Other than the collected works of John Carpenter, perhaps no other movie score looms so large over modern music as Vangelis’ Blade Runner, whose noirish synthesizer moods—a sort of darkly ambient, electronic blues—have been name-checked in half the electronic music releases of the past decade. Attempting to replicate it for an actual Blade Runner movie, such as Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming sequel, would therefore seem to be incredibly intimidating. It’s not exactly necessary (though frankly, nothing about this project is), given that Vangelis is, in fact, alive—and even releasing new albums. But since the decision was reportedly made “a long time ago” to move forward without him, much like the decision to do it with a director besides Ridley Scott, Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson has now stepped into that considerable void.
In an interview with Fact, Jóhannsson acknowledged that crafting a follow-up to Vangelis’ iconic soundtrack is “an enormous challenge of mythical proportions,” adding:
Vangelis is a composer that has been a huge influence on my own work, and not only the Blade Runner score—many of his solo albums have been a rich part of my life for a long time. What I love about his work, which I think is also present in my own work, is his sense of space—the way he uses space, the way he uses silences and this sense of monumentalism in a way.
Jóhannsson’s own compositions have included the Oscar-nominated scores for The Theory Of Everything and Sicario, the latter just one of three previous collaborations with Villeneuve that’s also included Prisoners and the upcoming, sci-fi-themed Arrival. And while he’s right about evoking that same sense of space, none of these soundtracks—nor his many solo albums—necessarily sound much like Blade Runner’s dreamy, pulsating, arpeggiator-and-sax score. Asked whether he might tailor it by including some of those familiar themes in his work, Jóhannsson demurred to Fact, saying, “It’s too early to tell. Frankly, it’s just so early in the process that it’s really not a question I can answer right now.”
It’s similarly difficult to say how doing so would even fit into Jóhannsson’s usual composition style. In his past work, Jóhannsson has favored a relatively more minimalist, more traditionally orchestral approach, preferring droning strings, simple, glacial piano phrases, and slightly subtler electronic washes than Blade Runner employs. In Sicario, you can hear hints of the same haunted, atmospheric dread as Blade Runner tracks like “Tales Of The Future,” but nothing with the kind of mournful, rain-soaked synthesizer-jazz as “Blade Runner Blues.”
In truth, there are plenty of more obvious modern artists who directly ape Vangelis’ atmospheres that producers might have turned to (Cliff Martinez, Daniel Lopatin, pretty much anyone on Dream Catalogue, etc.). So in addition to the reassurance of working with someone he already knows, picking Jóhannsson suggests that Villeneuve may be interested in taking the music in a slightly different direction.
Still, Jóhannsson has proved himself more than capable of producing stellar music in its own right, tailored to fit any movie’s specific mood. Given that, and his incredible reverence he shares for Vangelis and his original score, there’s every reason to suspect he’ll do a decent skin-job here. Besides, it could have been Thirty Seconds To Mars.