Listening to music in Film

Blade Runner (Director’s Cut): Vangelis

The audio landscape is set before us during the opening credits with reverb-laden synthesized instrumentation playing a simple melody interspersed with low drum sounds that don’t directly offer punctuation to the music but do provide further ambience. For the text section we are given further synthesized textures which are used throughout the performance. Classical instrumentation is rarely bought to the fore during the film. A solitary bell at the front of the soundscape hints at the light Eastern theme which runs throughout the film, based around Asian-sounding pentatonic sketches.

It’s not until we’re shown the first images of the city that we’re given the title theme of the soundtrack. The camera shows us an aerial panorama of a dystopian Los Angeles and to match this Vangelis plays a wide haunting composition that leaves us in no doubt that we’re in a future that’s not entirely comfortable.

As the story starts to play out, underscoring is noticeably absent when compared to more modern films. The director has left us with the ambient sounds of the room, computer noises, the PA making announcements, the rhythmic beats of a large machine, and this technique becomes a hallmark of the film. Leaving spaces between musical interludes gives a very open yet uneasy feel and raises the tension dramatically.

Underscoring is largely kept for scene changes throughout the film or to provide contrast to the action such as when Zhora is shot and falls through the glass. This moment is emboldened by the smooth and calm sounds provided. We would expect something up-tempo but we are denied this, being forced to concentrate on the shocking scene.

Throughout the film we are given snatches of diegetic music from sources such as the Hare Krishna parade, the nightclub and the piano in Deckard’s apartment but this soundtrack is definitely more about mood and ambiance than expected musical structure.

Use of leitmotif is sparse, really only heard when we view the city as an organism. We don’t get the luxury of “safe” music that we can return to. Vangelis forces us to continually take notice.

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