This is some crazy proto-techno for babies, from Raymond Scott’s 1964 album “Soothing Sounds for Babies”.
Scott had been a great jazz orchestrator from the 30s and 40s, whose music was licensed by Warner Bros and used by Carl Stalling for many, many Looney Tunes cartoons, particularly his composition Powerhouse.
After a successful career in TV, he began inventing his own instruments, coming up with the pre-Moog Electronium, which his soothing baby sounds was composed on.
His vintage jazz music was re-introduced to the public in the nineties, when alt-kids cartoon creator, John Kricfalusi used Scott’s music for his brilliant Ren & Stimpy show.
Speaking of John Kricfalusi, he also used music from the Capitol Production Music library, some of which had already appeared in Image Ten’s Night of the Living Dead.
John Carpenter and Alan Howarth at work on Season of the Witch (scan courtesy of Mike Conway)
The growing interest in John Carpenter as a composer of electronic music, and not just a director of horror films, seems to be reaching a critical point at the moment: his music is celebrated in the Vision Sound Music festival in London this weekend; the latest issue of Wire magazine features an interview with his composing partner, Alan Howarth (who will appear at the festival); and French duo Zombie Zombie released an album late last year called “Zombie Zombie Play John Carpenter.”
A renowned hardworker, John Carpenter may not be aware of just how much of an impact he has had on a successive number of generations of electronic musicians. Regarded in the same league as Giorgio Moroder and Vangelis, whose soundtracks for Midnight Express and Blade Runner, respectively, have had a life of their own, Carpenter is often cited as a major inspiration by many electronic musicians.
The real interest in John Carpenter’s music began with his soundtrack for his 1976 film Assault on Precinct-13. For its title theme, he used a simple electronic riff that he had pinched from a Led Zeppelin song, and a spare percussive line composed on a drum machine, giving the film an unusual texture, slightly cold and synthetic, and pre-dating the new-wave/industrial sound of bands like Throbbing Gristle and Coil.
Of course it was the Halloween theme (and the film) that put him on the map, acting as a kind of surrogate audio cue for anything spooky over the last couple of decades (along with the Twilight Zone theme and “Tubular Bells” from the Exorcist).
But Carpenter had also composed a number of other exceptional horror soundtracks – The Fog was amazing, and so was the score to the third “Halloween” film, Season of the Witch, even though it was unrelated to the original. With each successive film, he seemed to go deeper into the music, and his elongated sounds – drones, and wide bending bass notes – toyed with parts of the brain rarely used outside of sleep.
Zombie Zombie’s version of the Halloween theme live in Glasgow
John Carpenter’s music first started being covered by European groups who wanted to recreate what they had heard in Assault on Precinct 13. German producer Ralf Hennings, as The Splash Band released his own 12″ of the “End Theme” in 1983, near the height of John Carpenter’s influence on the film world.
Strangely, in 2003 – twenty years later – a limited edition CDr came out, entitled The European Tribute to John Carpenter, using the same pumpkin orange colour that the Splash Band had used. It was a compilation of different electronic artists from around Europe, covering and composing tracks in his style, but with a decided dark wave bent. This was at the height of the electroclash movement, where an interest in the origins of modern electronic dance music, in new-wave, EBM, New York electro, and Euro-pop (like italo-disco) was underway. This interest also bought synthesizers back into the standard band line-up, something that hadn’t really been seen since the eighties.
A number of musicians like Holland’s Legowelt, Germany’s Anthony Rother and Booka Shade, and Australian band Midnight Juggernauts have acknowledged Carpenter’s influence on their music. Although Carpenter rarely composes music for films now – the workload is just too great – he has left behind a considerable body of music to be enjoyed.
Most of his music is still available. Besides the bigger Varese Sarabande releases, niche labels like Record Makers (home of Sebastian Tellier) released his Assault on Precinct 13 for the first time back in 2003, while La-La Land Records put out Big Trouble in Little China a couple of years back.
Number 47 of 110 … Sleeve for European Tribute to John Carpenter
This is a recent interview with co-composer Alan Howarth:
Nitin Sawhney live at the Roxy (photo courtesy of Parramasala by Jamie Williams / ICE)
AS PART OF PARRAMASALA 2010, a festival celebrating South Asian culture funded by Parramatta Council and the NSW government, the multi-talented British composer Nitin Sawhney and his band of classical Indian musicians, were brought out to perform the soundtrack to the silent Indian film, A Throw of Dice. During his stay, Nitin gave a masterclass in film scoring and composition to a group of Sydney musicians at the Switch Digital Arts Centre.
Nitin Sawhney first came to international fame when he and a group of other artists like Talvin Singh, were identified in the late nineties as being part of a rising British music scene known as the ‘Asian Underground’. Marrying traditional Indian sounds with club music, they revealed a musical side of the United Kingdom that, up until then, had been largely unknown outside of Britain.
As time went on, Nitin moved away from strictly club music into the world of jazz fusion and film-scoring, influenced by the jazz guitarist John McLaughlin, who had travelled to India in the seventies to study Indian music and spirituality; and the film composer Ennio Morricone, whose unique and dedicated approach to film scoring must have greatly appealed to Sawhney.
Growing up in a musical household, Nitin had taken lessons in piano and classical flamenco guitar, as well as learning traditional Indian instruments. He played in multiple bands from punk to jazz during his formative years, and after experiencing a period of uncertainty in his early twenties, he eventually decided to concentrate all of his energy into music.
It was a good decision. Over the past fifteen years, he has released 8 albums, scored 40 films, and worked on countless projects with other musicians, dancers and visual artists. He has also become a high profile figure in the UK, serving on music advisory boards, and helping to set up programs for young musicians.
A Jungle scene from A Throw of Dice, a treasure from the British Film Institute archives by German film director Franz Osten.
ACCORDING TO NITIN, INDIA has the most advanced rhythmic systems in the world. He described how the footwork of a dancer is in synch with the percussion, taking the same vocal cue – so when the vocalist speaks, both the dancer and drummer know exactly what to do.
He also demonstrated how there is a 12 beat system both in flamenco and classical Indian music, and that one of the flamenco styles, the bulería, can easily be integrated with Indian rhythms. As all the participants had been asked to bring their instruments, he broke the class into two groups, and had them go off and improvise on this 12 beat system.
When it came to film scoring, he taught the class that it was important to focus on melody, rather than overworking the harmonic side of composition – that an oversophisticated harmony can kill the melody.
Besides Morricone, he also spoke about his appreciation for Ravi Shankar’s music for the Indian director Satyajit Ray; how the sitar-player had sat down and improvised for 12 hours straight, from which the director could pick and choose the best parts for his first and most famous film, Pather Panchali.
A nice moment came in the class, when one of Nitin’s band members, Ashwin Srinivasan, who had been sitting in the back row for most of the session, was able to borrow a bansuri - a traditional indian flute - from one of the participants who had brought along a big collection of them. Ashwin joined Nitin on the stage, with tabla player, Aref Durvesh, to perform a moving piece of music.
The only disappointment was that the class did not get to directly play with Nitin. But overall, it was a great opportunity, and very special, that it was held in the Western Suburbs.
Trailer for Midnight Express (1978); dir. Alan Parker, screenplay by Oliver Stone.
Based on the true story of Billy Hayes, Midnight Express was a huge film of the late seventies. Starring Brad Davis, it was the story of a young American who was arrested for drug-trafficking in Turkey and sentenced to 30 years in a squalid prison. It won two academy awards and co-starred John Hurt and Randy Quaid.
Although Oliver Stone, who wrote the screenplay, later regretted the way he and director Alan Parker had portrayed the Turkish authorities, Midnight Express still deserved the accolades it received: It was a well-made story of survival, emotional isolation, and the horrors of getting lost in a system, wherever that may be.
The film also contained some great suspense sequences: the opening scene of Billy trying to pass through the Turkish customs with drugs strapped to his chest is harrowing, as is his final, fateful escape from the prison, hinging on a gesture.
Midnight Express was also one of those films where the soundtrack left as much of a mark on its audience as the film itself. Like the theme by Vangelis in Peter Weir’s Gallipoli, or the Warsaw Concerto from the 1941 film Dangerous Moonlight, the soundtrack to Midnight Express was deeply emotional, with two distinctive themes that echoed throughout the film.
The first was the ’Theme from Midnight Express’, a repetitiously haunting melody that Moroder had written on a computer and a klavier organ. It has become one of the most sampled themes in hip-hop — up there with Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express and Good Times by Chic.
The second theme was ‘The Chase’ which accompanied Billy as he ran through the backstreets of Turkey, pursued by an American bounty-hunter. Because of its driving tempo, eight-and-a-half minute length, and catchy melody, The Chase became a huge hit with the dance community: It was a great example of the use of a high-pass filter (a synthesizer function) to build tension over time, a technique that would be used on everything from acid-techno to commercial dance for the next thirty years.
Midnight Express was also the first full-length electronic soundtrack to receive critical acclaim, winning both an Oscar and a Golden Globe in 1978 for Best Original Score. At the time, Moroder was already famous for his pioneering work with Donna Summer (creating the infamous ‘Moroder Bassline’ on I Feel Love) and these awards only strengthened his position in the music industry, allowing him to continue working as a film composer, as well as a producer.
Below: Giorgio Moroder performs Chase live on German TV in 1979, with his newly won Oscar (starts at 2.13).