced by Vangelis.

JOHANN JOHANNSSON: He has an incredible way of creating these big resonant, atmospheric sound worlds - space, the acoustic resonance of a space where you produce sound. He does this tremendously well, and he uses this, you know, as a part of the composition.

GREIVING: Vangelis himself wasn't asked to score "Blade Runner 2," and he's OK with that.

VANGELIS: You can never repeat certain things. It's only once in a lifetime. It's like doing another "Chariots Of Fire." It is impossible.

GREIVING: Besides, he'd rather spend his time in the cosmos.

VANGELIS: We are part of the universe, and the music is the code. Music is science more than art. And it is the main code of the universe. But that's a big subject, and I don't think it's the right thing to discuss right now.

GREIVING: Perhaps another time. For NPR News, I'm Tim Greiving in Los Angeles.

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