John Carpenter is probably best known as a horror director…not just a horror director, but maybe the best known and most influential genre director in American cinema. And the thing about genre directors that makes them almost more impressive than more mainstream directors is an uncanny DIY ethic: an ability to make something out of nothing, to pull magic from the air with whatever tools are offered…sort of the John Lennon “give me a tuba, I’ll bring you something out of it” mentality.
And John Carpenter has always brought that ethos to his music. No budget? No problem. No time? Don’t need it. We’ll get a deceptivelybig sound.
I read that Carpenter composed and recorded his entire Assault on Precinct 13 theme in a few days on an EMS VCS3, which I believe retailed for about $500 in 1969. And the Halloween theme was made in a similar manner. The film was made for $320,000. The Shape (Michael Myers) was a spray painted William Shatner mask and a pair of coveralls. The film didn’t have a sountrack (or soundtrack budget), so Carpenter wrote the entire score in 3 days and recorded it on borrowed synths in under 2 weeks.
Today, 42 years later, Halloween is a classic film and that creepy 5/4 theme is one of the most recognizable and eponymous pieces in film history. And it lives outside of film as well. There is not a synthwave or darkwave, or whatever artist on the planet who doesn’t cite John Carpenter as a key influence both sonically and practically. I’ve made entire albums based just on things I learned from studying John Carpenter. We all owe him royalties.
As singularly creepy as the themes for Halloween, The Fog and The Thing are, there is also some very interesting diversity in the John Carpenter catalog. I would point to: the jug-jug action theme from Big Trouble in Little China, the somewhat soaring C Maj theme from Starman, and of course, the electronic showtune blues from They Live.