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Article Sources: Richard Clews - "Recording Vangelis" (Sound On Sound Magazine, Nov 1997).
Martin Lovett - "Man, Machine, Music" (Recording World Magazine, Aug 1984).

By request of the author of this article, all links and attributes to him have been removed. All questions regarding this article should be redirected to me, Gary Carden. 11 June 2006
Edited by Shirley LeVasseur

Vangelis - RECORDING the future.

Vangelis surrounded by his keyboards at Nemo Studios.

ndoubtedly, one of the most strikingly original elements of the film Blade Runner is the sensitive, deeply evocative soundtrack which was created especially for the film by Greek composer and multi-instrumentalist Vangelis Papathanassiou. Blade Runner was a departure from normal electronic sci-fi scores - Vangelis concentrated on atmosphere and emotion, avoiding the burbles and wails that cinema audiences had often had to endure. The music was also a technological tour-de-force, drawing on the combined might of the masses of synthesizers and sequencers built up at Vangelis' own Nemo Studios, and was mixed in quadraphonic sound for a special presentation of the film at the Leicester Square Odeon. The music from Blade Runner remained unreleased for 12 years, only becoming commercially available after expensive bootlegs had appeared. Even now, many pieces from the soundtrack remain in the archives alongside other work that has yet to see the light.

A tremendously gifted yet private man, it was Vangelis, along with a handful of other musicians, who almost single-handedly brought about the acceptance of electronic music as it's own distinct art form. This feature is an attempt to analyze the creative process employed by Vangelis when recording the famous soundtrack for Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, and to try and give a brief insight into the unique manner in which he went about creating and recording the music that he produced during this time, when the digital samplers and music-making equipment that we take for granted today had not even been invented, and the creation of electronic-based music was a much more hands-on process. 

From 1975 to 1987, Vangelis did nearly all his recording at his own Nemo Studios in London, a custom-designed facility located on the top floor of Hampden Gurney Studios, a former school building in Hampden Gurney Street, near Marble Arch, London. The spontaneous way that Vangelis used to record and layer his musical textures onto tape necessitated the installation of a large amount of electronic and acoustic instruments which all needed to be ready for him to record with at any given time. Obviously then, the principal concern when choosing a site for Vangelis' studio was going to be the amount of physical space available, and the converted school building in Hampden Gurney Street had plenty of space - Nemo's main studio area was 23 x 44 feet, with a ceiling 20 feet high, and the control room was approximately 430 square feet. When you look at the original studio floor plan and layout, featuring Vangelis' full timpani set, gong tree, Busendorfer grand piano, Hammond B3 organ, drum set, lighting gantry and stage area all installed, not to mention his vast collection of keyboards and recording equipment, you get an idea of why so much space was needed:-

Nemo Studios, rough floor plan and layout circa 1978 (following the re-equipping of the studio in that year). Diagram: Keith Spencer-Allen.

In 1978, the studio was re-equipped with a top-of-the-range Quad/Eight Pacifica mixing board and Lyrec TR55 24-track tape machine, and with various acoustic and technical problems addressed, Vangelis began to enjoy the benefits of one of the best-equipped studios in the country. The massive main studio and control room enabled him to work with whomever he wanted, from choirs and soloists to African drummers, and with all kinds of instruments. In addition to the vast array of keyboards (see equipment list, below) there was a large variety of percussion, including a drum-kit, three tuned timpani, a 3.5 foot symphonic bass drum, a symphonic snare drum, gongs, a thunder sheet (large sheet of metal, used to create a deep, rolling noise similar to the sound of thunder - heard extensively on the BR soundtrack), a gamelan, a circular saw blade, two bell trees, a glockenspiel and two sets of tubular bells. 

Another original feature of Nemo Studios was the "creative environment" in which Vangelis liked to work (some idea of this can be obtained from the picture of Vangelis sitting astride a metal-plated horse at the top of this page). For example, the control room alone contained a fountain, a bed, a hammock (in which Demis Rousos was often to be found), speakers stacked like tower blocks, mobiles hanging from the ceiling, plants, mirrored statues and a tiger skin on the floor. The latter was placed on the floor between the desk and the tape machine, and engineer Keith Spencer-Allen had to avoid breaking his neck when rushing around.

When working on the music for Blade Runner, and on other soundtrack projects, Vangelis and his engineers followed a spontaneous method of working, which they tried to preserve through the lengthy, overdub-ridden process of recording. With no MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) available then, and only primitive sequencers, most of the music was created through over-dubbing, where every instrument had to be played and recorded individually. Even some of the simpler musical lines were in fact made up from several unison parts, in order to create the right tonal colour. Keith Spencer-Allen observed Vangelis' technique when he recorded his "handmade" soundtracks: "…Vangelis would watch the parts of the film that had been earmarked for music. After two or three passes of the film he had the core of an idea and we would then start recording. Often it only took a couple of attempts to create the complete musical section…"

Alongside Keith Spencer-Allen, the other person regarded as Vangelis' closest technical collaborator at Nemo was French keyboard programmer Raphael Preston. Raphael came to England in October 1975, and in 1977 was offered work at Nemo, where he immediately began experimenting: "There was a wall full of synthesizers, all on shelves. I had things that could trigger all the different synths together, linking them to sequencers and getting them to work with each other. It ended up like one huge machine that you could control and transpose easily. Because all the equipment then was voltage-controlled, I would experiment by wiring a 9v battery to a jack lead, connecting that to a volume pedal and sending different voltages to the synths' oscillators. So the volume pedal could transpose everything by nine octaves" (!!!) 

One of the major reasons why the Blade Runner soundtrack still sounds so modern and innovative to this day was the choice of instruments used to create the music, and the way Vangelis would combine acoustic and electronic sounds to create highly original, evocative sound textures - for example, the combination of orchestral percussion instruments and ubiquitous sweeping synth lines heard over the opening titles, played on Vangelis' favourite ever synth, the Yamaha CS80, which provided most of the solo synth lines heard in "Blade Runner", including the expressive, harmonica-like sound featured on "Blade Runner Blues" and "BR Main Titles". The Yamaha CS80 was one of the first ever polyphonic analogue synths to become commercially available, and was a serious beast, weighing in at around 210 pounds!!! Vangelis was introduced to the CS80 at a trade fair in 1977, and was tremendously excited by the possibilities it offered, but arranged to have one on loan for a few weeks before deciding whether to spend the necessary £4850 (the 'CS80's asking price at this time)! The equivalent cost today would be around £26,000. During this period, Vangelis recorded the "Spiral" album (released 1977), which featured the CS80 on every track. Shortly after, he imported a CS80 from Japan in order to bypass the six-month UK waiting list, and the synth arrived in London after a mammoth train journey through Russia. Vangelis eventually went on to buy another SEVEN CS80s, some of which were for concerts, while others were just for spare parts.

The sound of Blade Runner : Yamaha's Polyphonic CS80 synthesizer (1976).

Other instruments used by Vangelis on the Blade Runner soundtrack included the Roland VP330 Plus vocoder (used for choir and string pads) and the very rare (and expensive) Yamaha GS1, an early FM keyboard resembling a miniature grand piano, which contributed the lush electric piano sound featured on Blade Runner's "Love Theme". Electronic studio effects units also contributed greatly to the depth and atmosphere of the Blade Runner soundtrack - for example the early MasterRoom spring reverb unit installed in the Nemo Studio which featured a 7-second decay(!!!) - coupled with Vangelis' orchestral bass drum, this is what provided the atmospheric booming sounds which open the film, which so effectively serves to draw the viewer into the world of Los Angeles 2019. Another beautifully evocative piece from the Blade Runner soundtrack, "Memories Of Green", is distinctive for it's melancholy, "drunk" piano sound. This was achieved by putting a Steinway Grand piano through an Electroharmonix "Electric Mistress" guitar flanger pedal - the sort of irreverent recording technique which would be shunned by most professional engineers/producers at the time, but which was readily used by Vangelis in his search for new sounds and textures. The electronic noises also featured on this track came from one of the first handheld electronic games, a Japanese product called the "Bambino UFO Master Blaster Station"(!). Raphael Preston remembers "…having to play it for the length of the piece without losing the game, because when you lost, it made the most horrible noise…"

Nemo is now fondly remembered as a kind of electronic "alma mater" by it's former personnel. Sadly, anyone who wants to visit Hampden Gurney Studios will find a block of flats in it's place - the old building was demolished after Vangelis left England in 1987. Nevertheless, the spirit of Nemo has been preserved on Vangelis' pioneering records, which have shaped people's attitudes towards synthesizers and the way they can be used.

Vangelis (left) at work on a solo album for Demis Roussos (right) in the control room for Nemo Studios in late 1976, some time before the studios were completely re-equipped in 1978. This picture was taken from approximately the location marked A on the studio floor plan (see above), facing the bottom right corner of the control room.

Above all, the main thing that has always appealed to me personally about Ridley Scott's Blade Runner is the incredibly deep, sensitive mood of the film. Clearly, Vangelis' lovingly-crafted music plays no small part in achieving this - characterized by Paul Sammon in his book "Future Noir" as "futuristic nostalgia.…a dizzying melange of unabashed romanticism, ominous electronic rumblings, gutter-level blues, delicate celestial shadings, and heartbreaking melancholy…" Hopefully this article has served to shed some light on the technical background behind the creation of the incredible Blade Runner score, and to illuminate some of the more innovative working methods employed by of one of this century's most influential electronic composers.



-ARP 2600 modular -Korg PSS3300 -Moog Minimoog -Moog Satellite -Oberheim 4-voice
-Oberheim 8-voice -Roland Jupiter 4 -Roland VP330 Vocoder Plus -Sequential Prophet 5 -Sequential Prophet 10
-Yamaha CP80 electric grand -Yamaha CS80 -Yamaha CS40M -Yamaha GS1 Synth  

Recording (from 1978)
-Quad/Eight Pacifica mixer -Lyrec TR55 24-track tape machine -Ampex ATR100 2-track tape machine -dbx noise reduction -Lexicon 244 reverb (from 1980)
-AKG BX25 spring reverb -MasterRoom spring reverb (with 7-second decay) -Tannoy Dreadnought monitors    

Drum Machines/Electronic Drums
-Linn drum machine -Simmons SDS5 electronic drum kit      

-ARP sequencer -Roland CSQ100 sequencer -Roland System 700 sequencer    

-Emu Emulator        


Read Richard Clew's "Recording Vangelis" article for Sound On Sound Magazine.

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