Friday, December 5, 2014

Score Sample: Blade Runner

When it comes to electronic scores, especially in the 1980s, you really couldn't escape Vangelis. The man had been working with electronic soundscapes since the 1970s, and had scored a documentary or two. But his real break hit in 1981 with Chariots of Fire. The score was popular and won him an Academy Award for best film score. Now you could argue the appropriateness of the music for the subject matter of the film (and how it could have beat the score to Raiders of the Lost Ark), but that is not the subject of today's blog.

Instead I want to talk a bit about his score to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. Scott is one of those directors who is not very good with his score choices (at least for most film score fans). But I can't argue with his selection of Vangelis for this film. Blade Runner relies heavily on its mood and atmosphere. A huge part of that comes from Vangelis' score. Almost completely electronic, the score uses a mix of dissonant material, middle eastern singing, noire style blues and even an old tyme 30s radio show ballad. The result is a score that is very much part of the world it evokes. While I think Jerry Goldsmith could have composed something just as interesting for Blade Runner, I just can't imagine the film without Vangelis' score. The two are really linked together. Here is one of my favorite tracks, the synth sax tune called Blade Runner Blues, and this video includes shots over modern Tokyo just for kicks. Enjoy!


  1. Wow, it's amazing how much a score can do for a film without you even noticing. Usually when discussing music I'd bring up the work of Sergio Leone (there was a guy who knew how to use music in his films, especially in his later work starting with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), but I'm not sure there could have been a better score for a movie like Blade Runner.

    The synthesizer certainly fits the futuristic world of the movie, but at the same time it does have that sort of old-fashioned vibe that calls to mind the environments popular in classical film noir (which makes sense, since Blade Runner basically takes a similar approach to a science fiction setting). There's no doubting it evokes the crowded, smoke-filled and almost choking environment of future Los Angeles.

    1. Yeah Leone was really a master of using music. And he had the perfect partner with Ennio Morricone - one of the best film composers ever. I also admire the pairing of Speilberg and Williams. Those two created some of the most iconic film moments with visuals and music. And then you've got Hitchcock and Herrmann. It doesn't get much more iconic than "Psycho" and the lovely work from "Vertigo".

      Scott is often very hard on his composers, and doesn't seem to trust them to do their job. Often he hires one composer and ends up tracking music from another film into the final cut of the movie. Could be temp track love or something along those lines. Most audiences don't notice, but film score fans get their pants in a twist over it.

      Even "Blade Runner" has a couple tracks from older concept albums. One of them is actually an older Vangelis piece. The other is from a totally different World Music composer. But for the most part, the Vangelis score is what you get.

  2. Roman,

    I wrote this lengthy e-mail. And then it disappeared.
    So I am re-writing. I really hate that.

    I couldn't agree with you more. Blade Runner by Vangelis is simply a perfect score.
    I adore that soundtrack as much as the film. I return to that score as much as I return to that film and that's really telling about the quality of both. How often does that really happen?

    I mean, often it's one or the other, or maybe just an unforgettable film, but the soundtrack is like hand in glove with those images. Just beautiful.

    I also loved Chariots Of Fire. I even purchased a CD called Themes by Vangelis many years ago and it had a number of exceptional compositions on it that still resonate with me today. Later, I purchased a CD called Voices which had a stunning little gem called Losing Sleep with vocals by British pop singer Paul Young. Just lovely.

    Finally, you continue to do great work here Roman though I don't write as much as I used to.

    And I wanted to bust you on your whites and Americans Sinbad "Bad Point." As a fellow anime fan that would be like complaining the designs aren't Japanese enough in anime. haha.

    Keep up the excellent work.

    1. Yeah I have a few Vangelis albums that are not film scores. I enjoy his stuff quite a bit. I picked up a album called "The City" which is almost like a followup to the sound he created in Blade Runner. Kind of extends the universe. There is even a track with some Japanese in it. :)

      And yeah it is a little unfair to count all the white folks in "7th Voyage" as a negative. After all, for 1958 it really should be expected. I guess I'm comparing it to "Golden Voyage" in that respect.

      Thanks for the compliment sir. It means a lot.

  3. Back when I was getting into new age/synth music Vangelis was a name that popped up pretty quickly. I had an art teacher that told me to go get the Heaven and Hell album, which I eventually found on cassette. I later picked up the Chariots of Fire soundtrack, and l'apocalypse des animaux--a soundtrack to a documentary on animals, and it's quite good.

    Opera Sauvage is also quite good--one of the songs was used for a Gallo wine commercial, but a lot of the ideas and sound to that album reminds me of the Blade Runner soundtrack. It's sort of lush and romantic.

    But I think my favorite three albums by him are China, Soil Festivities, and the oddly experimental album, Invisible Connections, which is very spacey and free form in a Blade Runner-ish mode.

    His albums Direct and Alaska are also quite good. A lot of these albums I found in used CD and vinyl stores. His music can be quite cinematic in the mind.

    1. Yeah I need to pick up more of his stuff. I have his later scores like "Alexander" and "1492". Really enjoy those. He did some great huge scale music in that vein for the first Mars lander mission. The album is called "Mythodea" and it is really something else. I have some of his older work, like "Chariots of Fire" and "Heaven and Hell". I enjoy them quite a bit even if they can sound a bit dated at times.

  4. With Vangelis: Actually I mean Antarctica rather than Alaska. Sometimes that older synth sound has some appeal much like seeing old visual effects. You know it will never go back to that era, and brings back some fond memories of the time.