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John Carpenter

Evening the Score

Jun 15, 2016 Issue # 57 - M83 Photography by Kyle Cassidy Bookmark and Share

Dim the lights,” says John Carpenter, revered filmmaker and musician. “Put the album on…. Close your eyes and just let your mind go. Tap into that invisible movie that plays in your head. Let it flow, and let our music be your soundtrack.”

Like the opening page of a screenplay, Carpenter sets the ideal scene in which to listen to his latest record, Lost Themes II. Sporting a roman numerallike one of the many sequels to the director’s genre-defining 1978 slasher film, Halloweenthis album is a direct follow-up to last year’s critically-acclaimed Lost Themes. With more than four decades of filmmaking behind him, the 68-year-old filmmaker suddenly finds himself enjoying his new life as a late-career rock star.

“All creativity has similarities, but this is very different,” says Carpenter, comparing his musical process to making movies. “Music is purer, let me put it that way. It has a sincerity to it that I just find incredible at this point in my life. Obviously, I’m used to making movies, but the length of that process…” He groans, then laughs. “It just takes so much out of me. But this: this is absolute joy.”

Unlike the many late entries in that famous slasher franchise Carpenter had a hand in launching, Lost Themes II is a sequel that actually improves upon the original. The first album was primarily written and recorded over email; this time around, his musical collaboratorsson Cody Carpenter, and godson, Daniel Davieswere present to record live in his basement studio.

“They started their own rock and roll band way back when,” says Carpenter of his family members-turned-bandmates. “Eventually we started jamming together, and it was great. It’s great fun to have music in the house. So, it’s been a long process here in the Carpenter household.”

Although Lost Themes was ostensibly his debut album, it was far from the first time we’ve heard his music. Early in his film career, Carpenter never had the budget to hire a composer for his projects, and so he would take on that role himself. As his stature grew, he would occasionally return to the composer’s chair throughout his filmography. Several of the soundtracks he’s worked on for his movies include Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Prince of Darkness, They Live, Halloween, Big Trouble in Little China, and Escape from New York. What separates his two Lost Themes records from that work, however, is that they’re not restricted by the needs of the moving image.

“[The image] focuses the music, so the music doesn’t take any unusual turns,” says Carpenter. “It’s simply all about servicing the image, in my case. It really works well if you’re scoring, if that’s your purposeto make music for a movie. But it’s not that pleasurable. It’s a job. It’s work.”

While Carpenter’s entry into film scoring was born of necessity and budget constraints, it’s proven incredibly influential. A sound similar to his highly emotive synthesizer scores has become the standard for many genre filmmakers even today, and has been an inspiration for many of today’s synth-fueled indie artists, from Zombi and Gatekeeper to Kavinsky and Chromatics.

“I think it’s fabulous,” says Carpenter of his accidental influence. “Synthwave is great stuff. The synthesizer has been looked down upon for a long time, so I love to see its renaissance. A synthesizer’s a brilliant, brilliant instrument. You can take it any way you want to go.

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s May/June 2016 Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]


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