Vangelis – Rosetta

Maintaining public interest and support of a space mission that’s expected to take years to complete is something of an arms race in the age of constant internet distraction. There’s social media outreach, classroom outreach, a constant battle to get the mission to even register as a blip in an increasingly polarized 24-hour news cycle, and of late, there are the citizen-scientist angles and engagement in the arts to consider.

It’s that latter category where the European Space Agency has excelled in recent years. The landmark Rosetta mission to Comet 67/P Churyumov–Gerasimenko was one of those missions for the ages, right up there with the Voyagers, Veneras, and Vikings – it was a robotic space probe that would chase a comet, maintain a close distance for further observations, and finally drop a lander onto the comet itself. That was quite a laundry list of goals for a single mission to achieve, and Rosetta checked off all the boxes. It was a mission any nation or group of nations could’ve called an achievement, and it was one of ESA’s finest moments.

To celebrate this, even as the mission was only just leaving the ground, ESA commissioned musical works, short films, and yeah, there were even plushies of Rosetta and its Philae lander. Vangelis was originally commissioned to create three pieces of music depicting three key events in the mission, including the comet landing; those three pieces are joined on the Rosetta album, by others, adding up to a musical narrative of the mission from beginning to end. And Vangelis – he of Chariots Of Fire and Blade Runner fame – is an inspired choice, though there’s much more in common with his non-soundtrack works (and lesser-known soundtrack works) here. (It’s worth noting that Vangelis had been tapped by NASA to create a musical experience for the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission as well.)

The icy synthesizers running throughout the album – utterly appropriate for the vacuum of space – bring Vangelis’ soundtrack from Antarctica to mind (and, yes, there’s a bit of Blade Runner to be found there too). But Vangelis, even when working with electronics, tends to arrange his music as if an orchestra’s going to be playing it, so it still manages to sound organic in its own way. “Sunlight”, in particular, is appropriately warm and shimmering. “Rosetta” also falls into that uncanny musical valley of human and synthetic, reminding me of the delicate “La Petite Fille de la Mer” from L’Apocalypse des Animaux, as well as bringing some recognizably Greek elements to its arrangement.

“Philae’s Descent” and “Perihelion” are the closest the album really gets to some of the pulse-pounding excitement one might expect if this were a soundtrack, pointing up the precision (and the hazards) of the descent to the comet’s surface. “Mission Accomplie (Rosetta’s Waltz)” releases some of that tension in a much more relaxing musical victory lap. (These were the pieces 3 out of 4originally commissioned by ESA.) “Elegy” and “Return To The Void” give the mission a bittersweet sendoff since, as is often the case with deep space missions, none of the hardware was ever going to return to Earth.

I can’t think of anyone better than Vangelis to provide the musical chronicle of Rosetta’s flight. The album may, if taken in in a single sitting, be a little too ethereal for some, but it does conjure up that sense of wonder that the mission itself brought us as well.

Order this CD

  1. Origins (Arrival) (4:21)
  2. Starstuff (5:14)
  3. Infinitude (4:30)
  4. Exo Genesis (3:33)
  5. Celestial Whispers (2:31)
  6. Albedo 0.06 (4:45)
  7. Sunlight (4:22)
  8. Rosetta (5:02)
  9. Philae’s Descent (3:05)
  10. Mission Accomplie (Rosetta’s Waltz) (2:12)
  11. Perihelion (6:35)
  12. Elegy (3:06)
  13. Return To The Void (4:19)

Released by: Decca Records
Release date: September 30, 2016
Total running time: 53:36

Mythodea: Music For The NASA Mission 2001 Mars Odyssey

Mythodea: Music For The NASA Mission 2001 Mars OdysseyThe first-ever true orchestral work by legendary electronic musician Vangelis, Mythodea is a commissioned work celebrating NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey probe. There are quite a few reports that the epic-length Mythodea, here divided up into ten movements and an overture, were actually something Vangelis created before NASA launched 2001 Mars Odyssey. Fortunately, unlike the British Beagle 2 Mars probe, which carried a ringtone-like call sign commissioned from the band Blur, 2001 Mars Odyssey didn’t vanish off the scopes – in fact, it continues to serve as a vital link in the communications chain allowing the Spirit and Opportunity rovers to receive instructions from Earth and report their findings and well-being back to mission control. (Sincere apologies to JPL and the 2001 Mars Odyssey ground crew for a prior version of this review which asserted that it was a failed mission.)

Adapted from an existing composition or not, Vangelis’ Mythodea is an epic, operatic fusion of real live orchestra and choir. Vangelis had previously made a career out of synthesizing these sounds and doing a respectable job of it, so Mythodea is a real departure – for the most part, he is composer and arranger here, but only in a few places does he perform. And yet there are stretches where it’s recognizably his style. Whether or not he should have made this leap a long time ago is a debate I’ll leave to the diehard fans, but Mythodea is an interesting change of pace when compared to Vangelis’ other works. Now…those who don’t have a working knowledge of Vangelis to which to compare Mythodea may find it a bit challenging and, in a few places, I’ll admit they may find it bland. This isn’t a movie soundtrack, and only in a few places can you really get a taste of the “narrative” such as it is just by listening (but I’ll bet the probe was supposed to arrive close to the climactic end of the fifth movement). Those looking for something as obviously programmatic as Scheherezade or Star 3 out of 4Wars will have to dig deeper for the meaning of the music here. It’s big and bombastic in many places – if you dug the soundtrack music from Xena, you’ll probably like this.

Really interesting stuff, in places relaxing, and in places unnerving, Mythodea is worth a listen, though perhaps you should already be inclined to the classical genre if listening to it cold.

Order this CD

  1. Overture (2:43)
  2. Movement I (5:41)
  3. Movement II (5:40)
  4. Movement III (5:51)
  5. Movement IV (13:42)
  6. Movement V (6:35)
  7. Movement VI (6:26)
  8. Movement VII (4:57)
  9. Movement VIII (4:57)
  10. Movement IX (5:00)
  11. Movement X (3:02)

Released by: Sony Music
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 64:34