Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Why and How I Created a Blade Runner Ambient Soundscape

There are a bunch of awesome Blade Runner ambience projects out there on the web, such as the "Blade Runner Ambience Sounds Of The City 2019" By Curtis8516 which is a 30-minute long track that uses music and effects from the movie and video game to make you feel like you're standing on a street corner in the film's version of Los Angeles in November 2019. There's also the multitrack bootleg CD "Los Angeles - November 2019" By Esper Productions which does something similar but aims to transport you to several distinct locations of the film for a total of 1 hour and 19 minutes.

Those and many others are seriously amazing works by truly dedicated lovers of the film that just go to show how much people love the atmosphere of the classic 1982 cult hit.

However, none of them really gave me what I, personally, was looking for in an ambient Blade Runner soundscape. I wanted an ambient soundscape that was a bit more calming, dreamlike, and meditative. I wanted something that reminded me of the feel of Blade Runner's city without the distracting parts of it like the sudden sound of a passing vehicle, or a loud conversation, or even the incredibly beautiful notes of the iconic soundtrack. I wanted something more subtle.

If You Want Something Done Your Way ... Do It Yourself

One day it occurred to me that it wouldn't be so difficult (or crazy, but that's debatable) to make a Blade Runner soundscape myself. I had experience with sound mixing from my teenage years of making really bad songs out of sound loops, and I had plenty of audio resources to work with.

The goal was simple – whereas other fans had made Blade Runner soundscapes that were intended to make you feel like you were standing on a street corner in Los Angeles 2019 from which you may or may not hear Vangelis' iconic score, I wanted to make something that reminded you of Blade Runner without explicitly calling it out. As I explained it to my friends; others intend to recreate the world while I intend to lull you into it.

I created a folder on my computer specifically for storing the sounds I would use, and took to the internet to download the ones I didn't already have. I downloaded a dozen different ambient rain recordings and a couple wind chimes, then copied over sound effects from the movie I already had as well as some songs from the soundtrack that played as in-world backdrop in the movie.

The final touch I needed was the synths. It was vital that I incorporated iconic sounds of the score without including the songs themselves, because I didn't want to be listening to this thing and get distracted by an iconic track I recognized. To resolve this, I took a few Vangelis tracks from the movie score and stretched them out to upwards of 30 minutes each using Paul's Extreme Sound Stretch. The result was long, moody, and dreamlike. Perfect.

Starting Small

Rather than jump in head first, I decided to experiment with a proof-of-concept soundscape track. I mixed seven minutes that included several short rain samples I had downloaded overlaid on an 800% slowed down version of "Rachel's Theme," as well as a very quiet introduction of the "Blade Runner Blues" and a brief moment of distant wind chimes. The result looked like this:

I decided to keep direct references to the movie (unaltered songs and SFX) very muted while keeping the rain and slowed down song the primary focus. Given that all the rain samples I found were so short, I also needed to experiment with which ones would give the true Blade Runner feel as well as if it was possible to transition seamlessly between different rain effects without drawing attention to this. This is where the most difficulties came in, as I had to mess around with position and volume in order to smooth out the transitions, and it was impossible to simply copy and paste a single rain track over and over since the transition from one end to the next beginning was jarring without extra effort on my end. It was obvious that I needed a longer rain track to work with for the full version whether that meant finding one someone else had recorded/mixed, or mixing my own. Otherwise, the seven minute long track was a success, and it kept me motivated to move on toward the full thing.

The Full Version

I took to YouTube and searched for different long-form ambient rain mixes, hoping to find the perfect one that either lasted at least 3 hours or could be easily looped to last that long. Fortunately, I found a 3 hour long track of gentle rain falling without any songs or thunder that fit the mood I was looking for perfectly, so I downloaded it to use myself.

Using that as the basis, I began constructing my full version. While the new three hour long rain sample I found provided a great basis for the track, I didn't want to let all the shorter samples I'd downloaded go to waste, and decided to mix them into the full version to keep it from being completely repetitive. Additionally, in order to utilize the wind chime samples I'd downloaded in a way that was a bit more practical, I decided to alternate between the two of them every 10 minutes so as to provide a sense of time passage to anyone using the track for meditation.

Next, I had to make sure I had enough of the synthesizers to last the full three hours, so I again used Paul's Extreme Sound Stretch to lengthen a few other Vangelis tracks from the soundtrack that already had a dreamlike quality to them in order to make them even longer and more dreamlike.

Lastly was the harp. I had really wanted to utilize the Gail Laughton track "Pompeii 76 A.D." in the soundscape, as it was used during a brief moment in the film in which several bicyclers are seen riding past the camera and felt ethereal. I tried placing it in between the chimes, but the repetition became too distracting and so I had to try something else. Going back to the mentality of how I used the chimes practically, and keeping in mind that I used an unaltered clip of "Blade Runner Blues" as an introduction to the soundscape, I decided to place this beautiful harp track at the very end of the soundscape in place of the final chime as a way to signal the listener that the soundscape was coming to a close and would soon fade out.

The Alternate Cut – Including Sounds of the City

Blade Runner is famous for it's seven different cuts of the film, so it seems fitting that I ended up making two cuts of the Blade Runner soundscape as well. With it finally completed, I knew that some people might prefer it with a bit of unaltered ambient noises from the movie thrown in for added immersion. Not wanting to disappoint this part of the fanbase, I decided to try it out. Using mostly a few of the tracks from the Esper Productions "Los Angeles - November 2019" bootleg, I inserted several sounds of the city to alternate repetitively throughout the three hour soundscape (keeping the tracks low and quiet to stay true to the intent of the original version) and saved that as an alternate cut. I'd say it turned out pretty good.

Designing a Cover

I'm not a very good visual artist, but when I get this far into a project I tend to go all the way, so I felt compelled to create an album cover for the soundscape that wasn't embarrassing to look at. There was no way I would be able to design something good from scratch myself, so I needed to figure out a way to make the fanciest thing possible utilizing my relatively limited skill set and resources. This led me to find inspiration in a fan-made wallpaper that I found on Reddit wherein a user wanted a high-resolution version of a screenshot from Blade Runner 2049 as their wallpaper, but disliked how the foggy nature of the image gave the impression that it was in fact blurry. To remedy this, they photoshopped the image to appear as if you were looking at it from behind a foggy, rain-soaked window. This is the result:



Not only is this a beautiful image that perfectly captures the vibe of Blade Runner, but I was fairly confident that it was an effect I could recreate myself with a little bit of guidance. I messaged the user who created that image asking for a tip on how to do it myself, and thankfully they replied shortly later with not only how they did it, but they also provided the rainy window overlay they used for me to use in my own version.

I quickly went to work applying the same effect on two iconic images from the original film, resulting in the following images:



While those made neat wallpapers, they weren't much for album covers. I decided to move forward with the second image, resizing it to the square shape of an album cover and adding text in the Blade Runner font (which I downloaded from dafont). Again, keeping my limited visual creative skill in mind, I decided that the easiest way to make the text look good would be to make it look as though it was drawn on the window itself. While this sounds complicated, it seemed far less intimidating to me at the time than picking a solid color that looked okay.

In the end, of course, the text took much longer than everything else about the cover. Using a guide I found online for making it look like someone had finger-drawn words onto a foggy window, I realized that my image was too dark in some places and too bright in others, making certain letters almost impossible to read. I needed a solution to this, and it wasn't something the guide offered. I was left to experiment in the very intimidating Photoshop software all on my own. After quite a bit of trial and error, I realized that I could make the text itself 75% transparent behind the window layer (on which the words were imprinted using some other technique I can't even remember or begin to describe) in order to even out its visibility quite a bit, so I did that.


This was an album cover I could be happy with. It looked somewhat professional and stayed true to the spirit of the movie and the soundscape I had created. The next thing I had to do was make a widescreen version of it to attach to a video version of the soundscape so that I could finally upload that to YouTube. The process of exporting the three hour high-definition video file, despite it being of a static image with music playing, took long enough that I didn't dare try it again when I realized I had made the background image blurrier than I had originally intended. I was stuck with that mistake. I've since convinced myself that it probably looks better that way. Maybe.

Sharing My Work with Everyone

My original plan for spreading this soundscape was to upload it to YouTube, which is a pretty common place for folks to post their soundscape projects, and to provide links to download the MP3 on Soundcloud. While uploading to YouTube went about as well as could be expected given the huge file size (so huge that I've since already deleted the video files to make room on my hard drive), I soon found out that non-paying members of Soundcloud could only upload about three hours of music to their account in total. Even if I hadn't had all those embarrassing songs I made when I was a teenager on there, not even only one of the two versions would work, since they were technically each just barely over three hours long.

After some trial and error with other hosting options, the compromise became clear to me: host the files on Google Drive. That was easy enough.

I was finally done and ready to share my creation with the world.

Anyway...

It was both a headache and a pleasure to make. I've listened to both versions several times myself and have enjoyed them thoroughly. Stream them here or click one below. Download links are in the descriptions.

Thanks for reading!




Just the Facts:

  • Three hours long
  • Fades in and out for interruption-free looping
  • Consistent gentle rain throughout
  • Two alternating wind chimes every 10 minutes to mark time
  • Several short rain variations intermixed approximately in the middle of each chime

Elongated Background Music:

[Vangelis tracks stretched with Paul's Extreme Sound Stretch]
  • 0:00:00 Rachel's Theme 800% Slower
  • 0:35:10 Blade Runner Blues 600% Slower
  • 1:36:15 Esper Analysis (Longing + Empty Streets) 600% Slower
  • 2:35:51 Fading Away 800% Slower

Intro and Outro:

  • Clip of unaltered "Blade Runner Blues" by Vangelis plays at start
  • Pompeii 76 A.D./Bicycle Riders by Gail Laughton plays at end in place of wind chimes

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow! This write-up is almost as awesome as your work. Thank you so much for also documenting your process. It makes me think, "Hey, maybe I could also make something I really want to see/hear."

Anonymous said...

sincerely appreciate all of the time and effort that went into making this. thank you very much for sharing!

Unknown said...

Awesome! Thanks so much for this creative and thoughtful for Ryan! Keep it up!

A. Hilter said...

Hi, I would like to use this for a video game. Can you shed some light onto the licensing please ?
Best Alexander

Anonymous said...

Hey,perfect to chill out. Thanks so much for sharing. We have a heatwave right now, so pretending it's raining is perfect ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hello!
Well first thank you for this beatifull, beatifull audio!
I have a licencing question: is it possible to reuse you audio in another project, or not? I really is nice, thanks again.

David Warner said...

Great work, and thank you so much for your efforts.