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Vangelis: Blade Runner Trilogy (2007) February 17, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Movies, Music.
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Vangelis: Blade Runner Trilogy

Vangelis: Blade Runner Trilogy

Just as Blade Runner’s mix of film noir and science fiction styles made the movie visually stunning, so too did the mix of electronic music, jazz, and other styles make the soundtrack a classic…. which makes it frustrating that the music has been so poorly served by official soundtrack releases.

The first official soundtrack didn’t even use the movie’s actual music; it was a rerecording by the New American Orchestra, and it didn’t capture the score at all well. But that’s all there was, aside from bootlegs. Until 1994, when Vangelis put together the first official release including his music from the film. It was a major improvement, but it still wasn’t quite what fans were waiting for. A lot of the film’s music was absent. New music was added. Most annoyingly, dialogue snippets were sprinkled across the album.

Before too long, though, Blade Runner fans had access to a whole new world of Blade Runner music through the Internet. Difficult-to-find bootlegs started popping up online. My own first discovery was a fan site with mp3s from the so-called Gongo and Offworld bootlegs. Those disks added a few tracks, including some non-Vangelis material that was used only briefly in the film, but were still missing a lot. Still, they gave an idea or two of what should be possible in a Blade Runner soundtrack.

There were also mp3s of Frank Klepacki’s soundtrack from the 1997 Blade Runner computer game. Klepacki emulated Vangelis’s style for the game, which I spent a lot of time playing — it does capture a lot of the movie’s atmosphere.

Then I discovered the Yahoo Blade Runner soundtrack group, which led to finding the Deck Art version as high quality mp3s. More music than the Offworld/Gongo, and better quality. And then the LA November 2019 CD, not a musical soundtrack but an ambient sound composition made up of sound effects from the movie and the game with occasional bits of music. And now I have the two CD Esper Edition, which is one of the most complete versions yet. (Not an original, of course, as there were only ten copies. But thanks to the digital nature of CDs, even if it’s a tenth generation copy, it’ll do nicely.)

All of those bootlegs are cool, but there are always some flaws, imperfections, bits of music missing due to lack of access to the original tapes, and so on. So imagine the excitement when it was announced that Vangelis was compiling a three-disc, 25th anniversary special edition of the soundtrack.

Then imagine the confusion when we heard what was going to be on those three discs. Instead of a full score, we were getting three distinct CDs. The first is the 1994 release, unchanged. The second is a collection of “previously unreleased and bonus material.” The third is “BR 25,” all new Vangelis music with voiceovers by random people.

Disc 2 is the main reason for Blade Runner fans who have the 1994 soundtrack to get this album. Unfortunately, most of the music on this disc is quieter and less dynamic and dramatic than what’s on disc 1, and isolating it here out of the context of the score as a whole makes it a bit of a dull slog at times. Also, according to some reviews, Vangelis has again tinkered with tracks, adding sound effects and other tweaks that once again defeat the goal of getting a real and complete Blade Runner soundtrack.

Disc 3, BR 25, is…. odd. If you want to hear Roman Polanski muttering some Polish poetry, or something from the Chinese ambassador to Cyprus, this disc has them. What they have to do with Blade Runner, I don’t really know. In theory, the idea of Vangelis going back to Blade Runner and creating a suite of new music inspired by the film is a good one. In reality, it’s a rather dull Vangelis album that sinks close to new age and lite jazz fusion territory while incorporating brief snatches of music that remind the listener of better music on the real soundtrack. The best thing I can say about the voiceovers is that they’re sometimes almost inaudible. Some people, to be fair, were quite happy with this disc, but I suspect it marks the dividing line between people who love Blade Runner but aren’t Vangelis fans in general, and people who love the Blade Runner soundtrack because they love Vangelis. Personally, I’ve tried listening to other Vangelis albums, but they just don’t click for me. Blade Runner is special.

So, can I recommend this CD? If you don’t have the time or interest to try to track down torrents of bootlegs, if you’re not a purist, and if you can find it for a reasonable price, then sure, the first two discs are worthwhile, especially if you resequence the tracks a bit in your preferred media player. If you’re a Vangelis fan you’ve already bought this.

Here’s some good background information on the Blade Runner soundtrack saga:

I Dreamt Music. This article, from 2002, provides a much more detailed history of the various releases of Blade Runner music up to that time. Outdated somewhat but still worth reading.

Visions in Sound. Bentley Ousley, author of the above article, is interviewed on radio about the Blade Runner soundtrack. The full discussion is available as a series of mp3s.

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