VANGELIS AND NEURONIUM
AN ACCOUNT OF THEIR COLLABORATION IN LONDON
By: Jorge Munnshe y Manuel Montes
Attentively observing the photographs that appear at In London and at A Separate Affair, one reaches the conclusion that time goes by pretty fast, specially during these last two decades of electronic evolution. Analog nostalgia, this is what both these images and the music we find within these Cds awaken in us. Nostalgia... and wonder. Certainly, very few fans could expect that a decade and a half later what resulted from a meeting held in May, 1981, a fragment of which was aired on television as well, was to be released. Angel Casas would later devote two of his television programmes in the series "Musical Express, Serie Amigos" to electronic music. On one of these programs the result of such interesting collaboration was broadcast. The two programmes, featuring Klaus Schulze, Ashra, Tangerine Dream, etc., became one of the most popular documents among the followers of electronic music, as the years went by, as it gathered an unusual amount of stars in an event that will rarely take place once again.
Since then, many were the fans all over the world that asked for the release of the collaboration Neuronium / Vangelis. And at last, more than a decade later, it was released, in two albums. Michel Huygen was in charge, in 1992, of re-mixing the original master, suppressing unwanted noises and providing an optimal product for its CD release. The only theme in the CD Single In London (a special release in tape form also appeared), lasts 8 minutes and 53 seconds, somewhat longer than the television version, which was cut for its broadcast. In London was released in 1993. Three years later, Michel Huygen made new mixes of the music and this unreleased material (running time 36 minutes) was released in the midst of a great expectation.
In that memorable session in 1981, Vangelis and the members of Neuronium made one of the clearest samples of what can be done with synthesizers within the realm of cosmic electronic music. Although it was recorded with an analog system, in the legendary Nemo Studio of Vangelis, in London, Huygen's technical skills allowed for a complete re-masterization and its presentation with improved mixes. Thus, the original In London gave way to this A Separate Affair where the main theme is treated in three different formats (psychotronic mix, after hours mix and radio mix), of a decreasing running time. Listening to the album we are reminded of the sound Vangelis/Neuronium in the late seventies, early eighties, where analog sound, sequencers and symphonic environments dominate over the rest. Yet this CD is not only aimed at the nostalgic or the collectors: true electronic music in its most cosmic side shines here in all its splendour.
Given the enthusiasm that among the fans of Vangelis and of Neuronium In London and A Separate Affair have been received with, we interview Michel Huygen in his home. We comment to Michel that the unexpected release of this collaboration has awakened a true interest.
"Certainly, in the United States, in Canada, in Great Britain and in Germany, it is enjoying a great success. Almost all the letters I get on this issue coincide in various very curious aspects: the interest that awakens the utilization of the sound that used to be so current then, mixed with modern reverberations, the novelty of listening to Neuronium and Vangelis working together, and the behaviour of the latter in a completely cosmic composition."
We know that the theme is basically an improvisation, set on some bases prepared by Michel Huygen beforehand. We ask him to give us more details in this respect.
"I prepared some things, as for instance the general tone of the improvisation, the rhythmic sequences that were incorporated throughout the theme, etc. In those times it was not possible to improvise with a sequencer. It was necessary to tune in note by note, and manipulate too many controls. However, in actual fact, the entry of sequencers and other prepared elements took place in unplanned moments, as Vangelis chose to activate them in this way. And I must say that I found the result excellent indeed! The melodies were, certainly, improvised in their entirety."
The presence of Vangelis is easy to detect in the composition. Therefore, In London and A Separate Affair contain his personal imprint, increased by the improvisation factor. No doubt, Vangelis is a firm user of improvisation as a source for inspiration, and in this respect Michel explains:
"Some time ago, I heard Vangelis improvise in his studio, in France... and well, one comes to think that there is something of the supernatural in him. In a given moment, he becomes interested in a particular sound, he starts to play and... here it is, you can hear then how from there the music flows with his usual style, powerful, wonderful, with those wondrous notes. He combines his instruments in a magnificient way, and he uses nothing that any of us may not use as well."
With respect to this latter statement, we ask Michel if, as he is a famous synthesist with sufficient economic success, he has ever felt the temptation that other stars have had and succumbed to, of always buying the most expensive things appearing in the market, because they consider these to be the best, as in the time when certain snobbish trends reigned towards the Fairlight and the Synclavier, both instruments having been considered as the best to make electronic music on the part of the audience, whose possession certified the artist was a true star, and whose lack made them doubt about such a status.
"Not at all. It is not necessary to have the most expensive items ever. And this question of having 'the best' is something I have often commented with Vangelis. He does not usually utilize Fairlights or Synclaviers. And in this I completely agree with him. He sometimes has told me: 'when you have your own sound, all that is unnecessary'. And it is true. I don't need to have 'the best' in musical technology. In this we share the same opinion."
Michel appears enthusiastic with the way that In London and A Separate Affair have been received by the fans. Why then, wasn't this collaboration released earlier?
"The thing is, we did not want the people to feel that we were taking advantage of the name of Vangelis to further our career as a band. This is one of the reasons why on the covers of both albums there appears the name of Neuronium in the first place. Neither was it a chance to exploit the success of 1492. Think of what could have meant to release in the market the first single In London amidst the tremendous success of Chariots of Fire, and even of Blade Runner. We chose to wait until my twentieth album appeared. By then I do not believe that no one thinks I intend to exploit the fame of anybody to my own benefit, but simply, give satisfaction to many followers. Actually, Vangelis himself, during some conversation several years ago, remembered the experience and proposed the release of the piece, yet I preferred to leave more time go by."
When in 1982, Vangelis was awarded the Oscar to the best movie soundtrack for his music in Chariots of Fire, he ascended to an even higher stardom than the one he had conquered with his time in Aphrodite's Child or with his solo career after that. Nevertheless, in the personal terrain, this event made him into the target for countless commercial and social interests, something that for him, little inclined to public events as he is, even of giving concerts, and much less of becoming the center of attention for so many people, was not a reason for his comfort. He also disliked the contrast between the attention he received before and after the Oscar, with all the hypocritycal attitudes around him that this event meant for him. Mass media that before had despised him, now steadfastly pursued him to interview him. Movie producers that used to ignore his talent, now came to offer him over fifty soundtracks in just a year.
This attitude on their part, together with the outside pressures imposed on him, shaped an image of his as a strange, mysterious character, far from any contact with the world. His absence in the ceremony of the Oscar award (due to the fact he had to finish an urgent work, although many people took this as a proof of his detachment and coldness), his aversion for air or sea travel, his scarce accessibility to play live and accept interviews, together with other questions, consolidated this image. Attacks such as an unfair claim of plagiarism presented before the court by Stavros Logarides, attacks to which the famous people are always a perfect target, did not contribute to encourage his public life. Thus, in the 1980s, Vangelis stressed his elusive character, as he tried to avoid any situation where his status as a famous person could disturb his private life. "The Rude One" is how he was called in some London circles during the time after the Oscar and before he left Great Britain. Michel Huygen, explained to us in this respect:
"The rude ones were truly the ones who called him so. Because they were people, and Vangelis knew this and this is why he dealt with them as he did, who were interested in him only after the Oscar, having despised him thoroughly in the past, specially in the beginnings of his career, when he was poor... because he came to have little money..."
We ask Michel to explain better this latter question:
"Yes, Vangelis does not hide the fact that if he was able to buy all the necessary equipment to record his first solo electronic albums, it was mostly thanks to his collaboration in the albums of his cousin Demis Roussos, where he composed themes and carried out production tasks."
Due to his relationship with Vangelis, Michel Huygen also suffered from pressures when the Greek artist was awarded the Oscar:
"I have always appreciated Vangelis greatly. This is why I resented the fact that others tried to involve me in the fuss of the journalists that pursued him after the Oscar. In London there were journalists who, when they knew I was going to meet him, asked me, 'Could you ask Vangelis to grant me an interview?'. I never passed him such a message. I didn't want him to think that, given our friendship, I was about to fill his home with magazine reporters and mass media that before the Oscar completely despised him. Journalists often came to my hotel, interviewed me and when they left asked me, 'why don't you give this card to Vangelis on my behalf, and see if he grants me an interview?'. I always threw all those cards into the waste paper basket. I never agreed to these maneuvers. Because I did not want in the least to use my friendship with him for such things."
Huygen has defined Vangelis like this:
"The Vangelis I know is a friendly person, even fond of jokes. His character is like that of the music in his albums. This romantic side, wondrous, tragic... Yes, this is him. I have sometimes seen him in a violent mood with certain people, yet it was so for the reasons I mentioned before. With me he has always been very friendly, and almost fatherly, giving me advice to protect myself in the record world. I have nice memories, like that day when he played a tape for me at his home and told me, 'This is going to be my new work'. And it was Chariots of Fire. Or one day, in London, when he had to work until late, and he invited me to accompany him to his studio and then we would go out for supper. Thus I was present as he worked. It was the soundtrack for The Bounty. It was curious to hear the music and see on a big screen the different tracks of the movie, still to be arranged, with the 'cut!' and all that. It was very amusing. We also enjoyed a lot the recording we did together for television (In London / A Separate Affair). It was much longer, but TVE only broadcast a little bit. Whenever I went to London, he invited me to his studio. It was a studio that on the outside lacked any trait that could identify it in any way as such, and of course, with no signs or placards. You approached an old house, on a cul-de-sac street, and once you were inside, you found out you were within the Great Studio. It was done in this way on purpose, to mislead. I understand the fact that he left London for good, because there he lived under constant surveillance, and he could not stand this. For instance, in London, as he took me in his car to the hotel, I remember that once we stopped at a traffic lights, the people in all the cars around us stared at us. He disliked this. When I was with him at some public place, I sometimes looked through the window, and outside there always were three or four people waiting in case they could see him when he left. At times it happened that we went to a restaurant, and if when we entered, he saw that everybody turned round to look at him, expectantly, he turned around and we went somewhere else. And it was like this, until we arrived at a restaurant so full of famous people that nobody paid attention to him. Maybe a minister was having his dinner here, and a famous actor there. Then he already felt at ease as nobody watched him and they allowed us to talk. And we talked about synthesizers all night long".
About Vangelis's absence at the ceremony of the Oscar award for his soundtrack for Chariots of Fire, Huygen stresses that: "He had an urgent work to do. He had to finish a commission. To have it ready in the accorded time was a matter of professional integrity. He did not want to fail those who had given him their professional confidence. In this sense, being awarded with the Oscar had not caused him to act high and mighty. He did not despise the Oscar in the least, as he put it on a very visible place in his home, a proof that he was proud of having been awarded it."
The artist's friendly, generous temper, sometimes with a touch of the candid or the good-hearted, is well portrayed in the anecdote that took place when the team of Televisión Española for the programme "Musical Express" went to London with Neuronium to record the jam session that years later would be compiled in part at In London and at A Separate Affair. The idea to play together had been Vangelis's, who had the initiative to contact the band, interested in their task. When they arrived, somewhat nervy as they did not know what kind of person they were about to meet, and besides, it was a most unappropriate time to pay a visit, as it was lunchtime, Vangelis, who had already had lunch, gave them money and told them, 'Have this, go have some lunch somewhere around, and then we will play'. They, as is logical, already had their own money, and this gesture by the musician looked to them somewhat shocking, or even inadequate, although it was no doubt friendly indeed. Thus, in such an informal, unusual way, speaking about food and money, they exchanged their first words face to face with the king of synthesizers.
It is not surprising that Vangelis, like other well-known characters in the music industry, the movie industry or other sectors, feels pressured up to a point that he has to hide his private life behind an armour, giving the impression he is a naturally moody individual. Around him a monstrous economic gear has been created, where the figures that move about are gigantic indeed.
We thank Michel Huygen for his kind attention when he granted us this interview.
You can find more information about Vangelis at:
Do you wish to purchase any recordings by this artist/band? It's very easy, click here:
You can find more information about Neuronium/Michel Huygen at:
-Oniria International S.L.
Or here, in Amazing Sounds, at:
-THE SONIC ASTRAL VOYAGE OF MICHEL HUYGEN & JIMENEZ
-NEURONIUM LAUNCHES "PSYKYA"
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