The Sinister Low Note of John Carpenter and Alan Howarth

John Carpenter and Alan Howarth working on the soundtrack to Halloween III: Season of the Witch / Original photo taken at Alan’s Pi West Electronic Music Studio, 1982, by Pax Lemon.

The music of John Carpenter has been an ongoing interest of FOTW Audio for many years. In 2012, I was a guest on Sydney radio program Extended Play for a 2-hour special looking at John Carpenter’s music career, and the influence of his music on many modern electronic musicians, like the dark wave disco scene in Central Europe.

One thing that we explored was how John Carpenter never worked in isolation; he always had a partner who helped him to realize his musical ideas. In the first part of his career, it was Dan Wyman, a music professor at UCLA where John had studied film production.

Wyman was an earlier adopter of synthesizer technology and had forged connections with the big American synth companies like Moog Music and Sequential Circuits. John had used the modular Moog synthesizer on campus to create the soundtrack to his student film Dark Star. Dan Wyman would also work with John on Halloween and The Fog using the enigmatic Prophet-5 synthesizer.

For Escape from New York, Carpenter teamed up with Alan Howarth, who’d started his musical life playing in Chicago psych-rock bands and programming synths for the fusion band Weather Report — before moving to Hollywood and designing special sound effects for the first Star Trek movie, his earliest foray into the film industry.

Some of Carpenter’s best scores were made with Alan during the height of electronic movie soundtracks in the 1980s. One of their best was Halloween III: Season of the Witch, a deep and eerie score, full of Carpenter’s trademark drones, but also a harrowing sense of danger. This particular soundtrack has been the source of inspiration for many electronic musicians, including Anthony Rother, Legowelt, and most recently, Europaweite Aussichten. Interestingly, while Carpenter and Howarth were making the soundtrack, they were finding their own inspiration, listening to the latest album of German group Tangerine Dream, which in 1982 might have been this one, White Eagle.

In recent years, John Carpenter has come back onto the music scene through his work with son Cody Carpenter, and godson Daniel Davies, culminating in the Lost Themes album of 2015. A hit with fans, it allowed this new ensemble to tour the album in 2016, while releasing a follow up album, Lost Themes II.

This is a Medium article I wrote about Lost Themes, but also the synthwave scene, a relatively new genre of music releasing it’s own successful tribute album to Carpenter’s music around the same time.

Carpenter wasn’t the only one to use synthesizers during the seventies and eighties: there were many other composers, like John Harrison, Jon McCallum and Brad Fiedel, who also produced amazing horror scores using similar equipment.

But it is Carpenter and Howarth’s soundtracks that have managed to have had the greatest impact, leaving behind a shared heritage of childhood memories for fans, but also a strong reference point for a new generation working in creative fields.

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