One of the scariest film scores ever was the product of a gift placed under a Christmas tree.
“My father bought me a pair of bongos for Christmas when I was 13 and he taught me 5:4 time, ‘Pop pop pop,'” the Halloween director and musician John Carpenter said during the PBS show American Masters. “I thought that was clever. I sat down with the piano just one and ‘dun-dun-dun’ and played octaves—that’s where it came about.”
The result is a menacing theme that, when powered by gear including an Arp 2600 analog synth, gives tension to the great 1978 horror film. And as the film progresses, Carpenter’s eerie score, which conveys the terror of a Halloween night exactly 60 years ago tomorrow, seems dense with stress, as if blood is pulsing through the it, a sound wave vein that could burst at any moment.
Film: Halloween Music Composed and Performed by John Carpenter Recording Engineer – Peter Bergren Synthesizer Programming – Dan Wyman Stereo Remix Engineer – Alan Howarth Mixed at Pi West Studios, Glendale, CA Record Label: Columbia Release Date: August, 1979
Carpenter, one of the most important directors of the past 50 years, has been increasingly recognized for the way he used early synthesizers including the Prophet, Mini Moog and Arp 2600 to add layers of humming drama.
“Most of them are improvised on a synthesizer,” Carpenter told PBS of his themes and scores, adding that his career as a movie composer began when he studied film at USC. “In film school you have no money, so you don’t have money for a composer or an orchestra. So you have to find a way to make music that sounds big — or sounds big enough — for your movie. And the way to do it is with a synthesizer because … you can build up a sound that sounds like orchestra or like Switched-On Bach, or you can sound like a scary movie, or it’s like an action film. All sorts of things.”
Continued Carpenter, “In the beginning I would just play the music and then cut it in in various places. But as time went on I began to play to the image to the movie, which is great.”
The main Halloween theme is, for obvious reasons, the best known piece from Carpenter’s score, and certainly worthy of prominent placement on any spooky seasonal playlist. But don’t neglect “The Shape Lurks,” especially when you’re looking for something to listen to while driving at night on a dark rural highway.
Carpenter told PBS that when he was trying to land a distribution deal for Halloween, he made a mistake he’s never repeated: “I showed the movie to an executive without music, which is a big mistake. Don’t ever show a movie to anybody unless it’s completely done. And the executive said, ‘That’s not scary and I’m not scared by anything like that.’ And then, you know, the movie came out and it was with the music, it got scarier.
Those looking to get lost in very scary Halloween music might want to come by In Sheep’s Clothing NYC today (Monday), when our weekly dedicated listening hours will feature spooky records drawn from our collection.
What: Spooky Dedicated Listening Session When: 2-5 p.m., Monday, Oct. 30 Where: In Sheep’s Clothing NYC, 350 Hudson Street (Enter on King)