WHY DOES THE music in Blade Runner resonate so deeply? Because Vangelis, the mad genius Greek who wrote and performed the score, relied primarily on one instrument: the Yamaha CS-80.
The thing that made this ’70s-era synthesizer so special was an inspired feature called “Polyphonic Pressure.” The CS-80 was one of the last keyboards where a note’s volume could be tweaked by varying the finger pressure on a key. The resulting acoustic-like voicing was eerie and remarkably expressive. By massaging individual keys to varying degrees, Vangelis could summon the plaintive cries of tin foil unicorns or replicants in love. Alienation and melancholy never sounded so good.
Like Roy and Pris, though, the CS-80 was doomed. In 1980, when killjoy accountants cited high production costs and shrinking profit margins, management pulled the plug. Just like that, Polyphonic Pressure vanished from the Yamaha lineup.
For musicians who mourned the passing of this iconic analog synth, there’s reason to rejoice. After 35 years, the next-gen polyphonic pressure instruments have arrived. On the electronic music circuit they’re known as PMCs: polyphonic multi-dimensional controllers. It’s the “multi” bit that’s important. Unlike Vangelis’ beloved CS-80, which could sense movement in one dimension, these sophisticated MIDI machines can sense finger movement in three dimensions simultaneously—in addition to controlling volume, a musician can also change a note’s pitch and timbre in real time.
Linnstruments photographed in Roger Linn’s home on March 19, 2015. CHRISTIE HEMM KLOK/WIRED
It’s revolutionary, and the manifesto goes something like this: The MIDI keyboard, that ubiquitous human interface popularized by Brit synth bands during the Reagan administration, is dino-tech. Thanks to progress in smart materials, sensors, software, and computing power, an improved 3-D pressure-sensitive interface has emerged to take its place. These instruments have liberated musicians, enabling them to play complex and hauntingly beautiful music the likes of which has never been heard before.