Ridley Scott’s 1982 Cyberpunk film-noir adaptation of the 1968 Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? changed science fiction forever. Similarly to how Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey had done previously, and how later The Matrix would, the genre could ever be the same after Blade Runner.
We follow Deckard (portrayed by Harrison Ford), a Blade Runner tasked with retiring four escaped replicants, which are genetically engineered bio-robotic androids superior in strength, agility and intelligence, designed by the Tyrell Corporation to labour on other planets deemed unsafe for humans.
Image © IWDRM, via Tumblr.
Scott had just come off the back of his the hugely successful 1979 Alien, however Blade Runner grossed just $33.8 million (a drop in the ocean compared to other films of the same year) and the film wasn’t seen as triumphant, but its cult status has cemented its place in cinema’s history. Perhaps releasing it two weeks after Spielberg’s E.T didn’t help.
Blade Runner raises existential questions about what it is to be human and artificial intelligence, as well as drawing parallels to the Atlantic Ocean slave trade. All this is over a backdrop of a (shortsightedly near future) 2019 Los Angeles megalopolis, accompanied by a strangely optimistic Vangelis soundtrack, which is arguably as renowned as the film itself.
The all-analog sound design coupled with Vangelis’ idiosyncratic haunting harmonies has resonated through the ages. Where as some sci fi soundtracks have dated badly (let’s not name names), Blade Runner has, like a fine wine, aged gvracefully.
A musical glimpse of the dystopian foresight found in much eighties sci fi whilst sounding oddly timeless. The film’s indelible mark is echoed in the countless examples of the soundtrack being liberally sampled and re-purposed, particularly in the futuristic obsessed end of drum’n’bass and jungle.
Replicating The Yamaha CS-80
Vangelis’ weapon of choice is the Yamaha CS-80, an instrument almost synonymous with him. Manufactured between 1977-79, this polyphonic beast is one of the most sought-after sounds in electronics music.
Vangelis with his CS-80.
The synth itself has two independent voices, each with four notes of polyphony running into its legendary voltage controlled resonant multi-mode filter. The ability to store up to twenty two presets and four storable user patches, a ribbon strip and various other modulation sources made this an extremely flexible yet powerful and expressive sounding synth. And it was famed for its unstable tuning, making it fantastic for pads, brass, strings and leads with a natural, almost living character.
Yamaha CS-80. Image © Vintage Synths.
Weighing in at just shy of 100 kg and incredibly hard to find, you won’t see much change from £15,000 for one of these in good condition. Thankfully, the good eggs at Arturia have developed a very convincing vst emulation, the CS-80V.
Arturia CS-80V. Image © Arturia.
Attack Magazine has written a little something about the CS-80, and there actually a plethora of information on Vangelis’ recording of the sound track and general studio information here, here, here and here. Phew!