R.I.P. Vangelis: The Composer Who Created the Future Noir Soundtrack for Blade Runner Dies at 79

It would be dif­fi­cult to over­state the promi­nence, in the late twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, of the theme from Hugh Hud­son’s Char­i­ots of Fire. Most any­one under the age of 60 will have heard it many times as par­o­dy before ever see­ing it in its orig­i­nal, Acad­e­my Award-win­ning con­text. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, encoun­ter­ing the piece in near­ly every humor­ous slow-motion run­ning scene for two or three decades straight has a way of damp­en­ing its impact. But back in 1981, to score a nine­teen-twen­ties peri­od dra­ma with brand-new dig­i­tal syn­the­siz­ers marked a brazen depar­ture from con­ven­tion, as well as the begin­ning of a trend of musi­cal anachro­nism in cin­e­ma (which would man­i­fest even in the likes of Dirty Danc­ing).

The Char­i­ots of Fire theme has sure­ly returned to many of our playlists after the death this week of its com­pos­er, Van­ge­lis. Even before that film, he’d col­lab­o­rat­ed with Hud­son on doc­u­men­taries and com­mer­cials; imme­di­ate­ly there­after, he found him­self in great demand as a com­pos­er for fea­tures.

The very next year, in fact, saw Van­ge­lis craft­ing a score that has, per­haps, remained even more respect­ed over time than the one he did for Char­i­ots of Fire. Set in the far-flung year of 2019, Rid­ley Scot­t’s Blade Run­ner need­ed a high-tech sound that also reflect­ed its “future noir” sen­si­bil­i­ty. This neat­ly suit­ed Van­ge­lis’ proven abil­i­ty to com­bine cut­ting-edge elec­tron­ic instru­ments with tra­di­tion­al acoustic ones in a high­ly evoca­tive fash­ion.

Blade Run­ner’s for­mi­da­ble influ­ence owes pri­mar­i­ly to its visu­als, to the “look and feel” of its imag­ined future. But I defy fans of the film to remem­ber any of its most strik­ing images — the infer­nal sky­line of 2019 Los Ange­les, the cars fly­ing between video-illu­mi­nat­ed sky­scrap­ers, Deckard’s first meet­ing with Rachael — with­out also hear­ing Van­ge­lis’ music in their heads. Though it took audi­ences decades to catch up with Blade Run­ner, it’s now more or less set­tled that each ele­ment of the film com­ple­ments all the oth­ers in cre­at­ing a dystopi­an vision still, in many ways, unsur­pass­able. Van­ge­lis’ own expe­ri­ences across gen­res and tech­nolo­gies, which you can learn more about in the doc­u­men­tary Van­ge­lis and the Jour­ney to Itha­ka, placed him ide­al­ly to imbue that vision with musi­cal life.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Expe­ri­ence Blade Run­ner Like You Nev­er Have Before Through a Fea­ture-Length Remas­tered Sound­track

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

The Sounds of Blade Run­ner: How Music & Sound Effects Became Part of the DNA of Rid­ley Scott’s Futur­is­tic World

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

Sean Con­nery (RIP) Reads C.P. Cavafy’s Epic Poem “Itha­ca,” Set to the Music of Van­ge­lis

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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  • robarcaine says:

    To the genius of Van­ge­lis, now with the his­tor­i­cal and immor­tal com­posers from Mozart to Vival­di. God bless you sir, Mas­te­rio. Your musi­cal like the stars eter­nal and for­ev­er. Thank you for your music that will live in me for­ev­er. You have left a leg­end of music which will span time and space for­ev­er. When we as Human beings will leave the earth for oth­er plan­ets and Solar sys­tems, your music, per­son­al­i­ty and Genius will go for­ward with us in hearts and mer­mory.

    To Van­ge­lis, Genius and Mas­te­rio, to the stars and
    forever­more you go to your peace and “Great Uni­ver­sal Orches­tra”

    I bow to your great emmence and spir­it.

    God bless you and your fam­i­ly.

    “To go on is to go far, to go far is to return”

    Robar­caine 23 May 20022

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