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Blade Runner Main Title - What's that sound?

Virtuoso

Socially Distant Member
I've been doing some deep diving on the Vangelis original soundtrack but can't seem to find what was used for the harp sound in the Main Title. I even read that it came from the CS80, which seems unlikely.

Is it something exotic/ethnic or is it just a harp? It first appears at 1:06 and again at 1:42:-

 

Ray Cole

New Member
I'm not sure what that harp-like sound is in the actual music recording, but you're thinking along the right lines in wondering if it could be an ethnic instrument. Its function in the score, I think, is to hint at the multiracial nature of the future depicted in the film.

It's also likely that if the instrument is not actually a Japanese biwa, that it was probably inspired by one. Someone on the production staff (film editor Terry Rawlings maybe?) pulled track 3 ("Ogi No Mato") from Ensemble Nipponia's 1976 album, Explorer Series: Traditional Vocal & Instrumental Pieces [Elektra Nonesuch 9 72072-2] to use as source music in the film and that likely was known to Vangelis, so he may have been trying to hint at that sound in his own music.

You can hear the source cue used as the spinner (flying car) passes the giant billboard/advertisement:

The source cue ends just before the biwa enters in the original track from the album. The segment used starts at about 0:51 of the source track from the album:


I know this isn't a definitive answer, though. Paul Sammon's book, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, may have something more definitive, but my copy is boxed up in storage somewhere and hence not handy at the moment.
 

Ray Cole

New Member
Sounds more like a koto than a biwa.
Yeah, I think you’re right. There’s plenty of koto playing on the Ensemble Nipponia album that could have influenced the sound. It’s just that the track actually chosen as source music used a biwa. But I agree, the sound in the Vangelis track sounds more like a koto than a biwa now that you mention it.
 

jcrosby

Senior Member
That sure sounds like an auto-harp to me. Sounds like it may have even been double tracked, 1 gliss on the left another gliss on the right with some reverb and delay.
 

AudioLoco

Senior Member
The auto harp is an instant soundtrack making machine
I have a rusty old charity shop one that is always ready for some horror/suspense action noises :)
 

IFM

Senior Member
That sure sounds like an auto-harp to me. Sounds like it may have even been double tracked, 1 gliss on the left another gliss on the right with some reverb and delay.
Kotos can gliss like that too. The timbre is unmistakable and is listed as one of the instruments used earlier.
 

jcrosby

Senior Member
Kotos can gliss like that too. The timbre is unmistakable and is listed as one of the instruments used earlier.
Still doesn't sound like a koto to me. Those are unmistakably metal strings that are being glissed, not nylon, silk, or animal hair. Listening again I'm getting 100% zither all the way. (Which the auto-harp evolved out of).

Have a listen to a small zither tuned to harmonic minor. Sounds like a deadringer to me:

 
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