Albedo 0.39

a look at the music of Vangelis Papathanassiou

This album, the second major project to emerge from the Nemo laboratory, presents Vangelis in scientific mood. It contains a varied selection of high-energy tracks, probably the reason why the two big tunes, ‘Pulstar’ and ‘Alpha’, almost invariably appear on Vangelis compilation albums. They also must have caught the ear of Carl Sagan, who later used these plus tracks from other albums for his Cosmos TV-series. Like its predecessor ‘Heaven and Hell’ this album was followed by a concert in 1977, this time in the Royal Festival Hall.
The very striking opening track ‘Pulstar’ with its elaborate percussion and shrill keyboard outbursts for a long time remained in Vangelis’ concert-repertoire, each time in a different arrangement. ‘Freefall’ (slightly Arabic mood) and ‘Mare Tranquillitatis’ (site of the first landing on the moon) are typical of the cold but adventure-filled “Moon Base Alpha” or ”Blake’s 7” sort of atmosphere on the album. The longer tracks ‘Main Sequence’ and ‘Nucleogenesis’ are both jazzy sorts of improvisations with Vangelis banging away on the drums and the latter also featuring a rather austere church-organ. In-between we find two melodic pieces, the slightly baroque ‘Orion’ and ‘Alpha’, which of course is an all-time great Vangelis classic, simple yet profound and very well orchestrated in its gradual build-up. A speaking clock is used imaginatively at a few places on the album and the potentially unremarkable summing up of Earth-related physical constants by engineer Keith Spencer-Allen in the closing track manages to achieve a great climax by having the harmonic resolution coincide neatly with the final constant: the Albedo number.
A fine album indeed – the analog synths may sound a bit ancient nowadays and the depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer may have shifted the Albedo value of 0.39 a bit after all these years, but the music still achieves the maximum 1.0

In 1982 issue #10 appeared of a Soviet Union publication called “Krugozor”, which drew attention to various forms of music (folk, classical) and also contained this small article about Vangelis:

One Man Orchestra

Two Greek performers of popular music have achieved much recognition over the past decade, and gained an "international reputation" - Demis Roussos and Vangelis Papathanassiou. It would seem they have little in common, one of them a stage singer, the other a serious composer and arranger, a real master of electronic and acoustic keyboards. Nevertheless for five years they were part of one band called "Aphrodite's Child". The band was created in 1968 by the young Greek musicians, living as immigrants in Paris in opposition to the regime of the "black colonels". Many creations of this original ensemble, especially the songs "Rain and Tears" and "It's Five O'Clock" were very successful and still haven't been forgotten today. One of their most interesting projects, the oratorio "666", was first performed in 1972, shortly before the band disintegrated. Keyboard-player Vangelis Papathanassiou, having dismissed the band, began to write symphonic works and music for films. Only in 1975 he returned to the stage simply as Vangelis. Record-company RCA, for which the musician had signed a contract, decided that his surname Papathanassiou was very difficult and that presenters of music programmes wouldn't pronounce it correctly. Since then Vangelis has written more than half a dozen albums, among them "Albedo 0.39", "Spiral", "Beaubourg" and others, on which all instrumental parts are being played by him. Vangelis is considered one of the best keyboard-players in the world. His works, compared to those of other electronic music performers, distinguish themselves by having first of all bright melodies and very full compositions saturated with various intonations from folklore. Secondly, the harmonious originality of his music makes Vangelis draw the attention of many arrangers. In particular, the piece "Pulstar", also in this issue (*), was included in the repertoire of the “Polja Moria” orchestra. The last two years were especially successful regarding his musical biography. He wrote two vocal albums together with well-known singer and lyricist Jon Anderson. So after one decade, he has returned to writing simple forms of song again. And at the end of 1981 Vangelis received an honorable Grammy award for his music for the "Chariots of Fire" movie, recognized as the best film-music of the year.

A. Troytsky

(*) on one of the blue flexi-discs that came with the issue.

By Ivar de Vries