The future is still what it used to be. Vangelis' music for Ridley Scott's portentous 1982 sci-fi thriller Blade Runner is often held up as an example of an original score that was in perfect harmony with the director's vision. Tonight it's taken apart and reassembled - well, pretty much the same as before.
As part of Massive Attack's predictably eclectic Meltdown strand at the Royal Festival Hall, this performance of the soundtrack by the 45-piece Heritage Orchestra, who have previously reinterpeted electronica by the likes of Amon Tobin, is 'mixed live' by the humourless Bristolians themselves. The Greek composer's swirling analogue synthesisers were a good fit for the wayward technology of the film's rainy future metropolis, so some may doubt whether it can work in classical concert form.
Right from 'Main Titles' it becomes apparent that this is not a 'remix', nor an orchestral piece inspired by Blade Runner, but a very faithful transcription of every detail from its pure electronic source to strings, brass and percussion. Thick synth pads become live strings; crystalline sweeps become chimes and xylophones. The tiniest incidental on-screen sound effect is replicated meticulously. Even the tempo is the same: the whole thing lasts only an hour, about as long as it takes to listen to the soundtrack CD. The question starts to arise: why bother?
Such concerns are forgotten during 'One More Kiss', the soundtrack's disarmingly simple 1930s dance band song. The crooning duties are filled by Guy Garvey from Elbow, who played the festival the previous night and who gives the number a sighing tenderness that outstrips the original. While Omar Ebrahim's attempt to recreate Demis Roussos's Arabic scat stylings on 'Tales of the Future' (not an easy feat) achieves mixed results, the more hummable 'End Titles' is brought to life by euphoric strings, resulting in something that sounds more like David Arnold doing a version of the Casualty theme tune.
The heroes of the performance are surely the percussionists, scurrying nimbly between glockenspiels, bells and gongs to recreate every last detail of the bearded one's shimmering soundscapes. It's less easy to see what Massive Attack have brought to the party. Perched at the mixing desk in the centre of the auditorium and occasionally chatting to well-wishers, Robert Del Naja's main contribution seems to be to cause the violins to suddenly get louder at one point, and to make a buzzing noise seem to move from left to right like a rogue wasp.
Blade Runner's iconic status is partly the result of its blending of beaten-up analogue noir with sleek, humming technology. Watching its soundtrack performed live is to witness a remarkable feat of adaptation, without really ever understanding the purpose. The only outcome, which is testament to the talent of the young Heritage Orchestra members and conductor Jules Buckley, is to demonstrate that Vangelis' score is pretty damn timeless.
Massive Attack's Meltdown continues at Southbank Centre from now until 24 June 2008 with performances still to come from George Clinton, Tuung and Ebony Bones and more. Please refer to the Southbank Centre Meltdown site for more details.
Words by James Donohue. Photo taken from Mark Hillary's flickr stream.