John Carpenter's Secret to Making Terrifying Soundtracks

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The horror movie master himself, John Carpenter, is about to release his debut solo album, Lost Themes. Remember the ultra-creepy synth music in the movie Halloween? Yeah, that was him. The weird part is that he started out wanting to make westerns.

Carpenter was a recent guest on NPR's All Things Considered (download it or read the full transcript here), where he talked about his movies and talent for composing spine-tingling music.


On creating tension through music:

The secret to composing and performing "Halloween" was my father. He was a music professor. He taught me 5-4 time when I was 13 on a pair of bongos of all things. And 5-4 time is bop, bop, bop. Bop, bop, bop. Bop, bop. Bop, bop. Bop, bop, bop. Bop, bop. Bop, bop, bop. Bop, bop. So I simply sat at the piano and I rolled octaves, so that's how it came about. It was simple, repetitive and, like you said, causes tension in the audience. They're waiting for something to change.


On why (and how) he got into horror while studying film at USC:

Well, that came from a movie that I made. See, I got in the movie business to make Westerns, but Westerns died. And I made "Halloween," and everybody thought well, this guy makes scary movies, so I did. Ever since the beginning of cinema, horror has been a genre that has thrived. And I don't think it'll ever go away.

When you visit a horror set or you're in a horror movie, it is the most fun you will ever have because it's all make-believe and it's all funny. Doing a drama or a comedy, that's hard work. Plus, the horror directors are the nicest guys you ever want to meet.


Vintage image of Carpenter via What Culture.

Via Dread Central.