A CS-80 Masterclass

Forgive me another YouTube link, but this one’s pretty special. This is a one-hour demonstration of the legendary Yamaha CS-80, most famous for its use by Vangelis in so much of his music, particularly during the Nemo days and albums like Spiral, China and the soundtracks Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner, portions of the latter being played  midway through the video leaving me amazed. Imagine sitting down with Vangelis at his Nemo Studio in London, as Ridley Scott must have done, and seeing/hearing him play that iconic Blade Runner score…I remember reading stories of Vangelis’ assistant redressing Nemo to establish mood and atmosphere for when the maestro was creating a particular piece of music or an album. Must have been spine-tingling, for instance, when he was performing the first movement from Soil Festivities, say, or Rhapsody from his collaboration with Irene Papas, Rhapsodies. What I would give to be there and to have witnessed it. All in a days work for the Greek maestro, I imagine, but something quite inspiring and astonishing to me.

You couple Vangelis’ mastery of the CS-80 with his vast collection of percussion instruments that filled Nemo and… well, magic is not the word, the recordings speak for themselves and his music back then formed the soundtrack for most of my life since. Timeless, gorgeous sound, and so much of it from this remarkable… do you call it a machine, or instrument?

Vangelis made the CS-80 his own, and funnily enough, it is commented upon by the presenter of this video that one of the only negatives regards the machine is that its so hard to play it without someone remarking “that sounds like Vangelis”. Frankly I think that is possibly the highest praise one could receive but I imagine some musicians would be infuriated by it.

If nothing else, the CS-80 goes to show that progress isn’t always, well, progress, and that in many ways this instrument remains unequalled. Mighty indeed. This is a fantastic video, absolutely fascinating stuff.

A few thoughts on ‘Delectus’

delectusDelectus is a forthcoming box-set of Vangelis albums dating from the 1970s/early 1980s, basically all the Polydor albums not already released in remastered form (his collaborations with Irene Papas came out remastered a few years ago).  It also features his first solo album, Earth, which appeared on the Vertigo label. As far I know, its the first time a deluxe box-set of Vangelis albums has been released.

Its a pretty big collection (back in the day, Vangelis was pretty prolific) and it contains most of his work dating from the Nemo Studios era; the  albums Earth, L’Apocalypse Des Animaux, China, Opera Sauvage, See You Later, Chariots of Fire, Soil Festivities, Mask, Antarctica and Invisible Connections, plus the Jon & Vangelis albums  Short Stories, The Friends of Mister Cairo & Private Collection. For most fans like myself, this is best work, and vintage Vangelis. My favourite Vangelis albums date from this era, particularly China and Soil Festivities.

Its unknown exactly how old these remasters are. I remember back around 2007 that sound engineer Frederick Rousseau had announced he had been remastering all of Vangelis’ back catalogue with the maestro. Some of these remasters (the RCA albums of the early 1970s) were subsequently released but the Polydor albums (other than those Papas discs, and  Chariots of Fire) remained unreleased.

So these remasters may in fact already be ten years old, but Vangelis fans are pretty much accustomed to being thankful for whatever scraps we get. I would have preferred separately packaged albums with original artwork but if a box-set such as this is the only way these Ploydor remasters will see the light of the day, then I’m fine with that. I appreciate the fact that physical sales, and the CD format in general, is on the wane, and that this is likely the only way these albums could see the light of day again- and it’s certainly the cheapest option. The extra carrot for fans are 4 additional tracks, which pretty much amount to b-sides from the vinyl era that have never been released on CD. While they are a nice addition, its a pity that this opportunity didn’t result in perhaps a full disc of material from that era that Vangelis didn’t release back then. He must have plenty of stuff considering the rumours of him recording everyday.

So I’m really looking forward to this (it’s less than three weeks away now, barring any delays). Just curious about how the remastering sounds- some of the RCA remasters had added tweaks (mostly reverb) and most alarmingly a few odd edits, which resulted in them being less of a success than hoped for. So I just hope Vangelis didn’t mess around with China too much. Certainly L’Apocalypse Des Animaux needs a remaster (my CD has always sounded like I’m playing a bad lp, its full of hiss and pop and collapses in the high-end) and the current CD of  Short Stories has the track separations messed up. The current CDs date back to the very beginning of the CD era over thirty years ago, so remasters are well overdue. We’ll just have to see. I do wish Vangelis would open up some of that vault material though- I suspect some of his best work has never been heard by anyone.

Vangelis- Rosetta

rose1A new Vangelis album. Wow. Over the last few decades this has become a very rare occurrence compared to the good old days of the 1970s/early 1980s, Vangelis almost semi-retired now, it seems.  So new releases are a big event to be savoured.

Rosetta is something of a curio in that it’s his first original album -as opposed to albums based on soundtrack work- to be released since Mythodea in 2001, and it is also a return to ‘proper’ old-style electronica soundscapes not heard since, oh, probably Oceanic in 1996 (Vangelis has veered towards classical-oriented or orchestral-sounding synth compositions for some time now).

Not that you can really ignore the feeling of soundtrack music here, as it is sort of the soundtrack to a film that exists in Vangelis’ head, being an album that tells the story of the ESA Rosetta mission to the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (three pieces were used a few years ago by the ESA to publicise the mission and accompany videos on Youtube). So while they are indeed original pieces, it all sounds rather like a soundtrack as opposed to the music Vangelis would have assembled for an album back in his Nemo years.

Its a lovely album with some genuine highlights- having heard it a few times now, I can say the first half of the album is excellent, some of it sounding genuinely fresh and exciting after so many years of Vangelis’ music sounding all of the same ‘soundscape’. Its nice to be surprised by a Vangelis release, and the fourth track ‘Exo Genesis’ is instantly recognisable as genuinely great Vangelis music. So while I miss the wild abandon and experimentation of his Nemo years, and the sophistication that was so incredible in every track of his Direct album, Rosetta seems a pretty solid release.

However, there is always that weight of expectation from there being so few releases these days, something Rosetta cannot really live up to. If Vangelis was releasing albums on an annual basis like in his early days, Rosetta would be a pretty good entry, but as it is it just feels a little ‘light’. I raised that comparison to Direct for a reason- Direct is a phenomenal piece of work, spanning all sorts of musical tastes and genres, richly dynamic and varied; Rosetta is something else entirely. It all sounds very ‘spacey’ and fairly ambient, and all the tracks link together well because they all seem cut from the same cloth, so to speak. So there isn’t as much variation as I would like, and the album seems over before it really seems to ‘ignite’.

So, isolated highlights aside, Rosetta is a ‘good’ Vangelis  album while not a ‘great’ one. And I really wish Vangelis would either release some of the piles of stuff in his infamous vault or perhaps bring out more new stuff on a regular basis, because there is something a little sad about isolated releases like Rosetta after the heady days of earlier years. I’m not expecting every release to be his veritable ‘masterpiece’, and in truth after all those great albums like China and Soil Festivities and Direct and El Greco, the Greek maestro owes us nothing. Rosetta feels like a fragile jewel, and is endearing if only for that, but I know Vangelis can do more. Either he doesn’t feel he has anything to prove or doesn’t feel he even has to release his music anymore, but I find it frustrating, have done for years. Which is distracting from the music in Rosetta.

Still, Rosetta is a good album, and I realise it’s not really fair commentary on that album that I’m pining for the good old Nemo days when Vangelis was banging on his drums and bells and all manner of percussion instruments like some madman. Nemo is done and gone. But I miss it. I miss that old Vangelis. But I guess Rosetta will do.