Theyíll commission music for anything these days! "Music for the NASA Mission: 2001 Mars Odyssey" is this albumís subtitle and its composerís brief. Whoís its audience? Are they going to broadcast it on Mars to see if the life they so desperately seek comes running to investigate the noise? Beyond the NASA mailing list and Vangelis die-hard fans, I canít imagine who this album would be marketed to.
Which is in fact a shame since itís something of a surprise. The two recent cinematic attempts at stirring interest in the 4th planet (Mission To Mars and Red Planet) had some rather forgettable musical backing. If only a film had been made to inspire whatís served up here. Unfortunately, exactly what did inspire the work is a mystery. The uninspired track titles (see below) give no clue. Thereís no explanation of his motivations or intentions in the booklet at all. In fact, his few comments read very poorly indeed.
So to the music. After an effects laden "Introduction" (countdown noises etc) we begin with "Movement 1", an undisguised adaptation of Holstís Mars with some interesting pauses and choral accompaniment. "Movement 2" features a more original percussive rhythm with a powerful male chorus later joined by their female counterparts. "Movement 3" begins with soothing tinklings and a subtle introduction of sopranos Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman. Segueing into "Movement 4" it becomes a duel between them as the Vangelis staple synths weave over and above the orchestra. At nearly 14 minutes this is the centrepiece of the album and rightfully builds to an explosive crescendo for the finale. "Movement 5" cuts down to but 1 soprano backed by male chorus, then sustains a rising and falling momentum atop a pounding heartbeat. "Movement 6" features some nice flute parts, while in "Movement 7" the whistle, harp and strings are more prominent than anywhere else. "Movement 8" has a lot of synth trickles up and down. "Movement 9" stems from a blowing wind and harp glissandos into the most beautiful melody featured on the album. Finally with "Movement 10" weíre back to Holstís Mars from "Movement 1", which in its reprise actually calls to mind his earlier 1492: Conquest of Paradise score. There are Tubular bells thrown in for a rousing finale, but what these or anything else actually signify anyoneís guess.
With a full orchestra and a massive chorus, itís hard to see this is a pure Vangelis work since gone is the keyboard wizardís hands-on touch. Another way to look at it is as a mature step forward in composition. But without any notion of what itís supposed to represent or why itís as big a mystery as the possibility of life on Mars.