How Blade Runner Captured the Imagination of a Generation of Electronic Musicians

“I feel that there is ‘Before Blade Runner’ and ‘After Blade Runner,’” says director Denis Villeneuve. “The movie was like a landmark in film history aesthetic.” The quote comes from this FACTmagazine promo released ahead of Villeneuve’s 2017 sequel Blade Runner 2049, which examines the impact the soundtrack had on science fiction films and electronic music, as well how its entire aesthetic echoed into the ‘90s and beyond.

Composer Vangelis and director Ridley Scott had worked together previously on a Chanel commercial, and the composer had thought the choice to use his music was “brave,” according to Villeneuve. A few years later Vangelis would be asked to compose the score, which he did, improvising over footage.

The gearheads in the doc point out the Lexicon 224 reverb, a great analog effects unit, as well as the “beast,” the Yahama CS80, which would often go out of tune. (Check out YouTube user Perfect Circuit trying out some of its features).

“The best time (the synth) found its voice was on that album,” says musician Kuedo.
The doc also interviews Tricky, Gary Numan, Ikonika, Abayomi, Clare Wieck, Kuedo, Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite, and music producer Hans Berg, all of whom have found Blade Runner creeping into their work intentionally or subliminally. Ikonika even calls her music alter-ego a “replicant,” after the film’s androids. But the film for her was a warning: “You could see the future taking over and it would be the good times,” she says about the early ‘80s. And “then Blade Runner was like, after that, this is going to happen.” The soundtrack has gone on to have its own series of re-releases, just like Scott has released a Director’s Cut of the film.

First, it was never properly released as an album until 1994. Immediately bootlegs appeared collecting much more of the score from the film. In 2002, the best of them, the “Esper Edition,” delivered 33 tracks from the score. (And there’s a further “Retirement Edition” of the “Esper” kicking around out there.) Then in 2007, Universal Music released a 25th anniversary edition, with an extra disc of music composed for the film and *another* disc of *new* music Vangelis composed for the release. All of which shows a work that is beloved and held dear by fans.

Now that we’ve hit the month depicted in the film, and Los Angeles doesn’t exactly look like the opening scene (smoke and fire, yes; rain, not so much), it’s time to take stock of its dystopian vision.

As musician Kuedo says, “Almost 40 years later we’re still chasing it, but it’s still there ahead of us.”

Note: Villeneuve chose Christopher Nolan favorite Hans Zimmer to compose the sequel’s score, working with Benjamin Wallfisch…both much safer choices than Vangelis.

Related Content:

Blade Runner Getting Adapted into a New Anime Series, Produced by Cowboy Bebop Animator Shinichiro Watanabe

Philip K. Dick Previews Blade Runner: “The Impact of the Film is Going to be Overwhelming” (1981)

Stream 72 Hours of Ambient Sounds from Blade Runner: Relax, Go to Sleep in a Dystopian Future

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

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