I know yesterday was International Women’s Day, and even though I am a feminist myself, this article will in a way be about Zeus and his son Mars – the masculine deities, which were adored all across the ancient world by many names.
Welcome to this week’s article, where I talk about Vangelis’ Mythodea, the music for the NASA mission: 2001 Mars Odyssey.
In 2001, NASA launched the 2001 Mars Odyssey into space – a robotic space craft designed to orbit planet Mars and by use of its spectrometers and thermal imager to detect evidence of past or present water and ice, as well as study the planet’s geology and radiation environment.
The craft is still in Mars’ orbit to this day, sending pictures and data back to Earth.
Now, because it’s not very often that people send a probe to other planets, the people at NASA wanted to focus a little on the marketing/creative side as well. This would make the whole event even more special.
So, with Arthur C. Clarke’s blessing, they named the mission after the famous film by Stanley Kubrik – 2001: A Space Odyssey.
NASA’s campaign did not stop with just the name. They also adopted a theme music for the mission, which was to be Vangelis’ Mythodea.
According to Wikipedia:
Around the year 2000, Peter Gelb was the head of Sony Classical and was steering the record company in the direction of crossover music rather than mainstream classical repertoire. He had just signed with Vangelis and was in the process of selecting their first release together. Gelb was listening to some tapes that Vangelis had sent to him when he came upon Mythodea. He described the event in an interview: “When I first heard Mythodea I was in ecstasy with its rhythm and power themes, and with no further hesitation I suggested it was recorded immediately.”
With the approval of Vangelis to record Mythodea with a full orchestra as Gelb had suggested, Sony Classical developed a marketing plan of Mythodea that with the help of Vangelis’ friend and colleague, Dr. Scott Bolton, grew to include a promotional tie-in with NASA, a dedicated website, an audio CD and a live concert that involved the Greek Government and was broadcast on TV and published on video. The deal with NASA made Mythodea the official music of the mission involving the spacecraft 2001 Mars Odyssey. This mission took the spacecraft to the orbit of Mars on October 23, 2001, and the audio CD of Mythodea was scheduled to be officially released on the same day.
Quite interesting :)
Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou, better known as Vangelis is one of the most well-renowned electronic music composers – being up there with the likes of Klaus Schulze or Jean-Michel Jarre. Notable electronic albums of his include Heaven and Hell, Albedo 0.39 and Spiral – thundering synths and rhythms, part of the very experimental 70s.
Later in his career he turns towards a more classical approach, with music like Chariots of Fire and 1492: Conquest of Paradise – which along with Blade Runner are one of his most famous movie soundtracks.
What a great choice of a musician for such a fascinating and why not mystical endeavor – the journey to another planet.
The music was first composed and performed by Vangelis in 1993, albeit in a slightly shorter form. And what is amazing is that he wrote the whole piece in just one hour – so basically in real time. About this he said:
This piece was composed in an hour. Yes, it took me an hour, and I mention that (some people might think something is wrong with me to say this) for the sake of technology. Because the reason that I composed this piece in an hour is that I’m not using the technology in the conventional way. (Profound voice:) I’m not using computers.
Not on paper, I don’t read and write music, I just play.
It’s real-time, the piece lasts an hour, and so you have a piece, that’s all. And I’m saying that because if, from the technological point of view you use the computer, imagine how long it would have taken to write, to orchestrate and to record this piece. Actually in this case I compose it, orchestrate it, direct it and record it at the same time, simultaneously. So the result was a symphonic sound in an hour. Sounds strange what I’m saying, and maybe unbelievable, but it’s true.
Later, in 2001 Blake Neely was hired to orchestrate the piece, which was later recorded with the London Metropolitan Orchestra and the Greek National Opera Choir.
And on the night of the 28th of June 2001, the concert was held in Athens at the Olimpieion, close to the Acropolis. Mars itself made a special appearance at the concert as an announcer told the spectators to look for an orange spot shining in the clear sky above the orchestra.
Watch the concert in full on youtube here.
IN THE WAKE OF THE GODS
After all of this, the most fascinating part of Mythodea are the lyrics. Neely, the conductor said in an interview that they’re not supposed to mean anything: “They’re not actual lyrics in the sense that they aren’t a language. There’s a lot of things that sound like actual words, but I can tell you that you coudn’t translate it….”
But upon some careful inspection and research we find out that they might do mean something indeed.
The language used – it seems – is not really modern day Greek. But there is a source saying that it’s actually Katharevousa – a compromise between Ancient Greek and the Demotic Greek of the early 19th century.
Εν πολλοίς, στην ιστορία της Ελληνικής Γλώσσας η Καθαρεύουσαδεν είναι τίποτε περισσότερο από ένα «πάντρεμα»λέξικολογικών και συντακτικών χαρακτηριστικών της Αρχαίας Ελληνικής με αντίστοιχα χαρακτηριστικά της Δημοτικής.
The same document proceeds in translating all the songs, one by one, and explaining them – although reading it with Google Translate does make the text pretty hard to understand.
Still, what we can quickly derive from this lecture is that the lyrics do have meaning, and they’re mostly invocations of Greek deities and in general they talk about Greek mythology. Whether this was a purely arbitrary choice, or a cultural one, or even one that has a powerful magical significance, we will probably never know, as Vangelis is a very private person.
But no one can deny the hypnotic and trance-inducing power the chant from the 1st Movement has upon the listener: ΔΙΑ ΕΛΑ | ΔΙΑ ΕΛΑ | ΔΙΑ ΕΛΑ
The setting of the concert – The Temple Of Zeus.
The images projected on the canvas behind the orchestra.
The fascinating story behind it all.
Truly, objective art at it’s finest.