Ahead of their forthcoming London show, Absolutely Free put together a pretty incredible John Carpenter playlist. Check that out below, along with the band's forthcoming dates with Viet Cong:

  • Feb 4th, 2015 - Oslo, London UK
  • Feb 5th, 2015 - Deaf Institute, Manchester UK
  • Feb 6th, 2015 - Broadcast, Glasgow UK
  • Feb 7th, 2015 - Brudenell Social, Leeds UK
  • Feb 8th, 2015 - Green Door Store, Brighton UK

The Playlist

John Carpenter's music is dramatic. His ability to use very simple musical language to cue a cluster of moods so perfectly enhances his films. As a kind of bonus, his themes are also quite good standalone. I find myself listening to his work as a means to add significance or tension to tedium (think: daily commute). Though his style is a direct descendent of some notable influences (namely Bernard Herrmann and Louis/Bebe Barron), refinement has earned him his own genre. These days, you can hear his influence in scores such as those by Cliff Martinez (Drive, Only God Forgives), Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury (Drokk, Ex Machina) and admittedly Absolutely Free (Two Cares Due None).

It's been 45 years since Carpenter's first film score, so let's take take a moment to delve into and appreciate some of his fine work. Assuming your familiarity with his renowned Halloween score, here's a list of ten wonderful lesser-knowns.

*Note - Credit is also due to to his collaborators Alan Howarth (Big Trouble in Little China, Christine, Escape From NY, Halloween III, Prince of Darkness) and Ennio Morricone (The Thing).

Various Themes (The Resurrection of Broncho Billy)

Carpenter's first film score! It's a rather conventional, delicate score that centres around an acoustic guitar and some occasional whistling. It's honest, simple, innocent and provides a glimpse into the earliest work of an icon (before he'd graduated from school / before he'd found his voice); think of it as a seed planted.

Various Themes (Dark Star)

Dark Star was another student film of Carpenter's and a collaboration with Dan O'Bannon (the writer behind Alien & Total Recall). The film's main theme, 'Benson, Arizona', is a tongue-in-cheek ditty sung by Carpenter's college buddy. It sounds like it directly descends from his country/folk work on The Resurrection of Broncho Billy. Apart from that, the score is rather unrefined: gnarly synthesizer meandering written over the course of an afternoon. Carpenter borrowed the synth from an acquaintance.

Various Themes (Escape From New York)

This video includes a well-rounded handful of movements from the film, but excludes the main theme (which is an incredibly fun theme, somewhat similar to Giorgio Moroder's American Gigolo score). There are moments that wouldn't sound out of place on Kraftwerk's Man Machine and the overall feel is a little more fun and meditative than the usual Carpenter. Highlights include a beautiful noise-generated drum groove and some lively steel drum samples. That said, Carpenter includes enough minor chords and sentiment to keep things from settling.

Main Theme (The Thing)

Though Carpenter is uncredited, this composition was in collaboration with the legendary Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). Knowing both of their backgrounds, it's fun to speculate their individual contributions. I view the minimal anticipatory elements (the pulse that sets the tone) and the circus organ as trademark Carpenter. Regardless, Their stark styles made for a really interesting score and one that is deeply reflective and thought provoking.

Christine Attacks (Christine)

Carpenter creates the sensation of trouble marching hither, pulsating uncontrollably. There are some nice sounding brassy, almost anthemic, synth leads and sharp staccato synths that count down to sweet relief from your worst nightmare.

Main Theme (The Fog)

This has all of the elements of classic horror! The blaring church organs accompanied by bolts of thunder really set the tone for Dracula-esque terror. You've got to love the tumbling call and response interplay between piano and synthesizer; theirs is like the relationship between night & day or voice & echo.

Main Theme (Assault on Precinct 13)

This is perhaps his most menacing theme. Despite that overall feeling, the synths convey some very earnest emotion. What I especially love about this theme is the nonchalance of the drum machine shuffling; it almost reminds me of Harmonia.

Here Come the Storms (Big Trouble in Little China)

This piece delivers some excitement with lots of layers evolving tremendously in its short running time. Quick arpeggiation and rambunctious electronic drums create urgency while more haunting elements keep you on edge. Despite these factors, Here Come the Storms manages to deliver some fun before ultimately falling to tragedy.

First Chase (Halloween III - Season of the Witch)

Don't prejudge this 'threequel', the score is fantastic. This theme uses a simple pulse to convey life throughout. Similar to Christine Attacks, there is a real sensation of walls closing in. Carpenter's music often rides a very unsettling line; his frightening themes manage to get my head bobbing.

Darkness Begins (Prince of Darkness)

This theme is a little more orchestral than most of Carpenter's work. His use of choir is a little more focused in this work and the disjointed rhythms in the first half are another rarity. Darkness Begins is also one of his more erratically aggressive, with its finale slashing at the very foundation.