1982’sBlade Runner film one of the reasons a lot of us fell in love with synths. So, with the sequel out, let’s look back on that music.
Surely no composer – not even the legendary Wendy Carlos – managed to inspire so many obvious rip-off sound presets. (Barely-veiled references to chariots and fire and Deckard were there just to avoid any doubt.) And Blade Runner is essentially without comparison, with thick synthesizer instrumentations that recall the colors and shapes of orchestral timbres but are simultaneously unmistakably synthetic and new.
In fact, you might reasonably argue that Blade Runner was one of the popular vehicles to introduce the public to the capabilities of the polysynth, after years of rock music dominated by the Minimoog and its ilk.
I think talking just about those colors might miss some of the compositional elements of the music. Vangelis’ stately pacing and soaring melodies, with the tension of slow sweeps in pitch, kept Ridley Scott’s movie from being dull by injecting futuristic wonder and suspense. But the instrumentation is of course in service of that – and if you ever want to escape those presets, an autopsy of how they were constructed is needed.
First, let’s check out a good breakdown of the signature sound design on the Yamaha CS-80, which you could duplicate on any polysynth with a similar architecture. (Here, it’s faked reasonably well using a slightly later-era Yamaha CS-70M, and strings on a Roland MV-8800 – an unrelated animal to anything available in 1982, but it does the trick.)
Reverb.com breaks down these memorable sounds in a new video that talks about how to recreate them on the kind of gear you’re likely to find today. And, of course, just like studying scores or learning a favorite song, picking apart those sound designs can be a great way to better understand how to make new sounds of your own:
Vangelis isn’t prone to a lot of interviews or public appearances, but there are a couple of chances to hear him speak poetically about the role of music in the world – particularly the 2011 interview with Al Jazeera, top:
FACT turn in their documentary to the impact Blade Runner has had on electronic music – an impact surely as deep, if far less discussed, as the one the film had on visions of our urban future.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Beats? [yeah, good one, FACT!]
For the serious Vangelis fan, there’s this two hour documentary portrait:
At about one hour twenty, you get Vangelis and Ridley Scott talking about Blade Runner, just after a chat about the composer’s collaboration with NASA. I imagine somewhere someone cornered him more on this score specifically, but here there are some nice tidbits.
From that interview:
“It was like being in the cave of a magician,” Ridley Scott says. “I’d be there at 2am … watching him just muck about.”
Vangelis: “I don’t really like working on film … everybody’s under pressure.”
Now, there you go: you’re hereby empowered to do some mucking about in your cave, or (thanks to modern tech) on your couch or in your bed or wherever it is your synths are at your disposal.
Just in case the new Blade Runner has you living your own Vangelis fantasy of yourself – go for it. Just make sure to record or hit save, or all those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain…
Um, sorry, I’ll stop. Enjoy.