Blade Runner OST:30 years after, the story of a soundtrack that will never grow old

The chronicles of the recordings and the release of the Blade Runner OST. Or, when Vangelis made [another] masterpiece.

It’s 1981, Vangelis Papathanasiou had just been awarded and Oscar for best original score, when he accepts a proposal by Ridley Scott, to write the soundtrack of Blade Runner, It’s not the first time that they will work together, a commercial ad shot by Scott for the classic perfume Channel No 5 had preceded this in 1979 . The shootings for Blade Runner have been completed in Los Angeles during the summer of ’81, and the director and producers are moving to London in order for the editing to be completed, so Vangelis is invited to watch a rough cut of the film in a private screening at the British Pinewood Studios and he’s being offered the commission.  He likes it, he discusses with Scott and in December he gets on creating the score for the film. Vangelis at the time was living in London and working in his self financed studios, with instruments and equipment worth more than a million pounds. The single person that was working with him was a sound-engineer that was assisting him in the mixing and the video to audio synchronization –the audio being recorded in analog and the sync being achieved by pressing the buttons on the cassette and the tape reels at the same time.

There are many details around on the creation process of the soundtrack, the difficulties in synchronization, Demis Rousos’ vocals, the choir parts and the traditional instruments that were added, for the first Dolby four-track audio in a film, and the countless hours of manual labor spent in order to reach the end result. The important part is that it was being prepared for four months at Nemo Studios, it became one of the most distinguished soundtracks ever and the work of Vangelis earned a place in the heart of all fans. The soundtrack was complete and delivered in April 1982 and the film came out in the theaters the same year. Vangelis describes his approach to composing for film as spontaneous and instinctive. Preferring to let his spontaneity react to the images and not letting his thoughts interfere with his inspiration, he acts as a participant in the film by letting his instincts react to the scene and letting his music be driven by his first impression of the images. For Vangelis, the music in Blade Runner was an integral and inseparable part of the film, as the film testifies to the power of the music. Sonic-wise the soundtrack makes up for a dark melodic combination of classic compositions and futuristic synthesizers that fully flesh out the noir, retro0futuristic atmosphere that Ridley Scott had envisioned. A masterpiece of contemporary music, a combination of synthesizers and elusive sounds from Japanese pieces, orchestras from Cairo, retro 40’s songs, bells, voices from a domain outside time and space send shivers down your spine. Complemented by the film dialog and the ambience of the dystopian future city, it’s in a league of its own. This is why it remains fresh-sounding and sublime 30 years after and it stands for an inspiration for a whole generation of musicians, some of which still unborn at the time it was being created by Vangelis. It also stands for a landmark in soundtrack making for another reason as well: until that moment, the exclusive use of synthesizers in the creation of film scores was quite misunderstood and was mostly found in b-movies.

The ground for electronic composition in film scoring had been set from the 50’s (the golden decade of Hollywood sci-fi films) but their production was costly and complicated. The analog modular synthesizers of the 60’s became available to a greater number of musicians, their use remained however limited and they were hard to operate. In 1971 composer Wendy Carlos used a modular synthesizer to perform classical music pieces for the soundtrack of “The Clockwork Orange” but it wasn’t until the early 80’s that their use became massive and their sound invaded mainstream pop.  Vangelis was the first to bridge the gap between symphony orchestras and the synthesizer sound, creating a soundtrack was nominated for Oscar -and won it, that is Chariots of Fire.  The barriers had been tore down and the conservative old-school composers had recognized the worth of the new medium. Blade Runner took things to a whole new level, earning even wider recognition from everybody. Besides Vangelis’ music, in the film you can listen to fragments of two other pieces: “Ogi no Mato” of the Japanese act Nipponia and “Harps of the Ancient Temple” by harpist Gail Laighton. On the initial version of the film, you could also catch a glimpse of a song by Ink Spots from 1939 called “If I don’t care” that eventually was replaced by a same-spirited song written by Vangelis “One more kiss dear” [sang by Don Percival].

Huge as the reception of the music as it might have been from both the audience and critics the moment it came out in theaters (it was nominated for a BAFTA award and a Golden Globe in 1983), and despite the fact that on the end credits it was mentioned that the soundtrack was available) it took more than ten years for the soundtrack to get an official release. In the meantime a version of it was released by New American Orchestra in 1982 with very little things in common with the actual one, and certain individual tracks on one of Vangelis’ compilations in [Vangelis: Themes] in 1989. It wasn’t until the release of Director’s Cut in 1992 that they decided that they should come up with something more inclusive. This whole anticipation had pushed the hype surrounding the film to new heights and by that time it had reached the cult status.The anticipation and the huge lag in the release of an official collection created the need for unofficial releases, the fans just couldn’t wait. In 1982 a bootleg had come out featuring the film’s score, leaked by an engineer that became very popular in the various sci-fi conferences and in 1993 a new bootleg (this time on CD as opposed to cassette) from Off World Music that was much more comprehensive than Polydor’s official release. In 2007 Vangelis rereleased the soundtrack in a three CD set with extras, including unreleased and inspired by the film pieces)  

The version of the soundtrack however that was closer to the sequences of the film and the most comprhensive of them all is nothing less of a bootleg released by a group of sworn fans of the film and Vangelis'. Epser Group -as they call themselves- released on 2002 a collection under the titlte "The 2 CD Esper Collection", and then rereleased it in a single disc in February 2003 and under Los Angeles "November 2019" in ambient version. The work done on "The 2 CD Esper Edition" is simply amazing, they have collected all existing recordings, official or not, they have digitally processed them and they have made a masterpiece {actually Vangelis did, but their job in presenting the material is outstanding)

The following interview with the Espers group took place in 2006, a year before the release of Vangelis' official 3 CD version and was conduvted by a memebr of Bladezone, the on-line fan club and digital museum of anything having to do with Blade Runner.

I am indeed, very very pleased to insert this next section. what you`ll read is an unedited - straight from the horses mouth account of what happened with the Esper team, and more to the point, what didn`t...

Greetings to all at Esper productions from Bladezone. Like myself, a true Blade Runner fan, who was the blade runner fan or fans at Esper?
Well, just another couple of diehard Blade Runner fans such as yourself with an added passion for Vangelis' music. 

What releases did you do?
Only two. The 2cd “Esper Edition” in 2002 and the 1 cd “Los Angeles, November 2019” a bit later on in February of 2003.

I've seen Esper MKI, MKII, and MKIII. Are these also linked to you?
No! Actually, this a good opportunity to once again let everyone out there know that any vendor claiming to be‚ or selling on behalf of "Esper Productions" has absolutely nothing to do with the original people involved. These rip-off merchants have quite simply‚ stolen our "label."

Having said this, I did manage to get hold of a cdr copy of this so-called “MKII” release from a friend and -to be fair- there are some really interesting goodies on it.  Tracks such as “Taffy Lewis’ Bar,” “I Dreamt Music” and “Morning at the Bradbury” seem to be taken from the mythical original master Vangelis tapes!  Is it possible? Who knows… There’s a lot of debate on this matter, but I could almost swear it’s “the man himself” playing there. If it's an imitator, that guy should "cover" the entire score!  But to find out for sure, you’d have to get in touch with the people that made this MKII release.  And, despite what they claim, it isn’t Esper Productions.

Why did you release them?
First a bit of background. For quite a few years now there’s been a Vangelis rarities community (or "inner circle" as some put it) on the net. Homemade cdr bootlegs known as “private releases” of Vangelis material have often been created by fans and distributed among them.  What is a “private release”?  Well, in a nutshell it’s usually a fan getting hold of some unreleased Vangelis material and then making a 10+ cdr “release” with some artwork.  They’re supposed to be collector's items and are never intended for sale or profit. The original Esper Edition is essentially this.
The intention of the Esper Edition was to give our take or interpretation of what a proper Blade Runner soundtrack should be. Why did we make it? Basically‚ I guess it’s because we were pretty fed up with the steady stream of repetitive Blade Runner bootlegs floating around that never quite "got it right" in terms of musical chronology‚ or thoroughness. They all had something unique to them‚ but there was always something missing. We originally started out making the discs just for our own enjoyment‚ but we figured it would be cool to come up with artwork and make it a "private release" for our friends.  That’s basically it.
As for the follow-up‚ "Los Angeles, November 2019‚" we wanted to make an "ambience" or almost a “Blade Runner chillout” cd puts you the listener right in the middle of that fantastic BR universe. The sound effects are almost entirely from the BR game‚ some from the film and finally some Vangelis stuff layered in the back, almost as decoration. We inserted "Reve" (from the album 'Opera Sauvage') and also and unused piece from "The Bounty" as well‚ because they both fitted the mood very well. That disc is especially great for naps...

Anybody could rip sound from a film, but your discs were pre-production? How did you obtain these? 
Contrary to speculation I’ve seen written about this on the net, the fact is that we didn’t obtain any new Vangelis Blade Runner music that wasn't floating around already.  Rather, we simply used existing bootlegged and official sources from other private releases such as Deck Art, Memoirs 7, Euterpe, 2001 release, 1982 VHS, as well as the official Warner release, of course.  All these releases all had pieces to the puzzle, but none of them ever put those pieces in the right order, or mixed them well. We paid close attention to chronologically follow the sequences from the film and careful mixing was done to make the tracks flow well in addition to some clever patchwork and transitions (“Damask Rose”, for example). In fact, the music that didn’t appear in the film was a bit of a problem, because we wanted to keep the chronology of events from the movie, and I specially remember the problem of where to put “Damask Rose”, until it made its way in the Sushi Bar sequence and it fitted there almost magically.
We also had to decide, for those themes with more than one version available, which version we would use. For instance, depending on the source release, themes like “Tales from the Future”, “Blade Runner Blues” or the “End Titles”, varied quite noticeably in length. We also decided to use the “click and hiss” version of “One More Kiss, Dear” from the 2000 Release, since we loved the old vinyl effect of that remix.
A quick side note here: 'Memoires 7' and its successor, 'Deck Art' are both sourced from a version of the film meant for dubbing.  What does that mean?  Well, it's a copy of the film destined for foreign-language markets (say, Spain, France, etc) where the distributor (in this case Warner) has its local branch in that given country dub the original actors in the domestic language.  So what's really unique about these versions is that they contain everything BUT dialog: in other words, you only hear the music, sound design, etc.  It's fantastic because for a scene –let’s say- like the incidental music leading in the Voigt Kampf test, you no longer have the actors talking over it. In any event, I imagine some fan got a hold of one of these dubbing copies and made the above-mentioned releases. The drawback to these releases, however, is that they (inexplicably) had a lot of the cues from the film in the wrong order or just scattered. So, for example, for the Esper track that we titled "I Am the Business" we simply took the all the scattered existing pieces of this sequence (starting where Rachael says this very memorable line to Deckard leading up to the beginning of the "Love Theme") and meshed them together in the right order.
Another drawback to the otherwise beautifully mixed 'Memoires 7' and 'Deck Art' releases is that they had shortened or abbreviated versions of the music. For example, there would only be a minute of "Rachael's Song" or "Memories of Green."  So with the Esper Edition we sought to consolidate the music sourced from these dubbing copies and combine them together with the straight musical releases like the "2001" or "Gongo" bootlegs as well as the official Warner release.
Lastly, there was also other music that all the previous releases forgot to include. Among these is “Thinking of Rachael” (arbitrary title) which is the gorgeous but brief alternate take of the “Love Theme” present in 1982 theatrical release, where Deckard dozes off at his piano (substituted with Unicorn sequence in the Directors cut). The source for this, sad as it sounds, was a VHS copy of the original movie. We had to make a heavy equalizing job in order to get rid of the noise.  Also, missing bits of incidental music such as “Rachael Sleeps” (another arbitrary title) were also included.
In any event, it's important to point out that the Esper Edition's real merit mainly lays in the fact that it successfully consolidated all the existing various Blade Runner bootleg and official sources to create a coherent or comprehensive soundtrack. Is there any merit in that?  Maybe not.  Suffice to say that without all of the previous bootlegs and private releases there wouldn't be an Esper Edition.

How did you feel when the esper discs were distributed all over the net?
Mixed feelings, really.  On one hand, we’re completely flabbergasted and secretly very flattered!  I mean, this homemade fan project seems to have become part of the Blade Runner lore or canon, which is really amazing.  On the other hand, it’s frustrating to see that bootleggers claiming to be us have made their own versions and to basically rake in some cash on various websites‚ ebay‚ etc. Again, we’re totally against the idea of lucrative gain derived from these kinds of fan projects.  However, the internet being what it is, it’s pretty naïve to think things like that won’t occur…
Another factor adding to Esper’s success is what marketing experts would call “branding.” I guess the words “Esper Edition” have somehow become a recognizable and respected brand and, as a result, the various bootleggers hawking their versions have latched on to the brand and format. Sadly, to cash in.
Fortunately, I’ve recently noticed that the fake Esper Edition discs are not on Ebay nearly as often which makes leads me to believe that most fans can get a hold of the release for free, which is fantastic. Incidentally, I‘ve tried to email Ebay repeatedly in the past alerting them to the fact that they’re permitting the sale of bootlegged material, but –sadly- these emails always fall on deaf ears.  Obviously, they don’t seem to care.
So what now?  Well, I hope Vangelis gets a chance to read this feature and fully realize the almost insane and persistent demand for his devastatingly beautiful soundtrack and hopefully be convinced to release all (or at least more!) of the music from the score. You know, the 25th anniversary of Blade Runner is coming up next year, Vangelis…hint, hint!  Seriously, it would be the simplest way of doing away with this constant wave of bootlegs and bootleggers.  It would be a win-win situation for both Vangelis and his fans.

A lot of work went into the disc, but what about the esper cover?
Well, we actually 'lifted' the background of the front cover from you guys!  Yeah, one of BladeZone's screen savers. I believe it’s one by Robin Vincent.  (Sorry, Robin!).  The inlay cover was a picture of Rachael and Deckard smooching with a Frank Lloyd Wright Mayan Ennis-Brown brick down one side (which one can see with the CD closed through the transparent case.  The cds had the same sticker on both: Rachael and Deckard kissing (some bootleggers changed the second disc sticker). The back cover is artwork from the Blade Runner game.  Incidentally, there've been some nice "re-interpretations" of the Esper covers made by fans on the net some of which are really nice and look more professional than the originals.As far as the "Los Angeles, November 2019" the cover is concerned, it's a hi-res shot of the spinner descent on the LAPD's spinner port.  The inlay is shot of the media blimp and the back cover is, again, a shot still from the Blade Runner game.

Have you released any other internal discs for fans, or do you have any other plans for the future?
We haven't released anything else since, no.  Like I've already mentioned, given the vast amount of Blade Runner bootlegs in circulation, it's kind of pointless to keep releasing more of the same thing.  But you never know…


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