Has there been a second (or is third or fourth?) act more unexpected than John Carpenter’s music career? Decades after many of them filled the soundtracks of his movies, Carpenter’s music has inspired a whole new generation of musicians in a dizzying array of genres which share a flair for the dramatic and heavily artificial synthesized sound. I see his name mentioned more often by these artists than I do even Giorgio Moroder, which was inconceivable just a few years ago when Daft Punk brought the latter back into public consciousness and his first ever DJ performances.
But when they mention “Carpenter,” I suspect they’re touching on something much more expansive than just the music. It’s the movies too, and the genres they were made in, the time they were released and the era they evoke and Carpenter’s uncanny ability to get so much on the screen (and subsequently in the soundtrack) for the sometimes meager resources he had on hand. The latter was always an inspiration to independent filmmakers and now that ethic has carried over to the aspiring producer too, who these days can fit out a staggeringly complex studio within the confines of a silver box with a monitor attached.
Anthology is not a boxed set as the name might imply, but a collection of 13 themes from movies Carpenter directed and sometimes scored, re-recorded by Carpenter himself with his son Cody and his godson Daniel Davies. What’s most remarkable here is how many of these songs have burrowed their way into public consciousness and a relevance far beyond the movies they introduced with the bright and trembling credit sequences of their time. The theme from Assault on Precinct 13 to take one example has been appropriated in hundreds if not thousands of YouTube videos, almost a stock soundtrack for evoking a kind of mood. The minimalistic pulse and rising synths piercing through the dark atmosphere around it is one of the most recognizable pieces of cinematic music around in 2017, quite independent of the movie it was made for. One of the least recognized songs on here is the one that effected me most deeply: the theme from Prince of Darkness, a movie that I still regard with a kind of dread from the surrealistic portrait of evil it presented when I first saw it at age 12 or 13. I suspect the same feeling will seize people when they hear the chilling theme from Halloween for the first time in many years.
Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Thing is another track that broke free from it’s identification with Carpenter and the movie. Adam Curtis has used it in at least one of his documentaries alongside music from Brian Eno (“The Big Ship” no less); the association was not casual or undeserved. “I asked Morricone to please compose something with a very few notes,” Carpenter remembers. “And brilliantly, he did.”
Carpenter is now going back on the road to play these tracks and other material live. Is that the fifth act of this American master’s dramatic life? Sixth?
John Carpenter: Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998
1. In the Mouth of Madness (05:17)
2. Assault on Precinct 13 (02:55)
3. The Fog (03:03)
4. Prince of Darkness (03:13)
5. Santiago (Vampires) (02:42)
6. Escape From New York (03:32)
7. Halloween (02:57)
8. Porkchop Express (Big Trouble in Little China) (03:50)
9. They Live (03:07)
10. The Thing (03:37)
11. Starman (02:34)
12. Dark Star (01:26)
13. Christine (04:15)