#Writing #Music: Vangelis


According to Bo, one of the queer bits of my sci-fi/fantasy upbringing was its lack of Blade Runner. “You watched Dr. Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, Highlander, Dune, but NOT Blade Runner?

I admit, it seems strange Dad wouldn’t have watched it at some point. Maybe the cut available at the time really stunk–last I checked, there’ve been five different versions released. But this isn’t about all the various tellings of one story. A brief Internet search reveals that topic’s been talked to death and beyond. My focus turns to that which begins and ends the story, that which has not been altered: the music.

Vangelis (Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou) is a figurehead in the world of electronic music. Sure, everyone loves his song from Chariots of Firebut truly, it’s his work on Blade Runner that proves to the world just how beautiful, captivating, and overwhelmingly powerful synthetic music can be.

So often synthesizers are used as a cheap alternative to an orchestra, but when it comes to Vangelis’ score, I think the massive variety of sounds and sound-textures would dilute the power of his music. There is unity in the synthetic, how all stems from the same source, yet branches out into so many different pitches, rhythms, and tones, that one still experiences an orchestra without the orchestra. And really, what other approach could better fit a movie about replicants hiding as real, living creatures?

You don’t know any of this in the beginning of the film, of course. In the beginning you have but a world: a city-scape that spills over the horizon, rusted and littered with fire-flares and lights more numerous than the stars. The opening zither-like run pulls us over the threshold. Rhythm isn’t as important here; we’re not rushed through the world, but rather allowed to float in awe. Harmonies move slowly as another synthesizer dances about like windchimes. The music does not intimidate, but it does not necessarily welcome, either. Reverence is the unspoken price to pay.

But for all the wonder in the beginning, the ending is where I set the repeat button. There’s no sense of wonder, no eye-opening as we experience with the opening track. No, here we are running, forever running with the rhythms slowly building, a new sound added every time. A timpani-like sound pounds, and the snare drum, a rare bit of “real” instrument in all the synthetic, has a peculiar tap at the end of each arc, almost like it’s clicking in reset to start anew. It’s not a melody of hope, nor of despair. There’s no certainty here. This is survival’s song.

Don’t let your characters gawk at their setting for long, for all is not well beneath the glittering surface. Press them onward, through the grime and fire, to that which all creations desire more than anything: the chance to live.


Extra versions, in case my chosen links don’t work outside the U.S.:

53 thoughts on “#Writing #Music: Vangelis

  1. “There is unity in the synthetic, how all stems from the same source, yet branches out into so many different pitches, rhythms, and tones, that one still experiences an orchestra without the orchestra. And really, what other approach could better fit a movie about replicants hiding as real, living creatures?” That I think says it all, Ms Lee.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. For all the full panoply of textures and tones the end credits music has an emptiness and artifice that perfectly matches the mood of the film. And the modulating sequence of four descending notes disorientates as it also remains insistent. Clever stuff. It’s some time since I saw this (the Director’s — first? — Cut, on TV) but I ought to watch it again, especially as the sequel is garnering some critical praise.

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    • LOL! I would like to see the sequel, but Bo didn’t think it worth the babysitter money. The story isn’t quite my flavor, but it’s one of those films you just can’t stop watching because it’s so, damn, beautiful. That, I think, the sequel seems to have captured–yes?

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      • The sequel is excellent. I admit I saw Bladerunner when it came out all the years ago and my mam asked , as you do, how was the film? And had to say you know I need to think about that. I had never seen a film shot in that kind of back light, the androids looked human., they weren’t metal things, there was the world like folks had never seen a world. Then there were the costumes. At that stage, never having seen the film, I dressed like Sean Young at that point. I wanted to dress like Daryl Hannah. It is easy to forget these things., like it was a first of its kind. And yep it flopped. But it was the kind of film you couldn’t quite forget and then you started to realise its brilliance. The sequel pays absolute homage to the original. I wasn’t sure about seeing it. So many sequels are god bloody awful and throw the franchise away. But this ? No.

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      • Mmm, that’s good to know. And here Bo and I were just talking to Blondie about Star Wars; I was complaining about the Disney Star Wars stuff, Bo was commenting, and Blondie basically asked why I didn’t like certain things. I told her that Star Wars was important to our childhoods. Why? Because there had never been something quite like it before: not in space, not with kids, and not with so many new ships and aliens and things. Like you and Blade Runner, it’s a new world that never quite leaves you. x
        Except those bloody awful prequels.

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      • I’ve been involved with performances of John Williams’ scores for Star Wars — the original trilogy and Episode VII but not the prequels — and was again struck by the composer’s command of musical language and of homage to other composers (Holst and Prokofiev and Elgar, for example). A very different ethos to Vangelis but entirely befitting Lucas’ overblown but fun space opera. Playing the keyboard part makes me appreciate the harmonic and rhythmic complexities he uses to complement the visual action and images.

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      • Oh yes. The man’s themes are iconic for a reason. They speak to their individual stories–one can’t hear the theme of Superman and *not* think “Superman,” which, you know, makes it horrible music to write to. But some music isn’t meant for writing. Sometimes we want music to take us through a beloved story; that’s what Williams gives us, I think.
        It’s been an age and a half since I played piano, but I do remember learning Williams’ score to Jurassic Park. Majestic, powerful, and exotic. πŸ™‚


      • You are right re Star Wars. Now that was a film they queued round the block for here –no multiplexes then. No-one had ever seen the likes on screen. You do forget the impact of certain films. Just about every director going has imitated Scott’s shot in the dark look. Alas without seeming to realise the set WAS lit. You COULD see. Lol. You are right too re the SW prequels. Again another of those can’t leave a franchise be. Got to keep adding. Got to keep messing it up. Weakening the effect of what’s gone before.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh gosh yes. Bo was talking about Scott’s impact, too. It’s as if no one can see the future otherwise…save for Star Trek, depending on the series…but yes, it’s like everyone wanted *that* look. Well, a fair amount of Anime has that look, too–Ghost in the Shell and Akira, for starters. It’s like we just can’t see a future where humanity *doesn’t* completely overtake the earth with concrete, glass, and rust.

        I feel like I’m the only one of my generation who doesn’t give a toss about the new Star Wars movies. After seeing Force Awakens and just picking out every plot point that mimicked the original New Hope, just…eh. Like you said, just all this adding and adding is going to sicken the appetite. Look at how you couldn’t go wrong with vampires ten years ago, but now no one reads them, watches them, etc.

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      • Hollywood is never content unless beating a franchise to death. Then taking a blow torch to the corpse, see what bzz we can get. Terminator? A case in point. Latest offering was pitiful in every way. A total, utter insult to what Linda Hamilton did with the part at a time when women weren’t much seen on the screen like that. Pirates of the Caribbean? Alien? Can someone tell these overblown stars that they should just stick to acting and stop thinking they can cut it in script
        development? Indiana Jones? Star Wars. Truly I often feel these days that the standard coming out of Hollywood is utterly depressing. For me Bladerunner 2049 showed there are still writers, still directors, still cinematographers, still actors, still musicians. Thin on the ground but obviously still dedicated to their craft.

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  3. Okay, my dear one, forgive me for this digressive-style comment, but I cannot think of Vangelis without thinking of death. Real death.

    I went to high school with G., a student who was a couple years ahead of me. I didn’t know her personally, but she lived close to my house. G. was beloved by virtually everyone. She was a star cross-country runner, beautiful, popular (but not snobby) and full of scholarly potential.

    One day, G. was at home and she ran through the family’s plate glass window. She died from her injuries. As you can imagine, our community was in shock at such a senseless death. At her funeral, “Chariots of Fire” was played. I did not attend the service, but the administrators played the music at our school and it stuck forever in my memory.

    Ironically a few years after her death, my brother chased me around the house and I ran into our large sliding glass door. It was a miracle it didn’t shatter, thank God, but I lacerated my eyebrow and have the scar to this day.

    Sorry to write such a downer comment. Music can remind us of things that happened long ago, and so vividly.

    Love you,
    empress p.

    p.s. I had no idea Vangelis is Greek or his real name is Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou.(I couldn’t resist looking him up on Wikipedia) I also didn’t know he composed the Blade Runner score! The things you learn…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. When I watched the movie I thought of you immediately πŸ™‚ Glad to find that you wrote this article.
    It is so fun, I went to see the movie and there were only the old timers like me around πŸ™‚ The generation of the old Blade Runner. I enjoyed the film and the music.

    Liked by 1 person

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