Five things you should know about John Carpenter, the composer hidden behind the cult director
As he releases his first standalone album, Lost Themes II on the record label Sacred Bones and announces a world tour, now’s the time to swot up on Carpenter the composer who’s just as fascinating as Carpenter the filmmaker.
Carpenter is the ultimate slasher.
At the age of 68, the American filmmaker is the only one (even though David Lynch has had a go, Dario Argento is involved with the group Goblin and Tarantino’s carefully selected soundtracks are second to none) to handle a synth as well as he handles a camera. In 40 years of career he’s directed major film after major film, earning himself the nickname “master of horror”. With Halloween, The Thing, New York 1997, They Live, In the Mouth of Madness, Carpenter has been applauded by both the public and the critics. But the intensity of his world and his success owes a great deal to the hypnotic music in his films, unsettling electronic soundtracks that have almost all been composed by the master of horror himself. His repetitive, twitchy, minimalistic instrumental beats have contributed to creating the strange, terrifying and uniquely tense ambiances that have made the “Carpenter” style.
Carpenter works on instinct
Carpenter admits to not knowing how to write music, even if he knows how to play the synth perfectly. “I’d never heard this kind of music in cinema before I had a go myself. I work instinctively, (…), there’s nothing intellectual about it, it’s all very emotional. I improvise almost everything and that brings out the musician that sleeps within us. It’s also a sort of non-literary expression. Music occupies a major part of my life.” John sees it like “a layer of pure emotion” or “the most direct form of artistic expression”.
Carpenter is a serious music-lover
The man who’s directed Alice Cooper and Isaac Hayes in his films, and chose Kurt Russell as his recurring hero/muse, a playboy-bad boy with his heavy metal singer look, also started a rock band. The Coupe de Villes featured himself and two friends, Nick Castle and Tommy Lee Wallace. The trio played a tune in Halloween as well as the title track to Big Trouble in Little China. The band even released a pretty kitsch - and slightly superfluous - new wave-pop record in 1985 entitled Waiting Out The Eighties, typical of his work in that decade.
Carpenter is a major influence on today’s electro music
Namely the soundtrack to Drive, Daft Punk, Turzi, Kavinsky, Air, Mverte, the Chromatics, Glass Candy and the duo Zombie Zombie, who in 2010 replayed the out-there atmospheric music of Carpenter on an EP as well as on stage. Etienne Jaumet, one half of the duo told us, “What influenced me was the simplicity and evocative power of his music. He proves that you can do stripped back compositions with maxi impact… The synthesisers he uses allow you to write music quickly with an impressive sound. You just need a few notes: the expressive power of the sound does the rest!”
His new album is well worth the detour
Haunting, baroque, epic, venomous, sexy, and that’s just a few of the adjectives we could use to describe the colours of Lost Themes II, Carpenter’s first record which isn’t a movie soundtrack. A series of concerts (another first for the filmmaker) accompanied by his son Cody Carpenter, his godson Daniel Davies – son of Dave Daniels, the Kinks guitarist – and supported by visual projections are backing up the project. In June and July you can see him at edgy events such the Primavera festival, in the cities of Portland, Austin, Detroit, the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Iceland, then the Albert Hall in Manchester, a Halloween night at the Troxy in London and the Grand Rex in France, in November.
John Carpenter will be in concert at Paris’ Grand Rex on November 9th 2016.
Listen to the album here.
By Violaine Schütz