Vangelis, 1943–2022

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NME ad for the China album, April 1979. Via.

Farewell, Captain Nemo. In the past I’ve been known to describe Blade Runner as a very large and very expensive music video for a Vangelis album. (I mention this because so many of the headlines about the late musician are referring to Ridley Scott’s masterpiece and that boring film about athletes in big shorts.) Blade Runner is rather more than a music video, of course, but the viewpoint is a useful one if you’ve watched the damned thing so many times in so many different versions and formats that any re-viewing is almost enough to have you mouthing the dialogue along with the characters, like Charlton Heston in The Omega Man watching Woodstock for the 100th time. Vangelis recorded almost 40 albums under his own name, and many more as collaborations; he was much more than a soundtrack composer, which isn’t something you can always say about soundtrack composers.

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He liked Outer Spacers. The composer accepts a chutney-flavoured cosmic snack, circa 1979.

All the same, film and score are so inextricably connected it’s impossible to imagine Blade Runner with any other soundtrack, just as it’s impossible to imagine Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy without Ennio Morricone’s whip-cracks, bells and whistles. The thing is—and this is the reason for my facetious music-video comment—Morricone’s Western scores were tailored to their content in a way that Blade Runner‘s music wasn’t at all. If Blade Runner had never been made, many of those musical cues would have worked perfectly well as another Vangelis solo album. Three of the albums he made before Blade Runner that feature his beloved Yamaha CS-80 keyboard—Spiral, Opera Sauvage and China—contain elements that coalesce in the film score; there you’ll find the same synthesizer timbres, filter sweeps, percussive crashes, Fender Rhodes solos and musical pastiche (Chinese rather than Middle Eastern). Another album, See You Later, is a patchy collection of songs, instrumentals and spoken-word pieces but it does contain the original version of Memories Of Green. That melancholy piano and all the bleeps, sirens and metallic square-waves that seem so intrinsic to the shots of Deckard moping around his apartment were recorded two years before the film soundtrack. For years I’ve been urging anyone who only knows Vangelis from his most famous soundtracks to listen to those earlier albums, especially Opera Sauvage (itself a soundtrack for a TV series that nobody ever mentions) and China.

Speaking of China, here’s a short film of Vangelis in his studio miming to pieces from the album. And I’m pleased to find that the Spanish TV film showing him in 1982 improvising on his CS-80 has resurfaced again. I linked to a copy years ago but YouTube is a useless archive so it vanished soon after. This clip seems to be better quality as well.

• “Vangelis wasn’t just a film composer – he blew apart the boundaries of pop

Previously on { feuilleton }
Blade Runner vs. Metropolis
Synthesizing
Salvador Dalí’s apocalyptic happening

Weekend links 618

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O Superman (1981), a seven-inch single on One Ten Records. Design by Laurie Anderson and Perry Hoberman.

• “…I was painting a picture of a garden at night. It had a lot of black and this green kind of coming out of the black, and I sat back, probably to take a smoke, looking at this painting, and I suddenly heard a wind coming from the painting, and the green started to move. And I thought, ‘Oh, a moving painting.’ And that experience led to cinema.” David Lynch talking to Josh Hitchens about living in Philadelphia.

• “This is the time and this is the record of the time.” Big Science, the album that propelled Laurie Anderson from performance artist to pop star, is 40 years old this month. Mat Colegate recalls his confused impression that the album was the work of a West Country folk singer, while Studs Terkel talked to Laurie Anderson about the album shortly after its release.

• At Public Domain Review: Kensy Cooperrider explores a millennium of “hand mnemonics”, “the variety of techniques practised by Buddhist monks, Latin linguists, and Renaissance musicians for remembering what might otherwise elude the mind.”

Ghosts in the Machine is an exhibition being hosted by Bower Ashton Library, Bristol, for World Book Night, 2022. 93 participants contributed ghost-related images for an accompanying artist’s book [PDF].

• “Sixty years after Seattle’s Century 21 Exposition, world’s fairs have largely fallen out of fashion in the US.” Grant Wong charts the rise and fall of world’s fairs.

• A trailer for Ennio: The Maestro, a feature-length documentary about Ennio Morricone by Giuseppe Tornatore.

• “The film Putin doesn’t want the world to see: Firebird, a gay love story about fighter pilots.”

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Andrei Tarkovsky Day.

• New music: Intersections by Specimens.

Schöne Hände (1977) by Cluster & Eno | Hands 2 Take (1981) by The Flying Lizards | Red Hand (1996) by Paul Schütze

The Desert of the Tartars

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The Desert of the Tartars (1976), an Italian film directed by Valerio Zurlini, is another of those cinematic works whose description in books would leave me tantalised and frustrated. A brief entry would tell you that the film existed but when would you ever get to see it? Last week I finally got to see this one thanks to a recent restoration via a French blu-ray disc which, for once, had English subtitles.

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Zurlini’s film is an adaptation of The Tartar Steppe, the most popular of Dino Buzzati’s novels, and for a long time the only book of his that you could easily find in English. I often feel a little hypocritical when it comes to Buzzati. I’ve been telling people for years to look out for his strange stories—the phrase was used as a subtitle for a Calder & Boyars edition of Catastrophe—even though the translated collections were all out of print. The Tartar Steppe has been reprinted more than most yet I still haven’t read it. I’ll be correcting this now I’ve seen the film. Buzzati’s story concerns a young soldier, Lieutenant Drogo, being posted to a distant border fortress where a small company of soldiers awaits a barbarian invasion which they believe will come from the surrounding desert. All the soldiers are eager to experience the thrill of battle yet the invasion has so far refused to arrive. Matters are complicated when officers who were determined to stay are sent back home while Drogo, who says he was posted there by mistake, finds the place impossible to leave. A Cavafy poem, Waiting for the Barbarians, is credited as an inspiration for this, but the spectre of Franz Kafka haunts any story with a deferred or inaccessible resolution, and in that respect Buzzati’s novel, which was published in 1940, may be one of the first to learn from the example set by The Castle.

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Jean-Louis Bertucelli and André G. Brunelin wrote the screenplay which was apparently criticised for not doing justice to Buzzati’s story. I can’t comment, obviously, but it wouldn’t be the first time the subtleties of a novel have been lost in the translation to the screen. Faithful or not, I was happy to be watching the thing at all, and besides which, familiarity with the source material can sometimes blind you to the other qualities of an adaptation. The film has a minimal score by Ennio Morricone, and an impressive cast that includes Philippe Noiret, Fernando Rey, Jean-Louis Trintignant and a dubbed Max von Sydow.

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It also looks fantastic, with photography by Luciano Tovoli and spectacular locations in the Iranian desert. The ancient Bam citadel at Arg-e Bam in southern Iran provided the location for the Bastiani fortress, a massive and exceptionally photogenic ruin. A note at the end of the restored print tells us that the citadel and surrounding area was devastated in 2003 by an earthquake that claimed 26,000 lives and levelled the place. The citadel has since been rebuilt, so the film also serves now as a record of its former appearance.

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As for Buzzati, it’s still a mystery why his books haven’t been made more widely available in English but matters improved recently with the republication of Catastrophe and Other Stories. He was also an accomplished artist whose illustrations are deserving of more attention. Some of these were featured at 50 Watts a few years ago, together with samples from his book-length graphic adaptation of the Orpheus myth, Poem Strip, from 1969.

Weekend links 526

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La Cathédrale Engloutie (1952) by Ithell Colquhoun.

• Many of the recent lists of “where to start with the music of [x]” aren’t filling an urgent requirement, but in the case of Sun Ra—whose discography runs to 95 albums—any guide is a useful one: Sean Kitching chooses 10 recordings from the Ra galaxy. I’m not unacquainted with Sun Ra’s music but there’s so much of it that almost all these suggestions are news. Related: Namwali Serpell on the life and work of a cosmic visionary.

• Coming soon from Strange Attractor, Ithell Colquhoun: Genius of The Fern Loved Gulley by Amy Hale, the first book-length study of the life and work of the British Surrealist and occult artist.

• I doubt I’ll get to see it but I’m pleased to know that the prematurely shuttered Aubrey Beardsley exhibition is returning to Tate Britain. You’ll need a Decadent face-mask.

• And speaking of music lists, Alexis Petridis compiles a ranking of all the songs by a little-known post-punk band from Manchester.

The Last Arcadian (Process Mix): more psychotropic nougat from Moon Wiring Club.

• Kill Me Again… Ken Hollings on Ennio Morricone and the music of the future.

Mervyn Peake‘s visual archive has been acquired by the British Library.

Anitra Pavlico on the fantastic world (and music) of Maurice Ravel.

Stanley Stellar‘s photos of the New York gay scene in the 1980s.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Fetish.

• RIP Judy Dyble.

Wikidelia

Chelsea Morning (1968) by Fairport Convention | I Talk To The Wind (1968) by Giles, Giles & Fripp feat. Judy Dyble | Morning Way (1970) by Trader Horne

Weekend links 525

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Polish poster by Franciszek Starowieyski, 1970.

• Tony Richardson’s Mademoiselle (1966) is one of those cult films that’s more written about than seen, despite having Jeanne Moreau in the lead role as a sociopathic schoolteacher, together with a screenplay by Marguerite Duras and Jean Genet, plus uncredited script-doctoring by David Rudkin. John Waters listed the film as a “guilty pleasure” in Crackpot but it’s been unavailable on disc for over a decade. The BFI will be releasing a restored print on blu-ray in September.

“While the hurdy-gurdy’s capacity to fill space with its unrelenting multi-tonal dirge is for some the absolute sonic dream, for others it is the stuff of nightmares.” Jennifer Lucy Allan on the pleasures and pains of a medieval musical instrument.

• “I truly believed”: Vicki Pollack of the San Francisco Diggers talking to Jay Babcock for the fifth installment of Jay’s verbal history of the hippie anarchists.

• “If you want to call yourself a composer, you follow every step of the instrumentation.” Ennio Morricone talking to Guido Bonsaver in 2006.

Dutchsteammachine converts jerky 12fps film from the NASA archive to 24fps. Here’s the Apollo 14 lunar mission: landing, EVA and liftoff.

• New music: Suddenly the World Had Dropped Away by David Toop; Skeleton and Unclean Spirit by John Carpenter; An Ascent by Scanner.

Peter Hujar’s illicit photographs of New York’s cruising utopia. Not to be confused with Alvin Batrop‘s photos of gay New York.

• Mixes of the week: XLR8R Podcast 651 by Dave Harrington, and Mr.K’s Side 1, Track 1’s #1 by radioShirley & Mr.K.

Simon Reynolds on the many electronic surprises to be found in the Smithsonian Folkways music archive.

The Gone Away by Belbury Poly will be the next release on the Ghost Box label.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Ed Emshwiller Day.

Shirley Collins’ favourite music.

Mademoiselle Mabry (1969) by Miles Davis | Hurdy Gurdy Man (1970) by Eartha Kitt | Danger Cruising (1979) by Pyrolator