Synthwave drive into motion pictures

November 28, 2017 1 comment

Synthwave, also called outrun, retrowave and retro-electro is a genre influenced by 1980s film soundtracks and video games. Aesthetically, synthwave gives a retrofuturistic perspective, emulating 1980s science fiction, action, and horror media, sometimes compared to cyberpunk. It expresses nostalgia for 1980s culture, attempting to capture the era’s atmosphere and celebrate it. Perhaps the most famous movie to use or to kickstart the use of a full-on electro soundtrack was the movie Drive by Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn. Drive was praised by the legendary Robert Ebert and had a standing ovation at Cannes festival in 2011. Although Drive shares several characteristics with the similarly-named 1978 Walter Hill car-chase film, The Driver, it is actually adapted from the 2005 James Sallis novel of the same name.

The title track, entitled Nightcall by Kavinsky is produced by one of Daft punk and shares some of the magic of their early french touch work in the 90’s. Nightcall was produced by Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo and features Brazilian lead singer of CSS, Lovefoxxx. The track was used in the title sequence for Drive.  Most of its ethereal electronic-pop score was composed by Cliff Martinez, who was a drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Refn was a particular fan of his ambient work on the Sex, Lies, and Videotape soundtrack. Many movies followed in the aftermath of Drive such as The neon demon (also by Refn), It follows, Maniac and Turbo kid.

Kavinsky ‎– Nightcall (Record Makers) – 2010

Electro has always been highly cinematic, just think of the synths used by Vangelis in Blade runner, although more ambient in its genre, the electronic scores bears an intensity difficult to obtain with traditional instruments. As polyphonic sounds are used on synthesizers like the Korg, rightfully so used on BR, it can enhances dramatically a scene and put the emphasis on certain emotions.

Recently, we have seen a plethora of TV shows using those lush sounds. A gimmick or a real trend ? Who knows? From the highly overrated Stranger things, to Utopia’s Cristobal Tapia de Veer (who also scored the British remake of Humans, Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams and an upcoming episode of the masterful show Black mirror) to Mr Robot OST, made by Mac Quayle, it seems that electro is no longer played by DJ’s but has been finally find a niche while being embraced by movie directors and showrunners like Sam Esmail. For Drive, for example, Refn wanted electronic music for the film and to have the music occasionally be abstract so viewers can see things from The Driver’s perspective. He gave composer Martinez a sampling of songs he liked and asked Martinez to emulate the sound, resulting in “a kind of retro, 80ish synth-pop” result. Recently, a famous iconic TV show used The Chromatics Shadow in their premiere. Black mirror S03 episode San junipero was scored by another Clint, Mansell this time, famously known for the soundtrack of Moon. Although more ambient in its tone, it showed that electronic music had come full circle and was largely embraced by TV shows : the soundtrack for just one episode, not even a full season, was so much in demand it had to be released on cd and vinyl !

These filmmakers have pretty much in common one person: John Carpenter. Vangelis and Tangerine dream can also be cited as reference. John Carpenter’s mostly known for his brand of horror flicks that includes Halloween, The thing and The fog. But he is also a gifted soundtrack composer as he did the score for Assault on precint 13, released in 1976. One of the film’s distinctive features is its score, composed and recorded by Carpenter. The combination of synthesizer hooks, electronic drones and drum machines sets it apart from many other scores of the period and creates a distinct style of minimalist electronic soundtrack with which Carpenter, and his films, would become associated. Carpenter had several banks of synthesizers that would each have to be reset when another sound had to be created, taking a great deal of time.

More recently, French acts including David Grellier’s project College, Kavinsky, Lifelike and Anoraak are recognized as the pioneers contributing to the early synthwave sound. These early artists began creating music inspired by famous 1980s score composers; music which was, at the time, largely associated with French house. Anoraak later stated in a 2014 interview: “American pop culture is definitely my background as a kid. I was born in 1980, so I grew up in a world taken by American music and movies”. Com Truise, whose retro synthesizer-based music was first released in 2010, has also described his music as synthwave.

Miami vice show from the 80’s also often serve as an aesthetic on many YouTube videos of Synthwave bands such as Miami nights 1984, VHS dreams and Timecop1983. Electric youth, featured on my mix ‘’Strange things & synths’’, an homage to Carpenter and an ode to S U R V I V E, are also a well-known respected band in the genre. From Toronto to France (College), to NYC (Com truise), to Australia (Jordan F), Copenhagen (Dynatron) and Gunship in London, those outfits underline dream like sequenced movies and soundtracks which contains tracks with vintage keyboards and bluntly descriptive titles as well.

When the 1980’s aesthetics of Terminator (1984) meets electro, Kavinsky’s Odd look is one heck of video to watch on YouTube !

Here is a fascinating video from the website called ‘’The rise of synths’’ below which can be streamed on Vimeo. Subtitles are in French!

P.-S. : Driver: If I drive for you, you get your money. You tell me where we start, where we’re going, where we’re going afterwards. I give you five minutes when we get there. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours. No matter what. Anything a minute on either side of that and you’re on your own. I don’t sit in while you’re running it down. I don’t carry a gun. I drive.


Oceania mix : ambient waves

November 2, 2017 Leave a comment

Ocean waves, tranquility and ambient. Seems a fitting match. Being in a meditative state of mind, attempting to clear out all thoughts and rid myself of negative energy, I put together a mix to compliment my meditation. As the water sways in waves, so does my breath, and so does everything else. In moment of eternal bliss, we long for calm and no place is calmer than the ocean. This ambient mix with a touch of dub is meant to relax your mind and take the stress away.

With Pete Namlook, Loscil, Mixmaster Morris, The Black Dog, Melotone, Rod Modell, Evan Marc, Steve Hillage, Ishq, Biosphere, The KLF, Cio D’Or & Krill Minima.


Track Listing: [artist – track / album [label, year]

1) Just one more wave compadre…
2)Krill Minima – Submarine Poetry / Nautica [Native State, 2007]
3)Koss – Beauty / Ancient rain [Mule electronic, 2008]
4)The Black dog – M1 / Music for real airports [Soma, 2010]
5)Pete Namlook – Music for babies / Music for babies [Fax +49-69/450464, 2010]
6)Rod Modell & Michael Mantra – Vitamin M / Sonic continuum [Hypnos,1998]
7)Loscil – Fromme / Coast / Range / Arc [Glacial Movements Records, 2011]
8)Melotone – Gentle drift (Somber tilt mix)[No label, 2016]
9)Dreamfish – Under Water / Dreamfish [Fax +49-69/450464, 1993]
10)Evan Marc + Steve Hillage – Intention Craft / Dreamtime Submersible / [somnia, 2008]
11) ISHQ – Submarirne space time / Aquaphonics / [Virtual, 2017]
12) Koss ‎– Ocean Waves / Ocean Waves EP [Mule electronic, 2010]
13) Biosphere – Warned by the drift / Dropsonde [Touch, 2005]
14) KLF – 3AM Somewhere Out Of Beaumont/ Chill out [Wax trax, 1990]
15) Cio d’or – Goldbrokat Donato Dozzy Ambient Remix / Die Faser Part One EP [Prologue, 2009]

Blade runner 2049 review

October 24, 2017 1 comment

Review contains spoilers.

This is a fascinating short film about Neander Wallace (Jared Leto) that you can stream on YouTube.

A. Review and résumé

Blade Runner has achieved the impossible : bearing meaning to the original movie, while keeping the original signature of the original movie, the visual craftmanship that made its mark, even 35 years after its release. It is a highly poetic movie, graced with moments of silence, virtual poetry and cunning observations of today’s society. Above all, it is, in my opinion, a movie that warrants repeated viewings despite what some critics have said. The visual framework of the movie is blessed with a scenario and a script that are anything but shallow. For those who have seen the movies on IMAX, the repeated viewing made me write some notes during the movie and come up with a review. While the original movie remains my favorite movie of all time, BR 2049 still pushes Philip K. Dick’s ideas and obsessions : existentialism, loneliness, artificial intelligence, its inevitable blossoming and surpassing of human beings and above all, the timeless search for the meaning of life, the meaning of our life…

While the first movie raised the following question : who are we and what makes us humans (souvenirs, photos, empathy), the sequel hails more towards the very existence of humanity. Ecological issues, rampant consumerism, quest for our origins, the world itself as one giant illusion, the ever increasing presence of publicity and the power of corporations are some of the subjects that are tackled in the movie. Also there are some spiritual reflexions graced by the presence of Jared Leto and his charismatic character, Neander Wallace, owner of Wallace Corporation. The strenght of the movie lies in one accomplishment that was thought to be impossible to overcome : continuity from the first movie. In the world of Do androids dream of electric sheep and Blade runner, cell phones and social media doesn’t exist. But that doesn’t mean its elite doesn’t find ways to monitor the plebian population remaining on Earth and not able to make it to the off-world colonies. Monitors and cameras are set up everywhere, which echoes our world.

B. The Baseline test : Dick’s familar theme of (police) surveillance, Orwell’s big brother running at every corner.

If you’ve seen the movie, you saw what skin jobs like Special agent K have to pass a test called The Baseline test. In fact, it’s an emotional test that androids have to pass after completing certain tasks that could enhance or change their behavior. The test has certain keywords which a replicant must repeat when he hears them, and throw in between those keywords are comments designed to provoke a strong emotional reaction in the subject. The statements run the gamut of fear, anger, arrogance, self preservation, and so on. The voice speaking speaks faster and more intensely as the test goes on. It’s reminiscent of THX 1138. The subject can fail the test if they get lost in their emotions instead of immediately following the command words. A replicant who can be provoked might kill someone they shouldn’t, or fail to kill someone they should, and so on. They demonstrate enough individuality to identify themselves a public risk. It’s a dehumanizing event and there’s reasons to believe the test will be copied, in real life, some time in the future.. Yet the test also reminded me of the emotional journey this film managed to sweep me along with. In the second viewing of the movie, I was unnerved but I quickly noticed the rules and was unable to react along with K. Fast forward to 2049 and the newer, more stable (supposedly) replicants and you have regular emotional baseline testing that probes at the center of ego and social hierarchy rather than mundane ascension. In that way, might the Baseline test be just a natural evolution from the Voight-Kampff test ? Here is the full text of the Baseline test.

The following lines from Blade Runner 2049’s post-traumatic baseline test come from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire.…”Blood-black nothingness began to spin / A system of cells interlinked within / Cells interlinked within cells interlinked / Within one stem. And dreadfully distinct / Against the dark, a tall white fountain played.”

 C. Visuals and cinematography

One of the strongest element of the film lies in its continuity with the first movie in the use of lights, decorum, costume and overall atmosphere. Since the original movie was set in 2019 but made 35 years ago, in 1982, that is no small achievement. When K walks to his building and enters his appartement, everything from the tone to the rain that pours on his leather coat feels right : it feels Blade runner.


A list of elements of continuity in Blade Runner 2049 :
Rachel serial number
(More human than human, the motto of Tyrell Corporation)

Memories vs implants what is real vs what is not
(K realizes that his memory of a wooden horse is not his. 
It means he is not Rachael’s child, that he’s not a miracle.
But it doesn't matter. 
The moment K thinks he is more and wants to be more, he becomes more.
His perception is reality.)
Flat screen ?
(No, rather round computer)

The Appartement of K
(Small, close to a balcony, tiny sink)
Omnipresence of corporation and police
(Joshi  calls K repeatly not unlike Bryant)
Rain and snow, no lights are the results of nuclear war

Arkives from Tyrell corporation

Rich people live in tall buildings

Mood organ for Joi (Element in the book)

Metaphor use of the eyes :
Sapper Morton loses one eye

The nexus 6 test for eyes

Wallace is blind

Sappers eye is picked up by K

K's eye opens up the movie

Resistant loses one eye

K asks Graff why Deckard left society, Graff said it was something in his eyes

 D. Random tidbits

The film includes signs for companies that suffered the alleged “Blade Runner Curse,” most notably Pan Am airlines (which went bankrupt in 1991) and Atari (which currently exists as a brand but has not been a corporate entity since the mid 90s). Denis Villeneuve has explained that both films take place in an alternate universe where these companies remained corporate powerhouses and other companies like Apple didn’t exist (not to mention a universe in which synthetic humans were developed by the 2010s)

When K is approached by Mariette and two other women, one of the other two speaks her lines in Finnish, saying “Tää jätkä on Blade Runner. Se on vitun vaarallinen. Annetaan sen olla.” (“This guy is a Blade Runner. He’s fucking dangerous, let’s leave him be.”). The character is played by Krista Kosonen, who is a native Finn.

The labels on Sapper’s tent-farms read “Tselina”; Bulgarian for “Celery”. This is the first example of the mix of various languages used throughout the movie.

The flying car brand is the French one Peugeot.

Wood is rare, and valuable as shown by the wooden horse K owns. Wallace house is made of almost all wood. Showing how wealthy and rich he is.

When K enters a building to find Deckard, the sign above the door reads, in reverse, “Haeng Un”. This is Korean for “Good Luck”. Cityspeak was comprised of many languages to include Korean.

Both this movie and the original use eyes as a recurring motif: in the original Blade Runner the second shot is an extreme closeup of an eye. This is the first shot of Blade Runner 2049. In the original Blade Runner Roy and Leon visit Chew, the engineer who designed the Nexus 6 replicant’s eyes. In Blade Runner 2049 the Nexus 8 replicants are identified by their eyes. Eldon Tyrell wears very large glasses and is murdered by Roy by having his skull crushed through his eyes. Niander Wallace is blind and relies on miniature drones to see.

Jared Leto’s character Niander Wallace is blind. Not only is this a reference to Oedipus Rex who blinds himself upon learning that he has had sex with his creator, but Niander Wallace’s predecessor Dr. Eldon Tyrell had his eyes gouged out by a replicant in search of its/his creator

 E. Meaning and interpretation


This short film, which happens in 2048, sets the tone surrounding Sapper’s death in Blade runner 2049. The atmosphere of the clip above is eye candy but also a of masterpiece in terms of settings in Budapest. This is a rare flick that is poetic on so many levels, the movies goers have to pay attention to Easter eggs and little details. On the first viewing, I did not notice the serial number on Rachel’s skull, buried in Sapper Morton (above, played by Dave Bautista), but that would make total sense in Blade runner universe. At the end of the narration version, done by Harrison Ford, he mentions Rachel was special and didn’t have a limited lifespan unlike other Replicants.

Above all, further viewings of the movie just confirmed its immense metaphysic scope. Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 works like a poem. It’s a neo-noir movie about the mystery of the  empathy, connection, how we define what’s real, whether it matters at all and how replicants strive to live even more than humans... And it’s also a love story about a replicant and a digital woman. Screenwriter Hampton Fancher explained that, “[K] is a handbook. He follows the rules. He’s a machine in a way. But the image was this: A handbook turns into a poem through his experiences and his ordeal and love. And the same thing with the digital woman.”

Unlike the ambiguity of Deckard’s identity, K knows that he’s a replicant. The people who inhabit his world are shadows. The overall tone of the movie is one of great solitude. If replicants were created to fill a void of solitude, that what kind of world is 2049 when even agent K feels lonely ? There’s plenty of loneliness in BR but a definite lack of love. The only loving character seems to be Deckard’s daughter aka Dr. Ana Stellin, the miracle itself… The LAPD, Niander Wallace’s corporation, and a replicant rebellion are three dehumanizing forces in conflict that want her for different reasons.

Discussing K’s digital companion Joi (Ana de Armas), screenwriter Michael Green said, “Since we are defined by what we love, what [K] loved needed a story as well.” To the world, K is just a “skinjob.” To Joi, he’s a poem. She calls his DNA “the alphabet of you.” Joi brings love to a souless world that echoes our very world that lacks the sentiment itself. But also to K who is incredibly alone. In the same way that K might not be real for Joshi, Joi might not be real for K…

The first Blade runner was about what made us humans but the sequel is about humanity’s future. Ecological issues (rain, and lack of sun due to nuclear wars as stated in Dick’s book), rampant consumerism : the people who populates this world are largely mockering anything but reality. They live within other’s conciousness, or therelack of. Those relationship are either fake, shallow or virtually an illusion. Blade runner 2049 is a film deeply haunted by death. It is melancholic, dreamy and has a cinematic tone of great poetry. In the novel Pale fire, the fictional scholar annotating John Shade’s poem, Dr. Charles Kinbote, writes: “We all are, in a sense, poets.”

In his search for Deckard, K finds himself walking through the ruins of a city suffocated by radioactive yellow haze. A bee lands on his hand. He continues on and finds apiaries of bees, and he lets the bees cover his hand. The bees echo the replicants, the concept of hive mind. But they also represent hope, connection, “cells interlinked.”K becomes more conscious and here lies the greatest strenght of his character : the yearning for more that what he seems to be, the desire for more than a 3 year lifespan, for more than a skin job, the desire to be loved…

Below is a mix I did on my Soundcloud page Rekall called Blade runner : Voight-Kampff Mix.

The first Soundcloud link at the top of the page is the soundtrack made by Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch. Interesting story about it here.

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