From Halloween’s ominous masked killer Michael Myers to Escape From New York’s dogged veteran-turned-convict Snake Plissken, filmmaker John Carpenter has masterminded some of Hollywood’s most memorable creeps. He’s also responsible for some of the most suspenseful and influential soundtracks this side of Bernard Herrmann. Now the 66-year-old is releasing his debut album, Lost Themes: 10 whirring, warbling, urgent-sounding instrumental electronic soundscapes with intriguing titles like “Abyss,” “Wraith” and “Vortex” that could easily complement any one of his thrillers.
Infinitely casual, Carpenter tells Rolling Stone that Lost Themes evolved over the past couple of years in breaks between playing video games (“The best game I’ve played in years is Borderlands 2, but right now I’m playing Assassin’s Creed: Unity,” he offers) when he would futz about with the digital audio workstation his wife bought him. Along the way, he got some help from his son, Cody Carpenter of prog rockers Ludrium, and his godson, Daniel Davies, who wrote songs for I, Frankenstein. “This was all really sort of an accidental thing,” he says. “Someone sent it to [record label] Sacred Bones and they said, ‘Let’s make an album.’ And I thought, ‘Well, great.’ I’d never thought of it.”
When Lost Themes comes out on February 3rd, the album will be available on a variety of colored vinyl formats, and the iTunes edition will include remixes by Skinny Puppy’s ohGr, Zola Jesus, Foetus’ JG Thirlwell and more. Moreover, days after the record’s release, Carpenter will be the subject of a lengthy tribute at the Brooklyn Academy of Music: John Carpenter: Master of Fear, which will include a variety of screenings and a one-on-one conversation with the moviemaker about the music on February 5th.
The filmmaker recently spoke to Rolling Stone for a wide-ranging chat about how he made the jump from soundtrack composer to making music that could stand on its own.
This is your debut album. Why did you title it Lost Themes? People might think it’s unused soundtrack music.
Well, that was not my idea. But think of it this way: It’s lost themes in the sense that we were scoring the movies that many people have in their imaginations. The perfect way to listen to this would be with a beautiful girl next to you — but if you can’t have that, turn the lights down, start the album up and let the music sink in with the imaginary movies in your mind.
After you put down the video-game controller, how does a “lost theme” start?
It starts with a chord. I don’t write music. I don’t read music. It’s all improvised. It starts very simply with an appealing sound.
Even though you weren’t working with visuals this time, your music came out very dark.
Some of the most beautiful music is the darker stuff.
Your dad was a music professor. How much has he influenced your music?
I grew up listening to music my whole life. When I was about eight years old, my father taught me how to play the violin. It was a bad decision because I had no talent, and that’s really the most difficult instrument to play. I played it for a few years and then moved on to keyboards and guitars. But movies were my first love.
What does your dad think of your music?
Oh, I don’t really know. He’s just happy that I had my hand in some music. He hasn’t heard the record yet. Well, he’s deaf now. I don’t know what he’ll think of it.