Film Sound Theory: The Use of the Spectre in Bladerunner






Hello all,

Today I would like to focus my discussion on one of my favorite film techniques: The Spectre. In film, the Spectre possesses a visual and auditory connotation. The visual partition of the Spectre is witnessed mostly in horror films where the audience is eventually invited to see the apparition towards the end of the film. There are no gimmicks or tricks in this aspect of the Spectre; what you see is what you get. In my opinion, the more interesting understanding of the Spectre is the auditory aspect. This technical discussion will delve into the analysis of the Spectre in terms of the ways film sound theorists have come to accept it. Before getting into the details I would like to focus your attention on a set of keywords  you may not be familiar with.


    • Diegtic: the understanding that a sound or a score is physically part of the film. (ex: a band playing in a bar scene or elevator music in an elevator scene.)
    • Non-Diegetic: the understanding that a sound or score is subliminally part of the film in which the events of the film are not aware of the music playing in the background. (ex: pretty much any score in most films.)
    • Trans-Diegetic: the transition between the two main forms of diegesis as were explained above. (ex: The elevator music in an elevator scene transitioning into a shoot-em-up scene with the same elevator music playing in the background.)
    • Hybrid Diegetic: Not to be confused with trans-diegetic; The co-existence of both diegetic and non-diegetic music in the same scene or sequence. (ex: The Philip Glass piano scene in the Truman Show in which Truman falls asleep while background music accompanies him to sleep (non-diegetic). The scene then cuts to Philip Glass playing the score (diegetic) for the show thus reiterating that the score was actually part of the real and fictional worlds simultaneously.)

A spectre is an entity that cannot be touched or smelled. It may rarely be seen or heard thus adding to its mystery and intrigue. In terms of WHERE and WHO, the spectre could be anywhere or anyone. It can be a resurrection of someone who has passed away or an extension of someone (such as an individuals consience or inhibitions.) In terms of film sound theory, it would be boring to explain how the above definition has any relation to sound in film. One of the greatest sound films to have showcased the spectre technique was Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner. The following are scenes that I have chosen that demonstrated this technique in many creative ways. The primary score for this selection of scenes is Vangelis’s – Tales of the Future. Listen to it before reading the details.

The Replicant’s Apartment Scene (Investigation: Part I)

After Deckard (Harrison Ford) is forcefully brought into the commissioner’s office for debriefing on the replicant problem, we immediately cut to a scene where Deckard, using the leads from Detective Holden (Morgan Paull), enters an apartment thought to be a previous residence of the group of replicants. As he enters the bathroom he finds something that looks like some kind of scale, perhaps a fish or reptilian scale. Then we cut to the image of Deckard opening up a drawer and quickly cut to an over-the-head shot of Leon (Brion James) looking at the window of the apartment with increased suspicion. Immediately music begins to play. From here we get a sense of the spectral music which indicates that an extension of Leon is watching Deckard. That extension is completely psychological and is in the form of suspicion. Since Deckard is unaware of the physical presence of Leon, the spectral music works well at adding suspense to the investigation as if someone is following him all the time. However the spectral music does not stop there because it might also be an indication of Deckard’s suspicion of the replicants. After all he does play a detective whose job is to snoop around. In this sense the spectral music also works wonders, by letting the audience know that sooner or later the replicants will meet Deckard dead or alive. I thought this was an interesting take on the spectre because we witnessed two spectres at the same time. Think of it as spectre versus spectre. Once Deckard shuffles through a handful of photos, he stops at one photo that seems to grab his interest. As soon as he focuses on that photo, the music transitions to an Arabian tune which might indicate to us that this image that he is holding may have something to do with an Arabian theme or tune. The spectre transitioning to Arabian music was no accident; it was actually part of one piece composed by Vangelis called “Tales of the Future.” This musical sequence officially connects the spectre with the ongoing investigation.

Pris Meets JF Sebastian Scene

The spectre is a recurring theme in the movie especially during Deckard’s continious investigation; however I did find a particular scene in which the spectral music reappears but without Deckard in mind. The next scene that I chose was the first encounter between Pris (Daryl Hannah) and JF Sebastian (William Sanderson.) At first glance, we get the impression that Pris is an innocent and homeless individual looking for friends and a place to live and eat food. This innocence is backed up when JF Sebastian supposedly scares Pris and forces her to run away while forgetting her purse. JF remarks her in regards to her purse and she reluctantly reenters the scene and violently snatches the purse away from him. In a brief moment of silence, JF introduces himself and they laugh about the entire ordeal. JF invites Pris to his apartment. Pris agrees to join him and as JF turns away from the camera we get a short close-up of Pris’s expression. As soon as this happens, the spectral music reappears and the uncanny expression in Pris’s face along with the spectral music quickly indicates to us that there is an inner “dark side” to Pris. JF is completely unaware of her intentions and the spectral music certifies that for the audience.

The Photo Enchancement Scene (Investigation: Part II)

In the ongoing investigation conducted by Deckard, we cut to a scene of him in his apartment. He turns on a monitor which is connected to a machine that supposedly enhances a photographic image. The image that he found in the drawer of the apartment was the image he decides to enhance. After playing around with the enhancement, the “Tales of the Future” underscore begins to play. As he reaches his final enhancement on the photo he can make out a face. The Arabian tune seems to play every time he gets closer and closer to the replicant. The Arabian music, in this case, may indicate that the face on the image is one of the replicants and that he is even closer in the investigation than before.

The Taffy Lewis Bar Scene (Investigation: Part III)

The photograph also shows a blurry rendition of what looked like scales. For this he decides to go to a scales expert who tells him that the scale is not fish but snake and refers him to a person who would sell snakes based on the scale model number. The person he is led to talk to is Arabic which indicates that he is in the right direction along his investigation. The Arabic person leads him to the Taffy Lewis bar in which we hear diegetic Arabic music entitled “Damask Rose”. The trans-diegesis between the “Tales of the Future” to the “Damask Rose” tune indicates that the investigation has transitioned from something theoretical to something real. The trans-diegesis also indicates the incoming clash between the replicant’s and the detective’s spectral extensions.

Deckard Meets Zhora Scene (Investigation: Final Part)

We finally get to the scene where Deckard confronts the first replicant named Zhora. In this scene Deckard quickly changes his character to someone more animated and fake. In time Zhora begins to get suspicious of him in which the “Tales of the Future” tune begins to play. This invites the spectre once again and reassures us of the artificiality of Deckard’s tonality. When Zhora enters the shower and begins to clean off her make-up and decorations, the Arabian tune enters the scene by finalizing Deckard’s search for the first replicant.

Every scene that was chosen in this analysis played the “Tales of the Future” score. As we saw, the spectre was in the form of character extensions. Each character in these scenes exhibited either suspicion, vagueness, evil inhibitions and/ or fear. Either way, the spectre was presented in a neutral or negative light. On a final note, one may speculate that there may have been another instance of the spectre towards the end of the film in which Deckard is on the cusp of finding Pris in the apartment. Most of that scene from the door opening to the immediate confrontation lacks any score. In other words, that entire scene is musically silent. The silence of that scene may evoke the idea that the spectre is inside that room since Deckard’s suspicions of the replicant’s presence are clearly obvious to the audience and also to Deckard. However, in this case, the silence is both part of the score and part of the actuality of the scene. Due to this technicality, sound theorists call this technique structural silence. The whole idea behind it is to suspend the audience until something dramatic occurs in the scene, but the idea behind the spectre is to further the development of a character by letting the audience step into their minds.

I hope this was as interesting to read as it was interesting for me to write about.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions in regards to this topic, just let me know.

– The Jew


4 thoughts on “Film Sound Theory: The Use of the Spectre in Bladerunner

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