Friday, 23 September 2016

Vangelis: Rosetta - a review

The freshly released, signed copy of Vangelis's new studio album entitled Rosetta has just had its first couple of spins...

The concept album, as not long ago signaled on this blog, too, is dedicated to the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission - and it was triggered so-to-speak by a discussion between Vangelis and ESA astronaut René Kuipers in 2012.

Some of the tracks composed between 2012 and 2014 have been made available on the internet, so these gave fans a little insight into the mood of the planned album.

It does not disappoint at all... Whist it has all the elements of Vangelis's more recent orchestral style (e.g. the sonorities and characteristic arrangements we heard here and there in his Alexander soundtrack are present here, too), it does not commit the excesses of Mythodea...

The rich and emotional, characteristically electro-romantic, passages alternate with exquisitely delicate space music.

Listening to e.g. Sunlight or the opening track Origins, we hear the technologically and conceptually up-to-date version of the spacey Vangelis of the late 1970s, with all the characteristic sensitivity and delicate care for every corner of his sonic world.

Between the atmospheric space-ambient soundscapes and the massive quasi-orchestral tides, we have memorable melodic tracks like Rosetta or Elegy that remind one of the delicate and catchy motifs heard on albums like El Greco (either the soundtrack to the film or his quite different studio album of same title).

In some of the early tracks on this album one finds quite some dose of intricate and fast arpeggiator use, with rapidly changing patterns, which we have not heard for quite some years in Vangelis tracks.

Perihelion is particularly interesting in this respect, with sequencer patterns and processed piano chords that will make Tangerine Dream fans perk up - especially as the chorused and rotary speaker-processed piano sound, with the bass sequencer pulses, is exactly what one can hear on Tangerine Dream classics like Rubycon. It is certainly a tribute to the space rock tracks of yesteryear, but it changes soon into a quiet meditation, then to resume its pulsating dynamism.

Elegy, after the tensions of Perihelion, is another gem of spacey meditation with delicate piano motifs - reminds one of the final tracks of El Greco (the studio album, not the soundtrack).

If the album started with a vast spacey overture, it ends with a floating, delicate piece, Return To The Void - the end of our sonic journey, until we press the play button again, of course... and it is very tempting to do so.

Yes, one can say that the album is a very digital affair, most of the sounds are eminently different from the former analog or analog-sounding patches - but with a typical warmth that always characterized Vangelis albums of even his most space-rock era.

It is a structurally and mood-wise impressively put together album, which resembles the sonic journeys that some of the Vangelis soundtrack albums take the listener on.

As Carl Walker from ESA mentioned about this album, when they played some of the tracks during Philae's landing: "When we put the images together with the music, we thought it was exactly how people would feel when they first saw the comet in close-up".

It is rather enchanting to hear Vangelis back in full force when it comes to visually inspiring, and originally visually inspired, concept albums.

Whilst his power to augment images with his music is well known and well appreciated, in this case, once again, Vangelis manages to create and augment imaginary visuals in the listener - even when the listener may not have ever seen any footage of the Rosetta mission...

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

A welcome absence on Blade Runner 2 credits

Still from Blade Runner

Occasionally a cult classic film's soundtrack becomes a cult classic in its own right and lives on independently from the images.

One of the lasting examples is the soundtrack to Blade Runner, a film very loosely based on Philip K. Dick's classic novel, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?

Well, the great and seemingly incurable disease that affects the film industry nowadays, a disease that leads to the regurgitation of classics in order to make entirely unnecessary and inevitably flawed remakes, has entered a more acute phase.

Yes, The Magnificent Seven gets a more "ethnically diverse" remake, Ben Hur gets a... well, unclear why, but it gets a remake that is, as expected, an immediate flop with the critics and the public...

The more acute phase of this rather desperate illness is the making of sequels that attempt to "continue" the perfectly rounded script of some cult classic.

There was the Gone With The Wind sequel (a catastrophe of some proportions, from the novel that wanted to be a worthy sequel of the original classic to the film adaptation that promptly sunk into oblivion)... Now we have a Blade Runner sequel...

Decades after the passing of the unique visionary Ph. K. Dick, someone has the ambition to write a "continuation" to the story. And whilst Ridley Scott produces it, Denis Villeneuve directs it.

The postmodern absurdity has already begun, headlines trying to hype the film as something that  "will take care of the original's biggest mystery" - not realizing at all the very plain fact: the mentioned mystery is exactly what, in the director's cut edition, made Blade Runner into what it is.

That very mystery is what added to the film the philosophical depth of Dick's novel that was otherwise so entirely ignored in the film adaptation.

By saying that this "sequel" takes care of that mystery, the makers of Blade Runner 2 state very clearly just how pointless and devoid of any meaning the project is from its very inception.

However, one positive element in this entire disaster in the making is the confirmed absence of Vangelis.

We can place very solid bets on the quality and prompt sinking into oblivion of yet another desperate and absurd attempt to crack open and "expand" on the story that in both literary and cinematographic sense is as complete as it can possibly be. Credit to Villeneuve, he himself called it an "insane project".

At least the soundtrack shall have zero connection with the original, perhaps the only personal connection is that its composer, Johan Johannsson, considers Vangelis as one of his great influences.

Perhaps it is easy to be prejudiced, and hence it is a welcome the fact that Vangelis's unsurpassed score is not botched in any way by himself or someone else for the so-called sequel.

Anyone with aforementioned literary, philosophical or cinematographic expertise on the original can be understandably prejudiced - especially as one of the most intriguing aspects of the original is that the extremely few elements kept from Ph. K. Dick's novel actually work so splendidly in the film.

Nobody questions the award-winning Johannsson's musical abilities, especially considering his non-soundtrack work (albeit in a very familiar sounding minimalist vein that is frankly getting terribly boring and self-referencing in too many composers' output).

However, he has the not quite enviable job to score a remarkably futile film project, which will have all the hallmarks of current commercial trends of desperate blockbuster wannabe projects. What other reason would there be to make a sequel, if not this despair of milking old classics to death.

The fact that Blade Runner 2 (actual title not yet confirmed) will have this marked disconnect from the original's score is a fortunate development...

Not quite sure when Hollywood and some related film factories (if we may use this word for a moment) will cure themselves of this illness, but for now it seems we have to get used to the desperately forced sequels and "continuations".

Kudos to Vangelis for, intentionally or unintentionally, not being part of this absurd cinematic exercise.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Back in full, but gentle, force

Photo: Wing Shya, 2015

Ryuichi Sakamoto, one of the unquantifiable living giants of music, stated just over two years ago that he has to withdraw from his numerous projects due to a throat cancer diagnosis.

In a characteristically humble manner, he was even apologizing to his fans for taking the "unavoidable decision" without being able to state a time frame for his return.

Last year came the superb news, that Sakamoto-san is feeling great and looking forward to returning to work.

The grand Master of infinitely subtle, gentle, but all the more poignant harmonies was back in full force.

His latest project, soon to be released via Milan Records (but already freely streamable), shows that Sakamoto-san is still very much at the dizzying heights of his creative, and above all, expressive force.

His soundtrack for Nagasaki: Memories Of My Son is breathtakingly poignant and emotional in the unique Sakamoto way... It is not a vast orchestral drama, it is not a wall-to-wall sentimental journey.

Instead, the exquisitely delicate, fragile, minimalist patterns, the incredibly restrained subtle orchestrations make it into a maximally powerful emotional journey.

The 28 short tracks to be released on the album are a series of gems that work on their own, too, and take us from the ethereal piano minimalism of How Are You? to the powerfully economical orchestral chords of Human-Induced Tragedy

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" said Leonardo da Vinci once... and Ryuichi Sakamoto is, once again, at his most sophisticated in the perfectly distilled apparent simplicity of these tiny pieces.

How can one create such imagery and subtle beauty with a few woodwind notes in Raindrops... or such deep sense of despair without any over-dramatisation in Giving Up ?

Sakamoto-san is truly back, in full force, but a force of such gentleness and of such delicate beauty, that one has to hope this is just one of many more musical journeys he will take us in coming years. 

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Prog Godliness

Image by Deborah Anderson

It is much easier to compile a list of music legends whom Jon Anderson has not collaborated with... as the list of collaborations spans from Vangelis to Kitaro to Mike Oldfield.

Plus there is the minor aspect of him having been the genre-defining Yes vocalist for many decades, sporting also a rich solo discography...

His unique and instantly recognizable voice is often instrumental, in the sense that, in the many cases where Jon Anderson is just producing sounds without actually singing words in any language, his voice acts as a rich and versatile instrument.

Some of the resulting unique sonic textures can be witnessed not only on Yes, but also on numerous collaboration albums.

When he does sing even the most banal lyrics in English language, the resulting vocals are projecting the track to entirely other levels... Let's think of just Mike Oldfield's In High Places or Shine, which, without Anderson's vocals, would have remained some run-of-the-mill pop tracks instead of ear-catching compact little sonic journeys.

Well, as of 1 September 2016, Jon Anderson is officially a Prog God :)... The Progressive Music Awards 2016, held in London just under the Globe Theatre, awarded the title to a true legend.

As he is about to reunite with Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman, let's hope much more prog godliness will delect his long-standing and new fans...