Recently an article in America claimed that you had studied piano for a while,
contrary to reports you were self-taught. Which is true?
"The second one, actually. I started very early, around three years old. My
parents tried to push me to go to the music school, but they failed. It was just
Why did you object to the idea of attending music school?
"Because I always believed that there are things you never can learn, and I
never liked the idea of becoming a computer or a performer performing
someone elseīs compositions. To me, music was more fundamental and more
important that the thought of becoming a musician. I never felt like a musician.
I donīt feel like one now. Music to me is nature. It is not a music school, it is not a kind of job, that to me seems completely schizophrenic. You can learn
some technical things in school but the best thing is to build your own
technique. You want to do your own thing, which is the way that you feel."
Can you remember your first musical thoughts as a child?
"I remember, but itīs very difficult to put into words, because whatever we say
through this whole interview will be about two kinds of music. One is natural
music, and the other is what I call social music. This means you are a human being, with prior to everything, not just to music. Then you have the social existence, where people learn how to behave. As you learn how to behave in society, you learn at the same time a music which derives from that by going
to music schools and becoming a violin player, a keyboard player, or whatever, in order to play what is there already, to perform. You build a machine, and then you put in memories of how to play Mozart. Now, natural music is a different thing altogether."
So if someone is trained as a pianist, for example, you see that as a barrier that person must get past.
"Not necessarily. Now, even if I am a fully qualified piano player from a
school, I donīt think that means I can do anything in front of a synthesizer,
because thatīs a new instrument which requires a new technique, a new dialog
altogether. If a pianist does play the synthesizer, it isnīt because he is a pianist; itīs because he was meant to do it. The synthesizer is like a mirror over the world, which is the same as nature."
Are you saying that it would be a mistake for anyone to put too much effort
into going to music school, or are you just speaking for you?.
"I think if he feels, but with a great amount of understanding -with TOTAL
understanding- of why he does it. If he does it to become famous, then
forget it. Music is not a business that you go into for fame. Creation is not
Does get it harder for you to create as you become more famous?
"Oh, itīs a tremendous problem. Sometimes Iīm completely panicked. Like
now, for example. Iīm living in constant fear that I have too many social
values, which creation doesnīt have. Creative values are completely different
from social values. Creation comes first, then analysis and evaluation come
last. By putting the evaluation before, you kill the creation. Creation is
completely unpredictable and free."
What do you do to keep your own music free?
"This comes only from consciousness and awareness. That all. But sometimes
I fail at the because Iīm a human being and I live in society. I go through all the usual everyday problems that everybody else has, so my problem is to keep
the balance between this side, which is success and fame and all that, and the
creative side, which is pure and has nothing to do with fame. To me, success
is a vehicle for me to keep this place, my laboratory, alive, and to buy more
synthesizers. Nobody is going to just give me money for that. You have to
make it yourself."
At least you must feel good about that aspect of financial success.
"It is a fantastic situation, like going to some fantastic place. If you go to India or China or someplace else that not too many people experience, then you will call me because you are a friend of mine, and say, "Come with me next time." You want to share that. What I am saying is that I try to share with other people. With two or three million people buying my albums, I share not only my ego with them, but what I experience through this. This is the main reason why I am working before the public. Maybe in a few years if I donīt feel the need to do it, I wonīt do it anymore."
Do you feel a limitation in how much you can share, though, by going through
as impersonal a medium as recordings, rather than by playing directly to live
"Oh, those are two different things. You see, what Iīm doing on records is
completely spontaneous. Itīs like playing in front of you now. When you have
a picture, whether itīs of a battle of a bird, you have what it was at that moment forever. This is the recording. You can repeat it, and every time you repeat it you can feel it and see it in a different way. This is the power and the beauty of music. Now if I play without recording myself, the music is lost forever. This is also fantastic, in a different way, but we humans have a tendency to preserve things. Maybe in a different theological society this would be wrong, but we do."
On those rare occasions when you do give a live performance, do you try to
enhance your communication with the audience through multi-media
"No, No. I hate visual effects. Iīve never believed that music is an
entertainment anyway. Itīs not my job, and the concert is not for me an
opportunity for success. Itīs an opportunity for sharing and questioning."
[Ed.Note: As we went to press, plans were being made for two possible Vangelis concerts in the summer of ī82, one with a symphony orchestra in England and the other in an ancient theatre in Greece.]
Going back to your early years, did Greek ecclesiastical or folk music
influence your musical development? One seems to hear an echo of Greek
Orthodox choral music, for example, in your score for Ignacio.
"Possibly. You see, Greek music was always very important through my
childhood. As a music it is very rich in simplicity, and thatīs always been a
great factor. Ethnic music is very important -not just Greek, but every ethnic
music. For me it was Greek, because I am Greek, but I never felt that this was
therefore the best music. It is very significant and important, but it is only one part of ethnic music from all over the world."
And unlike the social music you avoid, it isnīt primarily an economic
"Ethnic music is NEVER afflicted by economics. The only thing that affects it
is when it has been treated like a museum piece, which it is not. Ethnic music is more alive that that. I give you an example. Two years ago I recorded an
album of Greek ethnic music in a completely contemporary way, with
synthesizers; the actress Irene Papas did the vocal.
[Ed.Note: The album, ODES, is available only in Greece and France.]
Historically, nothing like that has ever happened before. Nobody has dared to
touch ethnic music that way. Instead, they watched while ethnic music died,
died, died, more and more each day. But today this album is one of most
successful ones in Europe. Everybody loves it, especially in the villages,
because they can hear that it is the real thing. Iīm working on another album
now in the style of Byzantine music, which has been passed through the
church music in Greece."
These were primarily vocal musics. Wasnīt the piano your first instrument?
"Yeah, it was the first instrument I found in the house. Plus all the kitchen
stuff, the bottles and pans. I would use them for percussion. Iīd put water in
glasses to make all these sounds: BING, BING, BING [hums descending
scale]. When I was four years old I used to have a bed with tubes on the
frame. I would put my bed in pieces, and blow into these tubes and do strange
So the piano was a beautiful instrument for you...
"...But just one instrument, not enough. So I put nails in the piano, played on
the strings, banged on the keys, making incredible sounds come out."
As a child, did you do much music with your friends?
"No, I always played by myself, but in my later teenage days I started playing with other people. I didnīt listen to other musicians either. Never. For one thing, in Greece at that time we didnīt have many chances to find records. And when I got my first Hammond organ, a B-3, I didnīt know what it was. It was a totally new thing for me, so I treated it without any previous memory of other peopleīs playing. I heard Jimmy Smith and other people after I got it, and I could play like that, but it was not my way to do it. I treated it more like a synthesizer than an organ. To me it was always, "Find the sound possibilities." You can play jazz on it if you want, but what the Hammond organ could give me was more from the spectrum of sound than from just one place."
Did you do anything unusual in amplifying it?
"Well, everybody used a Leslie, but I never did. I went straight though the
P.A. system with different gadgets-echoes and things like that."
Did you play the foot pedals?
"Sometimes, yes. I used to do incredible things with the Hammond organ.
You canīt imagine. I had some beautiful strings with it."
How did you get those sounds? Did you rewire any of the presets?
"I did some few things inside the organ, but not a great deal. When you play
an instrument, itīs the way you play that makes the difference. To me it wasnīt
the point to become a virtuoso and play as fast as possible, or to show off by
playing a very difficult phrase ten times. What matters is the total."
Since so many people seem to enjoy virtuoso displays in concert, that must
have made it difficult for you to work.
"No. You see, an instrument to me is not an object of performance. Itīs an
object of creation. I mean, I can perform, and I can play fast if I want to, but
thatīs not the point. If I need to, yes, but how many times am I going to need
that? Not every time I give a concert."
As a creator or composer, do you ever regret not being able to read music?
"No, not at all. I donīt need to. My score is my tape. I score on the tape, not
So you donīt even have your own system of notation.
"No. My orchestration occurs during my playing because I developed the
technique of playing different synthesizers at the same time."
Do you feel, though, that itīs important for synthesists to eventually develop a
standard notation that would allow them to communicate their work to one
another on paper?
"Yes, I think thatīs very important. I believe that in the future there will be
orchestras and ensembles with synthesizer players, when the synthesizer will
be as established as the piano. If you want people to play live and repeat what
youīve done, there MUST be a way. Itīs very difficult, because you always
have the personal way in which you play. The way that Mozart or Handel or
Bach played their music is not the way that we play it now. They had different
instruments and different techniques. Still, I believe that this standard notation is going to happen."
Has your way of composing changed dramatically since you began writing at
the age of four?
"No, because when you are 4 years old that is a different age from when you
are 20, but the fundamental thing never changes. I have the same essential need
now that I had when I was 4 years old. Sometimes I go through tapes I used
to make on my little domestic recorder and listen to them, and although itīs not
exactly the same thing, itīs the same root. Sometimes I canīt believe that Iīve
created that music with almost nothing."
When you begin composing, do you hear the music as an abstract theme, or
as a specific sound?
"As a sound. I might call it a violin, but I donīt know what that is. Then itīs a strange feeling. You feel that you have to start creating. Itīs like you feel when you have to go to the toilet. Then I just push the tape, and it happens when it happens. I donīt know how it happens. I donīt WANT to know. I donīt TRY
to know. Itīs like riding a bicycle. If you think, "How am I going to do it?",
you fall down. If you think about how to breathe, you choke. But when you
do things dramatically they happen like that."
Do you usually begin on any particular instrument?
"It just depends. Every day is different."
Do you play often without turning on the tape?
"Many times. Something when I play, I donīt mind if I donīt keep it.
Sometimes I do things then that may be better that the things you hear. But
even though they are lost, so what? Actually, they are not lost. We THINK
they are lost because we canīt hear them again, but they are actually there all
What was your first synthesizer?
"It was a very cheap, quite small Korg. Quite nice, quite humble, a primitive, simple instrument. Iīve done a lot of things with it. But the first time I heard synthesizers, I was very disappointed. I never liked this OUEEE-OUEEE sound. Itīs a very cheap, small, uninteresting sound. So when I saw pictures of this great big Moog or whatever it was, I said, "My God, this is what all thatīs about?" The reason it sounded so bad, actually, was because of the way that people played it."
I see that there are no modular synthesizers anywhere in your studio.
"I never liked the fact that you had these big instruments and you had to plug
in all those things. It was a waste of time to have to program like that. A little later, in the early ī70īs, we started having instruments that we could play immediately-poor synthesizers in some ways, but quite nice."
Did you sense from the beginning what freedoms synthesizers would allow
you as a composer?
"It was a different freedom. I never condemned the conventional instruments.
They are beautiful. They will always be there, and they are what they are. But
they are what they are as well. I canīt imagine myself using only one thing. Itīs impossible."
How do feel about the way the synthesizer is being used in the music world
[Sighs] "You see, I am not here to discuss or criticize other people. The only
question I can ask is, Why do people do it? Why do people play synthesizers?
They do it for fame, as I said, and for fashion. That doesnīt get you very far.
But if you do it because you canīt do without it, then it makes sense."
What about audiences reactions to synthesizer music? CHARIOTS OF FIRE
was enjoyed by many people who probably would never have thought they
would enjoy listening to electronic music of any kind.
"Well, many times Iīve heard people who were looking at a painting of
something like a flower say, "Oh, itīs so beautiful. Itīs almost like real." And
when they see the flower itself, they say, "Itīs so beautiful that itīs almost not real anymore." Both things are absurd. In both cases itīs a very intellectual way of accepting something. In music, itīs not because itīs a synthesizer or not a synthesizer. I like it or I donīt like it, thatīs all."
Thatīs true, but still there are many people who shut the door on synthesizer
music only because it is played on synthesizers.
"Itīs unfortunate for them, but thatīs not my problem. Thereīs nothing I can
do. Itīs a psychological problem for people who need to accept other things in
society too. It has nothing to do with me anymore."
But as an artist, donīt you feel a responsibility to try to communicate with
"No. The only responsibility I feel is to myself because of my popularity. I
must ask myself, why is my music so popular now? Have I done anything
wrong? I feel that I is possible for people with a lot of popularity to give
something to listeners that could be very damaging."
Why do you think the theme to Chariots of Fire has been so successful? Does
it sound different to you from the other music youīve been doing over the
"No, not at all. Itīs exactly the same, no difference. I never did it for success. Itīs only another piece of music."
Did you study footage of the film as you wrote the soundtrack?
So they said, "We need 30 seconds of music here..."
"But I didnīt do music for 30 second bits. I did it for the total. I tried to put myself in the movie. I tried to become a contemporary of the people in the
film, with a kind of memory of that period. I didnīt want it to become period
music, but I didnīt want it to become contemporary music either. That was
thedifficulty of this film."
[Ed. Note: Chariots of Fire is set in England and France during the
That, at least, must have made this project different from your other
"Yeah, mainly because I had to work with something specific, a film. Now, in
many ways Blade Runner is a completely opposite kind of film. It requires a
lot more music, suited to many different situations. You donīt have the unity
you had in the music to CHARIOTS."
But the compositional process is the same?
"Yes. I still watch the film. But normally, when Iīm not working on
soundtracks, I am very spontaneous. I donīt work with any specific
thing - only the moment and nature. Thatīs all."
Still, your albums do often have thematic unity. How, for example, did you
come up with the idea for Albedo 0.39? That title, of course, indicates the
light-reflective capability of the Earth.
"As Iīve said, nature and space are always very important to me, although I try
to avoid words like "space" because they are now very common and
fashionable. Fashion is something from the social world. It comes and goes,
but space and all those truths are always there. Even if you take the albedo out
and put in another name, it doesnīt change anything. At that moment I was
very into that kind of thing. I am now as well, but on the day I began creating
that music I was in, letīs call it, an inspired kind of of situation. But, you see, I never record to make an album. I record because I record, and from what I
have I decide to release an album. Itīs not like, "Now Iīm going to do an
album, and when I finish it I will continue with the next album." Even if I stop
releasing albums Iīm going to continue to compose."
But do you make music more easily if you have something specific in mind - a picture, a story?
"No, no. When I compose I never see pictures. No visual things at all."
But youīve composed soundtracks before.
"Yeah, Iīve done television, things like that."
Havenīt they demanded working off of visual images?
"Yes, but not as specifically as in Chariots of Fire."
How does your creative process differ when recording with Jon Anderson,
formerly with Yes?
"Itīs like the discussion you and I are having now. We sit down, I start playing, he starts singing. Maybe 80% of the keyboards and Jonīs lyrics on our two albums were made up as we were recording. I do a little cassette, he takes it back and overdubs some lyrics, then we mix. Maybe I do two overdubs if I need to, and thatīs all."
Why is Jon Anderson the one singer youīve worked with over the past ten
years or so, aside from Irene Papas?
"I donīt know. It just happens that way. Parly itīs because weīre friends. We
never said, "Letīs do an album together." It just happened when he came over
one afternoon. It took us one afternoon, and just one tape, to do our first
album. The next day we listened to what we had done. It was quite fun and we
enjoyed ourselves, though still we didnīt decide to produce an album with it.
But then many more friends and people listened and said, "Oh, come on, you
have to make an album," so we decided to do it. Thatīs how SHORT STORIES came out. Because of its success, we did THE FRIENDS OF MR. CAIRO, and weīve also recorded a third."
Given your admiration for Andersonīs singing, why didnīt you join YES when
they invited you to replace Rick Wakeman?
"I never really admired the band very much. I never felt that compatible with
them. Yes used to be very good, but I never felt that their music fit well with
the way I think. I donīt know. To me, Yes was a little bit of patchwork.
Theyīve done great things and had a great career, but I never felt like being a
part of the group."
In your work with Anderson - actually, in most of your work - you create very orchestral sounds on your synthesizers. Do you consciously try to duplicate the sounds of familiar instruments?
"I donīt try to imitate. What is a horn or trombone? It is an instrument or a
machine that is made to produce a certain sound wave with certain harmonics
in a certain range. Now, this sound can be produced by blowing into one
instrument, scratching another, or by electronics. Youīre talking in each case
about similar areas of sound. These are all sounds that are in nature anyway.
We donīt invent any new sounds. The trombone sound exists in nature and to
capture that sound from nature in the past, the only thing we could do was to
produce a trombone. Now, to change or extend that sound, we build
synthesizers. But even though the instruments are different, we are still taling
about the same areas of sound, the same family. You can distor them or do
whatever you like, but youīre talking about the same given law, the first law of
our acoustic system."
Yet you also have the ability now to produce sounds that could not have been
heard in nature.
"Yes, because you go beyond the old boundaries. When you blow in a
trombone, you have a breath problem. Your lungs can produce only so much
pressure and air, so itīs a mechanical thing. Even with ten fingers, you are
limited to a certain speed, because you have a skeleton with muscles around it
that permit you to go from A to B, but not to C. With a synthesizer, you can
go to C, and thatīs not something that shouldnīt happen. Your brain, your
heart, your feelings, these are different instruments, so synthesizers can come
past mechanical limitations and go deeper into human possibilities. There is no
limitation in the synthesizer. The limitation is in the brain of the human being.
And until we reach the limits of the brain, we have a long way to go."
More specifically, how do you create your very realistic string sounds? Do
you have a favorite instrument for that?
"No, I do it with different things. It depends on the phrasing, the key, the kind of mood Iīm in. You see, for string sounds, people tend to go buy string
synthesizers, but they always forget that a string sound is not only the
machine, itīs the way you PLAY the strings. To make a string sound as real as
possible, the way you play has to be as a string player would pay. You canīt
play as a pianist or a drummer. It is impossible to have strings come out that
way. It also depends on the way itīs orchestrated. To create the sound of a
symphony orchestra, I try to be each player in the orchestra. Then I have to
arrange the whole thing in a way that is equivalent to symphony orchestration.
Now, when Iīm doing something different on the same synthesizers, the colors
I had put together before are in a sense on longer compatible."
Have you ever worked with Mellotrons or prerecorded tapes?
"No, I never have liked the Mellotron. Itīs never been used right. Itīs a very
clever, but insufficient idea."
On your album China, it sounds as if you studied Chinese instruments as
models for your programming.
"I never did, actually. Many people have told me this, but Iīve never been to China and I donīt have one Chinese album at home. I can learn more simply by looking into a Chinese face. I never pretend to play like a Chinese musician."
The solo line in "The Long March" from that album creates the impression of
a stringed instrument very strongly.
"I think I did that with the CS-80. I used that a lot on that album."
What about the violin lead line in "The Plum Blossom"?
"That really was a violin, played by a friend of mine."
You play what sounds like a pipe organ in the introduction to
"Nucleogenesis," from Albedo 0.39.
"Oh, yeah. That was actually a very small synthesizer. I canīt even remember
the make, and I think Y donīt have it anymore. It was like a childrenīs toy.
Again, itīs the way you play things, when and how you use them, thatīs
important in creating a certain effect. Sometimes with very cheap instruments,
you can produce incredible things."
But you wonīt go into detail about what instrument you use and how you use it
to get certain specific sounds?
"The problem is, I donīt know what happens! You see, there are people who
know exactly what they are doing; they program this, think about that, and so
on. With me, it just happens."
Well, maybe you can tell us about some of your outside sound sources.
Youīve utilized recorded telephone announcements, strange percussion
devices; what is the most unusual tape youīve used?
"I wouldnīt say unusual, but maybe the most rare was on a tape that came
from NASA, when an astronaut was walking on the moon. Thatīs on
Of all your instruments, which keyboard action to you like best?
"That is a good question. Iīve been through so many different keyboards that Iīve had to develop. My hands are ready to play anything, and so in a matter of five minutes I can adjust to the demands of any keyboard. Each instrument has a character. My way with them is to have a dialog, a love affair, with each one. The more you try to understand its behavior, the more you have the response you need."
You have a Steinway nine-foot grand. Is this the only piano youīve recorded
on in recent years?
"No. Iīve done a lot of things with this piano, but Iīve done a lot of things with the Bösendorfer Imperial, too, which may be a better piano."
In what way?
"In every way. Itīs more sensitive in responding to the many dynamics,
moods, and characteristics of playing. Itīs really perfection, that instrument, A piano is a very difficult instrument. To put a feeling into a piano piece, you
have to be able to cheat a little bit, because the piano is very stable. You canīt make your own sound, like on a synthesizer; the sound is there, so the good pianos must be so delicate. The smallest differences in touch would be able to produce a different character, and that makes a piece interesting immediately. Thatīs what we call performance."
And the piano is surely the ultimate keyboard instrument as well, since the keys
play a much greater role in creating the nuances of tone on pianos than on
"The piano of course is a very difficult keyboard instrument because it is very
rigid, but I think that the most difficult technique today is on touch-responsive electronic keyboards like the CS-80, where different pressures can have a great effect."
What about pedalling on the piano, then?
"The pedal is the breath of the piano, If you miss with your pedal, the piano
will choke. A fraction means a lot. It is a fundamental, maybe the MOST
fundamental thing, of the piano. I use all three pedals constantly."
Do you alter the piano signal when you record?
"Sometimes, bit when you use a piano, itīs a piano. I remember in the late ī60īs, before I had synthesizers, I used to play the piano through really incredible gadgets - all the effects pedals you can imagine. Now it doesnīt matter, because we do things in a different way."
Do you have a favorite way of miking the piano now?
"No, no. I just do it the way it sounds right. It doesnīt matter if the microphone is on the other side of the room."
Do you have your equipment modified frequently? Your Rhodes seems to
have been extensively worked on.
"I had a graphic equalizer and things like that put into it, but that is not too
important. Sometimes it can be, but there are other things you can do. You
take this instrument, you go through a graphic equalizer, or you take it straight out and go through any other kind of gadget you want, or you send it to the desk [i.e., the mixing console] and change the sound again. But thatīs all very personal."
Do you add echo often in the mix?
"Possibly, yes. Many times. But you see, when I record things, I make my
sound the moment I play. I go straight into the desk. I donīt really put the
sound on tape and then change it. The given sound is 99% there when I make
As you accumulate new instruments, do you ever get rid of older ones?
"On, no. I always keep my keyboards because of good memories. They can
always be useful. Each instrument keeps its own character. Nothing changes."
Are there still sounds in your mind that the instruments of today cannot
"Yeah. I have in mind a different way for using synthesizers, but Iīm going to
have to get together with the people who make them."
What changes would you like to see them make?
"Itīs difficult to explain sounds by words. And, again, all those things are
personal to me in connection with my technique, so whatever I might have
built for me would be completely irrelevant for other people. Thatīs why you
donīt see these machine, because of marketing. For years and years, every
time I ask them to do something new on a synthesizer, they say, "Oh, come
on, you ask the impossible," but then four years later they do it. Now I know
they are going to do it, so why not do it now?."
And if I were one of the synthesizer designers, what would you ask me to do?
"Iīd ask the impossible."