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 never 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.

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Image © IWDRM, via Tumblr.

Scott had just come off the back of 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. Whereas some sci fi soundtracks have dated badly (let’s not name names), Blade Runner has, like a fine wine, aged gracefully.

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.

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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.

Attack Magazine has written a little something about the CS-80, and there is actually a plethora of information on Vangelis’ recording of the sound track and general studio information here, here, here and here. Phew!

Main Theme

After we’re treated to some opening words explaining the world we’re in, the Voight-Kampff test on replicant Leon and Deckard being arrested downtown, we finally hear the main Blade Runner theme in all its glory as we pan over the futuristic Los Angeles sky-line. Let’s listen in from 1:06:

We can approximate Vangelis’s famous CS-80 sound with Logic’s ES2 or most other analog simulation subtractive synths. The sound is comprised of two detuned sawtooths (I used 4 cents between them) running into a resonant low-pass filter with some drive added.

Envelope 2 is controlling the filter cutoff with envelope 3 hardwired to the volume. I’ve added some additional filter modulation from the modwheel and velocity. The patch is finished off with some healthy analog detuning and vibrato run into Logic’s Space Designer (1.7s_Blue Plate):

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Here’s a handy video explaining this sound in real time. Also Novation’s Mininova and Ultranova have Vangelis inspired patchbanks you can download and hear here.

It’s played very rubato. The below score is close to what’s there (at 64 bpm) but not perfect. The main idea is in E major with a brief modulation to B major in bars 8 and 9, before resolving in E again.

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The droning strings underneath are a stack in Logic (select a MIDI track and hit shift + cmd + D). This way we can send the same MIDI to several instruments. I’ve used EXS24’s Mini_Pro Chorus Warm, a Jupiter 6 drone courtesy of Sample Magic’s excellent BLOQ, some real strings from an unknown library and a very light Arturia CS-80v.

Around 2:24 we hear the second part of the theme which sees Vangelis skip through a few different keys, starting off in E major (if you want to think of this modally it’s more likely E Lydian as it includes an A#), then down to Eb, Db and finally ending in C where we hear a reprise of the first theme.

Again this is very loosely played and although I’ve attempted to recreate the timing with the audio example, the score is hugely simplified for ease of reading.

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N.B I’ve scored the chord in bar 3 as a D# as that’s more succinct with the chromatic descent from the E, however I felt it easier to describe the chord in bar 7 as an Eb as that requires less accidentals. Also omitted the low bass drones (E for bars 1 -3, etc) to keep the score tidy.

Let’s have a look at some of the tracks that have sampled the opening theme:

Dave Wallace – Future Reality Part 2 [1996]

Company Flow – Info Kill II [1997]

Breakage ‎– Questions [2006]

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