John Carpenter is best known as the creator of B-films with a strong horror, science fiction or fantasy element. He directs his films, plays a part in bringing the screenplay to life as well as taking small roles in his films, but here we take a look as his musical scores. He started scoring his own films to save costs, and has learned the skill on the job. Like his film style, Carpenter's film scores may also be described as belonging to the pop culture. His themes are simple and repetitive but can be extremely effective in setting the mood for his slick set pieces, and therefore play a part in creating his cult following. With a powerful visual style and relative lack of dialogue, the music itself and the mood it creates becomes a strong part of the overall experience. That Carpenter has used electronic music in his scores is no surprise given the pop nature of his thematic material.
Curiously Carpenter got Ennio Morricone to score The Thing and Jack Nitzsche to do "Starman" and both of these scores in what might be called the Carpenter style! Most recognisable of all Carpenter's music must be the eerie theme for "Halloween". Carpenter credits his father, a music professor, as providing the inspiration for this theme. Although John did not follow his father's career path he had a set of bongos as a boy, and his father showed him a rhythm in 5/4 time to demonstrate that not everything is in 4/4. This rhythm was later to become the fimilar Halloween theme. The film itself has spawned a number of sequels with various directors and composers, most recently with John Ottman scoring the 20-year anniversary film "Halloween H20". Carpenter's minimalist style has also been borrowed on a number of films, see for example "Shaun of the Dead" scored by Dan Mudford and Pete Woodhead.
Special mention should also go to Alan Howarth for his involvement in Carpenter's films. Howarth has extensive experience using synthesisers and other electronic equipment to create sound design and effects for a wide variety of films (e.g. a number of Star Trek movies). Howarth worked with John Carpenter on a number of his movies (Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Prince of Darkness, and many of the Halloween films) realising the music and often receiving a composer credit alongside Carpenter.For John Carpenter there is a website called The Official John Carpenter.com, and for Alan Howarth there is his official site at Alan Howarth.com. Here is a video which shows Alan Howarth playing live to film at the UnSound Festival held in Krakow in Poland in October 2010. More information about the festival can be found at its official website. And here is part of an Interview with John Carpenter from Vision Sound Music's "Sound of Fear" night in London in September 2011.
The "John Carpenter Anthology" album, released in 2017 and subtitled "Movie Themes 1974-1998", is all newly re-recorded by John Carpenter with his son Cody Carpenter, and godson Daniel Davies. The album includes most of his iconic movie themes including "The Thing" by Ennio Morricone and "Starman" by Jack Nitzsche, and is available from these links at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
Although Carpenter was involved in many TV productions as Writer or Director or more, he rarely got involved directly in the music, although his film themes are frequently referenced on TV shows.
Here are some essential albums of the film music of John Carpenter:
See also the "Halloween" CD which has a good selection of Carpenters work. We have not been ble to find Sheet Music for Carpenter's music, but the theme from Halloween is relatively easy to pick out on the piano with its 5 beats in the bar.