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Countdown to Blade Runner 2049: Part IV –The soundtrack


This year's most anticipated sequel, Blade Runner 2049, is just over two weeks away, and is set to plunge us back into a nightmarish future world.

Harrison Ford returns alongside Ryan Gosling for Arrival director Denis Villeneuve's follow-up to the 1982 Ridley Scott masterpiece.

We're counting down the days until the sequel's release by breaking down eight aspects of the Blade Runner universe. This week we're exploring the atmospheric and engrossing creation of Vangelis' groundbreaking soundtrack.

The composer

Born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou in Greece in 1943, Vangelis (pictured below) has risen to become one of cinema's most accomplished experimental composers.

Having taken piano lessons at a young age Vangelis went on to form several counter-cultural Greek pop groups throughout the 1960s including The Forminx and Aphrodite's Child. The latter's 1972 double album '666' was based on the Book of Revelation and is considered a landmark in the progressive rock genre.

In the late 1960s he moved into scoring Greek movies before moving to London in the mid-70s where his burgeoning solo electronic career flourished. Setting up his very own studio, Nemo, he released a series of albums beginning with his UK chart debut, 'Heaven and Hell'.

A classical/synth crossover the album saw Vangelis programming synthesizers, Bösendorfer grand piano and percussion. His first collaboration with Yes frontman John Anderson, with whom he would form the Jon & Vangelis duo, he said of the experience that the two men "sat down one day and I start to play the melody and he felt so comfortable that immediately he started to write the words."

Vangelis' 1976 nature documentary score La Fete Sauvage saw one of his many collaborations with director Frederic Rossif. Along with 1979 follow-up soundtrack L'Apocalypse des animaux (used in the trailer for 1982 Mel Gibson drama The Year of Living Dangerously), Vangelis found himself coming to the attention of Hollywood filmmakers.

But there was one score in particular that's crucial in leading us onto Blade Runner...

Chariots of Fire

Who can resist breaking into a slo-mo run upon hearing those throbbing Vangelis notes?

The composer's anachronistic yet enormously influential electronic score won him an Oscar in 1981 and helped secure the movie, the story of two athletes competing in the 1924 Olympics, as a cinema classic.

So successful was the score that the main theme, officially known as 'Titles', was released as a single and, after five months, reached the coveted number one spot on the Billboard Top 100. Few other soundtracks can rival its levels of success (James Horner's Titanic in 1997 is in fact the highest-selling movie soundtrack of all time).

Even so, there's one score in particular that leads us onto Blade Runner...

Blade Runner

Ridley Scott's rain-soaked, wondrous yet threatening depiction of 2019 Los Angeles demanded a revolutionary score to match its tapestry of smoke, shadow and neon. It got one in the form of Vangelis' score, the perfect fit with author Philip K. Dick's themes of human vs machine.

Recorded in the composer's Nemo Studios in 1982, the score's moody electronic tones were largely put together on an ad-hoc basis. When it came to putting the score to picture the composer largely improvised, blurring the lines between diegetic and non-diegetic sound (sound heard within the world of the film vs sound heard outside of it). Digital reverberation technology was also used to give the music added depth.

Vangelis utilised a host of then-groundbreaking electronic equipment including the Yamaha CS-80 (utilised during the film's establishing shot), the Jupiter-4, the CR-5000 drum machine and the VP-330 Vocoder Plus. How's that for a gloriously techie overload?

Reluctant to give interviews, Vangelis did offer a few words to Den of Geek on the making of the score: "Everything came purely from the film itself – the characters, the settings, the atmosphere, the story, the whole thing."

Most famous is the score's sensual, smoky 'Love Theme', performed by Dick Morrissey on saxophone and designed to capture the contradictory nature of the relationship between Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) and replicant Rachel (Sean Young).

The soundtrack actually didn't get an official release until 1994. Vangelis was prevented from releasing the recordings at the time of the film's release, and such mythology had built up around the film and its accompanying soundtrack that the album peaked at #20 in the UK charts.

The originally-released 1982 album was a re-interpretation of Vangelis' original music by the New American Orchestra, including the composer's 1980 track 'Memories of Green' that was used in the film.

Despite its troubled release history the score was nominated for both a BAFTA and Golden Globe in 1983, losing to John Williams' E.T.

The Blade Runner 2049 score

Much speculation surrounds the construction of the sequel soundtrack. Originally, Johan Johansson was set to reunite with his Prisoners and Arrival director Villeneuve but in July it was announced that the latter was being aided with additional music from Dunkirk's Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch.

Then in September it was announced that Johansson was officially off the project with both Zimmer and Wallfisch taking charge of the soundtrack. Although no official reason has yet been given for Johansson's departure (he also saw his score removed from Darren Aronofsky's new movie Mother!), it's in good hands with Zimmer.

The latter is an electronic pioneer in his own right, whether it's the synth replications of real instruments in Driving Miss Daisy to the appropriately murky and moody orchestra/synth combo of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. Plus, with his command of melancholy mood in the likes of war epic The Thin Red Line, we're sure Zimmer has the chops to do the new Blade Runner score justice.

Plus, he's had a longstanding partnership with Blade Runner figurehead (and sequel producer) Ridley Scott in the past, having written the scores for Thelma and Louise, Gladiator, Hannibal and more. That's got to be a sign that he's in tune with this extraordinary future world and its filmmakers, right?

Click here to book your tickets for Blade Runner 2049, released on 5th October.

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