Massive Attack’s Meltdown – Blade Runner: The Soundtrack [Vangelis]

Blade Runner: The Soundtrack
Music by Vangelis

Heritage Orchestra
Conducted by Jules Buckley
Mixed by Massive Attack
Lighting by United Visual Artists

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 17 June, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard in Blade Runner (1982)As curated by the current line-up of Massive Attack, this year’s “Meltdown” is not lacking in diversity of music – hardly surprising given the breadth of the outfit’s own cultural outlook. And no relatively aware ‘young person’ growing up in the early 1980s could fail to have been provoked by the vision of the future outlined in Ridley Scott’s likely masterpiece “Blade Runner”; as revisionist in its treatment of Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” as was Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” of Stanislaw Lem’s eponymous novel a decade earlier. In both cases, deliberate misreading only made for greater influence: darkly amusing though Dick’s novel is, it could never have had the impact of Scott’s film – whose bleakly dystopian take on the eventual interchangeability of humans and androidsmakes its presence felt every time a new development in genetic engineering grabs the headlines.

The music for “Blade Runner” had a rather more chequered history. Despite the acclaim garnered by Vangelis’s score, contractual obstacles meant that no soundtrack was released at the time. What did appear was a largely orchestral recreation such as brought this music within an uncomfortable proximity to those ambient contrivances which were then starting to appear in the wake of seminal creations – themselves very different! – by Jean-Michel Jarre and Brian Eno. Not until 1994 did Vangelis’s score as heard in the film secure a commercial release, by which time both it and the film were on the verge of radical reassessment as re-mixing and electronica entered a new and productive phase.

Evangelos 'Vangelis' Odysseas Papathanassiou All this by way of background to this performance of the “Blade Runner” score. On one hand, this was faithful to the music as it was finalised by Vangelis some fourteen years ago: thus a 58-minute continuity whose twelve sections coalesce into a powerfully evocative whole – overlaid though never obscured by elements of soundtrack that the composer, with typical foresight, chose to incorporate into the score to offset its inherent abstraction. Despite being mixed live by Massive Attack, those elements seemed unaccountably muted, while the similarly anticipated visual component – searchlights and all – was itself less than riveting; not least compared to the aura of incense hanging over the auditorium in an attempt to transform the Royal Festival Hall into a suitably decadent environment.

Massive AttackAs to the actual music – this was finely, indeed atmospherically rendered by the Heritage Orchestra under the discreet but expert guidance of Jules Buckley. Strings predominated, as they should in a score that pushed the then new generation of synthesiser technology to its limits, though there were characterful contributions from Janey Miller on oboe d’amore and alto saxophonist Tom Richards. Nor were the vocal items other than handsomely taken: Vashti Bunyan (who could have imagined her current and well deserved eminence back in 1981?) bringing an ethereal intensity to ‘Rachel’s Song’, while Guy Garvey avoided overdoing the schmaltz in the likeable pastiche ‘One More Kiss Dear’ and the redoubtable Omar Ebrahim conjured an unworldly ‘world music’ in the aptly titled ‘Tales of the Future’.

Perhaps the biggest failing of this enterprise (other than its brevity, could not some of the outtakes Vangelis has himself now authorised have been included as an introduction to the main performance?) was its unwitting resemblance to that fabricated soundtrack which has frequently earned the ire of Scott and Vangelis advocates alike. No matter that this rendering was far superior in terms of execution – it too often failed to capture the knife-edge tension that the electronic maestro investedin a medium which might otherwise have remained as the mere passive caressing of the senses. Such a charge has been levelled at Massive Attack’s recent work – suggesting that if they were seeking to bring themselves and Vangelis into harmonious accord, they could not have done so more effectively.

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