"Blade Runner" Soundtrack Delivers Sonic Fireworks

Ridley Scott's 1982 "future noir" classic "Bladerunner" based on Philip K.Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" was a box-office flop when first released. Like "TRON", another flop, it has gained stature over the years, though like "TRON", the movie's visual and sonic pleasures are greater than the storytelling.

The soundtrack by Vangelis was as sonically memorable as were the visuals of a dysfunctional 2019 Los Angeles.

Harrison Ford plays a dispirited "Blade Runner", whose job it was to hunt down and dispose of organic robots difficult to distinguish from humans, who were created to do grunt work on outer space colonies, but who find a way to return to earth where, to survive, they attempt to blend into the human population.

Ford's character agrees to one more assignment and adventure turns into a dangerous but melancholic and confusing exercise.

Vangelis's synthesizer soundtrack moves appropriately from bombast to heartbreak, while mostly remaining cool (if not icy) and detached. Side two adds Middle Eastern and Pakistani Qawwali music to the mix. The combination of synth, pulsing drums and world music set the tone for many soundtracks to come and influenced generations of film composers from "Terminator 2"'s Brad Fiedel to much of Hans Zimmer's output, including "Gladiator."

On one track, "Memories of Green," Vangelis sounds to have been influenced by Brian Eno's stark mid 1970s work, but his inner Yanni shows and it gets a bit florid. The end credits' "harp" glissandos and other musical accents sound a bit hokey and dated to 2013 ears, but overall this soundtrack's creativity and innovation hold up remarkably well 30+ years later.

Back in 1982 sonics we take for granted now were stark, cold, other-worldy and could be alienating. Vangelis managed to produce a track that was both cold and yet emotionally involving, thanks to the vocals and particularly an evocative saxophone part that represented Harrison Ford's character's dismay as he began falling for one of the robots he was assigned to de-commission, and having unexpected sympathy for the plight of the band of robots. A synthesized harmonica handles the rest of the melancholy.

For one reason or another, this music was not released as a music soundtrack until 1994. This Audio Fidelity issue on 180g is its first vinyl issue and from Vangelis's comments in the gatefold packaging written in 1994, some of the material was not in the film, though it was composed for it.

Surely Kevin Gray cut this from a digital source, though the source is not identified on the record or in the press release.

However, this is almost all from synthesizers so who cares?

The soundtrack includes some dialogue mixed into the music plus a few songs including an unrecognizable Mary Hopkin singing "Rachel's Song," and "One More Kiss, Dear", a crooned (by Don Percival) retro-forties number a la "We'll Meet Again" that you might know from The Byrds' version, but which was a WW II anthem. It ends side one. The lyricist, Peter Skellern had a modest hit remaking Irving Berlin's "Puttin' On the Ritz" so he probably had a "thing" for this kind of music.

Side two combines moody atmospherics, synth bombast and synth bass that will shake your room if your system goes very low. Dynamics are wide, soundstages, expansive and deep. In other words, whatever the source, this is a sonic spectacular.

For fans of the movie, this kind of soundtrack listened to in the dark can effectively conjure up movie scenes and produce other-worldly "theater of the mind" images. For everyone else, it's just a more abstract kind of emotional evocation.

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planarhead's picture

This is reissue of the year for me. I've always loved this soundtrack and never found a version that blew me away until hearing this one. It was mastered from 24/88 digital file. It is a digital recording, so this doesn't matter.

ashevilleaudio's picture

digitally recorded in 1982? really?

planarhead's picture

This is what a Vangelis documentary said a while back

Michael Fremer's picture

Sure. Denon released PCM recordings during the '70s on vinyl. Soundstream began manufacturing digital recorders in 1975 or so.... not sure what Vangelis used...

homersoddishe's picture

for which there's a youtube video showing Kevin Gray at work . . . .



DigitalIsDead's picture

Normally, I love EVERYTHING here at Analog Planet.... But this post was really lacking.  Firstly, real Blade Runner fans know that there were 2 versions of the soundtrack.  America got one version, a single disc, and Eastern Europe a second which had considerably more material the the US version... This made that Euro version VERY collectable.... feel free to scan Ebay.....

My second gripe, Michael, is how little you know about the story and how it was manifested to the big screen depending on where you lived.  There are 5 versions of the movie.  These speak to the chaos surrounding the filming which resulted in Ridley Scott being fired, some scenes reshot, and a Producer led coup resulting in a Harrison Ford voice over that EVERYONE hated done because American audiences were perceived as not sophisticated enough to understand the film.  Version 1:  A pre release cut only seen by a trial audience.  Version 2:  The US release...with voice over.... Version 3: The European release... NO voice over  Version 4:  The first Director's cut done by Ridley Scott, basically the same as Version 3 with some additional footage and Version 5:  The final director's cut with no voice over and the REAL ending where learn that Deckart IS a replicant.

With the Big Anniversary of Blade Runner a year or so ago Vangelis went back and not only unified the two releases he added a 3rd CD of new Blade Runner themed material.  Yes, its primary ambient mood synth ...  Still, it sounds great and if you are a Vangelis fan... as I am!  This stuff is pretty amazing and its surprising more people haven't flocked to this great recording....

I've skipped buying the vinyl 'cause, frankly, there is NOTHING vinyl is going to add to a recording that was always conceived digitally and has pretty much lived in that world every since.

Paul Boudreau's picture

Being a little harsh, aren't you?  No one knows EVERYTHING.

AQ Shane's picture

Mikey's not running Analog Planet as a film buff's Blog, it's about music. And BR has one of the most convoluted histories in the history of cinema, with a lot of mythology being passed down for so long that misinformation became fact. Some of which is repeated here.

Among the chief myths about the movie's troubled production is that Ridley Scott never wanted a voice-over narration by Harrison Ford's Deckard, which is not remotely true. He eventually got stuck with a voice over Bud Yorkin liked and he didn't, but Scott is the one pushed for voice over in the script as soon as he came onboard the project. All of which is confirmed by Scott and screenwriters Hampton Fancher and David Peoples in Paul Sammon's book Future Noir, The Making of Blade Runner. The working script six weeks prior ot Scott coming onboard had no narration at all, while the version five months after Scott came on and every version thereafter had voice over.

While Scott might have been marginalized by the end of post production, I don't beleive he was fired outright. He also supervised two of the three sessions on the voice over, but not the third as he was still working on the movie in England. And Scott himself willingly shot the US Theatrical version's ending with Sean Young and Ford driving in the car in late March of 1982 according to Sammon's well-researched book. Scott attanded the San Diego screening and in an interview with Sammon was onboard with this more upbeat version as he himself had been beaten down by the film's abysmal ratings at sneak previews in Dallas and Denver. He later of course decried these changes in the 90's after audiences reacted so positively to seeing the Workprint and subsequent darker versions.

Anyway, BR is a tough one to call someone to the carpet on. Even among the relatively initiated there's a lot of misinformation to sift through to get it right. 

Reading Mikey's review, he wisely didn't try. And why would he? Hardly a shortcoming in discussing this release of its soundtrack.

I know, I'm the AudioQuest guy now. but in a former life i was Editor of Home Theater magazine and still a serious movie guy. And vinyl guy. I'm ordering this record!

Michael Fremer's picture

Let's look at your "gripe".

First of all, I don't claim to be a huge "Blade Runner" fan though I saw it when it was first released.

Secondly, that there were two versions of the soundtrack is interesting so thank you for adding that information. 

Why is it a "gripe" that I didn't know about there being 5 versions of the movie? I was writing a review of the soundtrack album not of the Blu-ray release of the movie!

Thirdly, I did write that the story was weak. That's because the version I saw was so. From what you wrote it's obvious that no one was happy with the story and by that I mean the filmed one not Dick's story.

Fourth, I was reviewing the vinyl release, which you are free to not buy. But a few fans apparently think this record sounds fantastic compared to other versions.

Fifth, why are you so angry?

DigitalIsDead's picture

Must have been a bad day.... I am an IT person by trade so my social skills are not always the best....  Sorry about that. 

soundman45's picture

I'm sure with all it's 8 and 12 bit synth patches of the day, it sounds fine coming from a digital source.

torturegarden's picture

Since this soundtrack is available as a limited edition I thought I'd share this blog I read earlier today about limited editions. I am in complete agreement with the article. It basically says it would be nice to have regular editions as well so people that buy records for the music don't have to pay ridiculous collectors prices.


upsetter801's picture

But Mikey, you presided over a groundbreaking sound job on Tron.  The "flop" to me is only a matter of perspective. Pishaw to dollars and cents, I say!  Anyone who wrangled Gordon Ecker, Tony Milch and Frank Serefine is alright in my book! (Heh, heh...)

moog man's picture

For someone who is into analog in a major way I would hope you would give the same due diligence you would to electronic instruments as you would to sound reproduction. This soundtrack is famous for its use of a Yamaha cs 80 synth, one of the greatest analog synths ever. Believe me, if that analog source was pressed directly to vinyl you would notice. If not its about time we all bought CD players because there is no difference between analog and digital.

solderpcb's picture

I Just thought I'd chime in and say that the Yamaha CS-80 that Vangelis used is a 100% analog synthesizer which makes it very much capable of producing sounds below and above the considered human hearing range.

I've done tests myself with analog synthesizers while doing frequency analysis and they can easily go up to 96kHz and further.

With regards to the audio used for the vinyl it is a 24-bit 88.2kHz audio file. I'm sure the original master might be higher than that but someone has obviously sent them an audio file and determined that is the highest it has to offer.


P.S. Mikey I'd love to hear a discussion on Inner Groove DIstortion and how to combat it, On internet forums it seems to be one of the most debated topics in vinyl playback, is it the vinyl mastering itself or is the stylus type or turntable setup or a combination of all three etc.

Smafdy Assmilk's picture

I've never heard a Vangelis recording that would rate above a 5 on sound quality. 

vinyl listener's picture

... it's as warped as Amazon's banana shaped arrow on the outside of the box.


Only upside is Amazon has a good replacement policy.

Makz The Obscurist's picture

Found out about this reissue when I clicked 'Album Reviews' after reading Michael' review of the VPI Traveller, that the guys at VPI shared on FB, and I must confess that I actually shouted out in excitement! I've been a Vangelis fan and a bit of a collector for 35 years or so (my very first LP was 'Heaven and Hell'), and this was like the Holy Grail...

As far as I'm concerned, this is the re-release of the decade! You won't hear me complaining about the use of a digital master. If that is what Mr. V used, it's definitely good enough for me. It's the result that counts, not just the source...

The orchestral adaptation by the New American Orchestra kinda s*cks, and I've always hoped that one day I could give the original version a spin on the big platter.

Just ordered the numbered version from a Belgian seller on Discogs. I live in The Netherlands, the since cost of shipping from the USA has gone up considerably, it's no longer obvious to order from Music Direct or the likes of them...

There's also a slight concern about warped records (also reported here), and returning them to the European mainland is a lot cheaper than overseas...

Anyway, I'm a happy camper. Made me subscribe to AnalogPlanet anyway ;-)

Ben Adams's picture

I'm a month late to this review, but I just wanted to add that the LP sides on this are nearly 30 minutes in length!  It's a bit of a miracle that Kevin was able to cut this so well, because there's a trade off in decibel level for every minute past 16 or so on an LP side.  So you have a quietly-mastered LP of mostly fairly quiet music.  Yet this sounds phenomenal.

Roy Batty's picture

Here are some articles I've found about Vangelis' NEMO studio in London, from 1975-1987. Note the different tape machines. No mention of digital recorders.
Just because Gray used digital files, we can't assume these are somehow the same format as what Vangelis recorded to in 1982. 24-bit, 88.2khz, in 1982? It seems to me the most logical that the master reels went through ADC.
Anyway, I think these should settle it:



Roy Batty's picture

"Tape hiss noise on 2- and 4-track master tapes was addressed by applying another type of noise reduction. For the Blade Runner soundtrack, these were handled by noise-reduction modules installed by Dolby Laboratories for the master tapes. The Dolby noise reduction was applied on each of the 2 or 4 channels, depending on the number of channels used on the track in question. Occasional audio peak limiting was provided by URei 1176-LN compressors."