This installment of The Ambient Series explores the music of Vangelis.  I know that a lot of you wonder why Vangelis, who has done a lot of successful scores for film (Blade Runner, Chariots Of Fire, to name a few), and great vocal work with Jon Anderson, should be qualified as ambient at all.  The fact is, much of Vangelis’s early career in music, which began in 1967 with Aphrodite’s Child, a Greek progressive band with a three albums, one of them a well-received concept album (666) is represented in ambient electronica.


After the demise of Aphrodite’s Child, Vangelis moved into electronic ambient music.  In the early days of the ’70s, Vangelis issued several albums leading up to Earth (his third).  Earth was challenging music, and certainly a brilliant prelude to his extraordinary Heaven and Hell (1975).  Heaven And Hell employed Jon Anderson on one of its tracks.  As an album, it did quite well.   It wasn’t until Albedo 0.39 (1976) that I paid complete attention to Vangelis as an artist to be completely enjoyed as an ambient artist.

Albedo 0.39 was exploratory in every way using vocals in extraordinary style, completely setting the album apart.  Vangelis played every note on the album.  In short, Albedo 0.39 was a stunning favorite of mine for months, demanding large blocks of my time as I listened to it in ways that put me into the center of its universe.  Albedo 0.39 played with long-form jazz fusion (“Main Sequence”), pure electronic classicism (“Sword Of Orion”), the spacey ambient (“Pulstar”, “Alpha”, “Freefall”), and the orchestral (in two-parts) of “Nucleogenesis”, which combined electronics and the orchestral into a magnificent piece.

Over the years, Vangelis would experiment with classical, electronics, and traditional instruments endearing him to a wide audience that didn’t always like everything he did. But it would be definite that his musical works would be recognized for the works that they embraced.

Vangelis is not an artist of a particular style.  His forays into many styles have truly set him apart.  Unlike artists and bands that remained as ambient electronic, Vangelis’ skills allowed him the space to create on many musical canvases.  In that, Vangelis is one of the unique talents of our time.  With many creative ambient albums in his catalog, it would be a great crime to avoid his Opera Savage, The City, and the achingly beautiful China (which creates a strong Chinese ambient feel, and hints of Blade Runner in its music). Or any of them actually.


By MARowe

9 thoughts on “The Ambient Series: Vangelis”
  1. Hey Matt,
    What Vangelis would you recommend to a total new-comer? I’ve heard some of his stuff in passing, but have never taken the time to listen to an entire album.

    1. Terry, honestly, there is no perfect starting place. It would depend on your tastes to give you starter choices. If you like prog rock, I’d suggest Aphrodite’s Child. However, if your tastes run toward electronic, give Albedo 0.39 a shot (it runs quite a race around various styles).

      The suggestions given by others are also fantastic places to start. Vangelis is unique.

  2. Thanks for this post Matt. Vangelis is incredible. There’s really no one else out there with his sound. Direct and Oceanic are among my favorites. For a newcomer, I recommend Themes. I also recommend to everyone doing some research and purchasing an excellent pair of full size earphones and receiver/amp and listening to Vangelis when you have some uninterrupted time. I do some of my best photo work on the computer when Vangelis is playing in my studio. Keep up the great work Matt! Jim Bowers

    1. I agree Jim. Some of my best work is done listening to Vangelis. There’s something about it that just gets my imagination going.

  3. Terry,
    I’m not Matt, but I hope I’m qualified to give some suggestions. :)

    For a new-comer I would start with Direct, The City, Voices and Oceanic (especially if you like New Age). The soundtrack to 1492: Conquest of Paradise is great as well, especially the excellent final two tracks on the album.

    Then you can get into his fabulous work in Opera Sauvage and L’Apocalypse Des Animaux among many, many others.

    One thing that Vangelis has always been a master at is the album closing track. Most of his albums are meant to be heard as a whole. The closing tracks just bring it all together. You have to hear it to understand.

    This website here is a detailed description of all of his albums with some anecdotes thrown in.

  4. Albedo 0.39 is very good but none of his albums can be called typical. I also liked China, Blade Runner soundtrack and the albums he did with Jon Anderson, especially “The Friends of Mr. Cairo.”

  5. The best place to start listening to Vangelis would probably be his 1980’s or 90’s output. Most of it is far more structured and “song-like” than his other work, although much of it carries hints of his earlier soundtrack work. My personal favourite is probably the 1492 soundtrack that has a great emotional depth and is done with a full orchestra and vocal section (or is it all synth?).

    Now, you’re all probably going to call me “nuts,” but the most sublime title by Vangelis is his extremely difficult to get into release, on Deutsche Grammophone (the classical label), called “Invisible Connections.” -if you can find it.

    It is a set of experimental pieces, with no explanation given, that juxtaposes electronic and acoustic sound. The two become almost indistinguishable as the album develops.

    If you want the definition of “ambient,” try this one, as it is a pure visceral experience described in abstract soundscapes.

    However, you are forewarned that this album is about as unconventional as it gets and could be described as the performance of a “philosophical statement about music.” Most people just hate this album, even Vangelis fans.

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