As a kid it was impossible not to be in awe of Ridley Scott's groundbreaking science-fiction film "Bladerunner". It dropped in 1982 and revolutionized the genre with a visually commanding depiction of a dystopian future. Complementing the film's dystopian allure was the equally mesmerizing soundtrack by Vangelis. I've featured him prior on Music That Matters for his iconic work on "Chariots of Fire", but it was only a matter of time to get around to this. Which some argue is the greater of his work, and certainly has the longer tail as the franchise continues with Bladerunner 2049, let alone the resurgence of moody synth aesthetics in genres like Synthwave. However you look at it, this is a go-to reference point for so many artists of a certain age, and perhaps even the next generation down that might not fully understand where these aesthetics (and that synth sound) come from.
Vangelis was already a household name for his bombastic synth-king style, blending a mix of classical sensibilities and futuristic soundscapes to his compositions. With a musical career that traversed diverse genres and experimental territories, Vangelis had earned the status of a musical visionary, making him the perfect choice to create the otherworldly sonic landscape of "Bladerunner".
A Musical Odyssey through dystopia
What's interesting about the work that Vangelis did on "Bladerunner" is that it is completely emotionally different to the work on "Chariots of Fire". Where the previous project was joyous and exploratory and courageous, this one was gloomy, constrained, and touched with a sense of world-weary acceptance that things are not going to get better. They just are. This mood exists in the source material that the movie is inspired by, being Philip K Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep", and was translated into the screenplay and film overall. It would have been easy to take this in a standard cinematic direction of dour classical music or even grinding proto-Industrial. But somehow we get this mix of a soft touch, of heavy emotional motifs, and a new take on science fiction sounds.
The direction Vangelis took isn't without milestones prior. There's influence from contemporaries like Wendy Carlos (if more Tron and A Clockwork Orange than Switched on Bach) and John Carpenter's various soundtracks (the Halloween theme being epic and menacing). But these were still overtly Western Classical, for want of a better term, and were undeniably tied to the aesthetics of pianos and orchestral movements. Vangelis however seemed more experimental and more emotional, taking cues perhaps from the Music Concrete movement of sound as composition itself, with the tools and explorations of the likes of Kraftwerk and even Giorgio Moroder to draw inspiration from. Whatever the case, it's impossible to listen to the soundtrack and not feel a sense of... future nostalgia. By employing an array of synthesizers (famously including the Yamaha CS-80) and electronic instruments, he crafted haunting melodies that mirrored the urban decay and emotional depth of the film's narrative. Despite the film's dystopian setting, Vangelis managed to infuse the soundtrack with a profound sense of humanity. Through the ethereal and emotive nature of his compositions, he explored themes of identity, longing, and the timeless quest for belonging. The marriage of electronic precision and heartfelt emotion became a hallmark of the soundtrack.
The Enduring Legacy
Beyond the film's release, the "Bladerunner" soundtrack emerged as a work of art that transcended time. Its groundbreaking electronic compositions, coupled with the film's enduring popularity, ensured that the music stood the test of time. Fans of the film and music enthusiasts alike continue to cherish Vangelis' "Bladerunner" soundtrack, celebrating its status as one of the most iconic and influential film scores in cinematic history. Synthwave owes much to the aesthetic and impact of this work, and even the more recent work of bands like Survivor, who penned the anthemic soundtrack to Stranger Things, is a direct descendent of this work.
Vangelis' "Bladerunner" soundtrack stands as a remarkable example of the transformative power of music in film. It not only complemented the cinematic vision of Ridley Scott's dystopian masterpiece but also elevated it to a new realm of artistic expression. As an electronic odyssey that immortalized a film ahead of its time, the "Bladerunner" soundtrack continues to captivate audiences, solidifying its status as a timeless work of art in the pantheon of cinematic achievements.