With Blade runner, Vangelis is at the top of his sonic palette in the early 80’s. The soundtrack is rich, combining the finest hardware synthesizers to electric and acoustic piano, various percussions or the Demis Roussos’s extraordinary vocal performance on Tales of the future. And yet, a faithfull album has still not seen the day, ultimate of frustration. The production of the movie was chaotic (lot of pressure, several disagreements between Scott and producers…), so was the soundtrack i guess. The original tapes are absolutely stunning and it’s quite difficult to understand why they simply couldn’t be put together. If the 25th anniversary in 2007 contained great unreleased tracks, some are still missing such as the beautifull encounter of Rachel and Deckard. I think that frustration pushed composer Edgar Rothermich to recreate the whole soundtrack himself. My personnal approach is different. I wanted to explore rather than recreate.
And to start this exploration, i needed to build a similar palette of sounds. First of all, it’s necessary to consider what hardware materials was used by Vangelis so let see : Yamaha CS80 at the center of it all, Roland VP330, Fender Rhodes Mark I, and a Lexicon 224 reverberation unit. Of course, he used other machines but let’s say this is the main core. The CS80 is used for leads, brassy sounds and some effects (thanks to its greatly designed ringmod section). Its keyboard allows expressivity in term of pressure which allows Vangelis to get close to an acoustic instrument play.
The VP330 is used for strings and synthetic choir, so not a big range of possibilities, but what he does, he does it greatly. Vangelis adds volume variations, such as a complete orchestra will do with its string section.
With the Rhodes, Vangelis adds melancholy and delicacy, as the electric piano delivers a sweet sound not so far from a soften music box…
Send all this to the Lexicon for giving huge space, and you have a good starting point.
Great…but i can’t afford all this !
The CS80 was already expensive in 1977 but now it’s extremely rare. As i don’t have 10 000 euros to spend for it, the ME80, which is a plugin emulation by Gunnar Ekornas is a nice compromise 🙂 It sounds quite faithfull to the CS, it’s remarquable for the price, and contains lot of presets to start with. It even adds features like powerfull unison mode and of course, a reverb ! I played it with my DSI Mopho x4 who send aftertouch and remoted some parameters with my AN1X knobs in a second time.
The VP330 is less expensive but you’ll have to spend 2 000 euros at least for a nice one. So i choosed the sampling alternative with that library for Kontakt from Hollow Sun, and i love it ! With long attack and release, it affords that lovely pads such as on Neverending rain which is of course a tribute to Blade runner blues. But it was necessary to add volume variations to it, in order to get that Vangelis sound like.
There are several electronic piano simulations on the market. I choosed to use Kontakt again and the Scarbee Mark I after i got it among other libraries with NI’s Komplete. To my ears, it sounded pretty gorgeous and of course, is certainly not as good as a real Mark I but it does the job. I played it with my Studiologic SL990 pro to keep the touch of a real piano keyboard, and the sustain pedal as well.
And to replace the 224, i used that great reverb plugin from Valhalla DSP. Look at the integrate preset name… 😉
There we have the main core of the sonic palette i used. I put all this on a logic pro template and started every new track from it. Of course, depending on the track, various contents were added such as sound effects, fm sound effects, duduk, chimes, orchestral voices and percussions. I also used my hardware synth to produce extra content, and get the substantial interest of real synthesizers recorded in audio. For examples, on Flight down, the Mopho x4 was used to produce synthetic chime playing randomly, the melodic lead and the brassy chorus from 2’04 to 2’14. On Fugitives, the bass sound is produced with Mutable Instruments Braids and System80 Jove filter. On Thinking about her, the AN1X produced the oscillating sound moving in the stereo field, and on Empathy, the screaming drone moving in the stereo field at 1’10 and later. Empathy was by the way the first track i wrote, a few years before deciding to make a full album tribute.
I don’t think the exploration is over. I’m still attracted by playing and write with this palette, so who knows…