Bass b/w Gold

The sounds and shades of ‘Blade Runner 2049’

Sasha Frere-Jones
Oct 10, 2017 · 6 min read

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A physiological process for locating distant or invisible objects (such as prey) by sound waves reflected back to the emitter (such as a bat) from the objects. First known use: circa 1944. (This is from the Merriam-Webster website.)

Remix (Echoes):

A variant of an original recording (as of a song) made by rearranging or adding to the original. (This is also from Merriam-Webster.)

BR2049 echolocates by determining the audience’s distance from the original movie.

The opening weekend box office receipts suggest that the audience was too far away.

BR2049 echoes more than it sings, and those echoes work because they echo Blade Runner (rendered below as BR2019).

BR2049 is the remix.

The parts of BR2049 not taken from BR2019 are textural (they are cool), thematic (they repeat), and possibly symbolic (they mean stuff you can’t see). It is not clear that these new bits refer to anything beyond their own sensual qualities, but when the bass is this rich and the gold is this deep, that’s OK.

Experienced as a story, BR2049 loops and naps. It would not be fair to say that BR2049 has no plot. There are, at least, plot points.

Rachael, from BR2019, seems to have had a baby. Niander Wallace, the new Eldon Tyrell, has developed the Nexus-9 series, replicants that cannot lie or disobey.

Wallace is wound up about Rachael’s putative baby, because if the Nexus-6 (or 7 or 8) series replicants can reproduce without his help, he does not control the slave labor game.

This movie is driven by the desires of a blind dude who wants to stop a woman from having a baby.

Is BR2049 about reproductive rights or slaves or frontiers or Nabokov’s Pale Fire or porn or BR2019?


These layers could be proof of complexity, or the by-product of indecision. We don’t know. What is probably more deliberate about BR2049 — because somebody had to put these things into a film — are the visual and musical echoes, the samples that begin and sustain a remix, our bass and our gold.

The end points of original and variation are established in the opening five minutes. Echolocation becomes unnecessary. The movie doesn’t care where we are. It cares where it is and where it was.

It was here, in 1982:

It is here, in 2017:

The iris, the music, a cop on the replicant beat, crossing LA in a flying car. The blue and the gold. Same show, different city.

The original soundtrack is worth hearing at this point. At 2:30, you get the bass:

The Vangelis score for BR2019 was mixed carefully in relation to sound design and dialogue. You can hear everything as events unfold. When the music needs to stand down, it does, and everyone does their movie stuff. Look:

The Zimmer/Wallfisch score for BR2049, though, is a static sheen that hurt my ears in the theater (twice) and at home with the CD (more than twice). It does not shut up. The musical cues telegraph characters and events, short-stopping a lot of writing and acting. This is not likely a mistake—BR2049 is a visual and musical movie, and Hampton Fancher probably knew that on the way in. This movie has to play in China and Russia and Finland. It lives in the second age of the silent movie. It lives in the new age of silent loud movie. This is a movie of wallpaper JPEGs and unbroken WAVs.

The bass is not a point—it is a continuum that contains a foghorn, a brass section, a synthesizer patch, and a cello. Vangelis brings us this bass in BR2019 and then leaves it to us all. In the last five years, that bass has found work. It is the heckin’ horns of TNGHT’s “Higher Ground,” produced by Hudson Mohawke and Lunice in 2012. It is the herald of ice ice death in kode9’s “Zero Point Energy,” released in 2016.

We are pretty close to the bass of BR2049 here.

I love this sound to the point of embarrassment. I am the cheapest date in town for this thing. By all means, buttress your vision with this vlorping shofar. Rattle my seat, tenacious landlords of Regal Entertainment Group. If there is going to be a sea wall built along the Los Angeles basin, and a bunch of flying cars are going to do a big chase in there—summoning the many car chases that have been filmed in the Los Angeles river—then give me that sandworm bass.

Before turning to his gold, Villeneuve syncs up BR2019 and BR2049. And he does it at—20:49.

Officer K Joe Boogie fires up his remote-control pornbot, Joi, and asks her where she wants to go. Like most newly sentient beings, she wants to go up on the roof and stand behind a billboard in the rain. K Joe The Funky Cybot doesn’t like to disappoint sexy holograms, so he arranges her dream trip.

And at 20:49, she reaches out her hand and feels the rain, just like Roy Batty on his last roof, delivering his last speech. Her projected hand turns to flesh and she walks towards her love, the guy who dreamed her up, the guy whose thoughts are hers. Then mom calls right in the middle of it all! Back to work.

BR2019 lives in a blue that never lifts.

BR2049 runs in bad air that turns rain to snow.

BR2049 finds deliverance in Villeneuve’s gold, a color that reaches its peak where the air has no name: Las Vegas.

BR2019 gave us a few touches of gold.

But Villeneuve makes the color his. He plants it in the opening scene, at Sapper Morton’s farm.

When Officer K returns to the farm, Villeneuve lets backlighting push the gold.

Good guys and bad guys all live in the gold. The Wallace HQ goes heavy.

But the gold is heaviest in Vegas, where it sinks to orange.

And if you don’t like bass or gold, get holographic nails.

And free Sean Young.

Sasha Frere-Jones

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Sasha Frere-Jones

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When history repeats itself, do we listen? In this monthly column, writer, musician, and photographer Sasha Frere-Jones opens up the historical record to examine how language from the past works in the present.

When history repeats itself, do we listen? In this monthly column, writer, musician, and photographer Sasha Frere-Jones opens up the historical record to examine how language from the past works in the present.

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