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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