When asked why he didn't compose the filmscore for his last feature film the 2010 release "The Ward", 67 year old director John Carpenter replied, "Quite frankly, I'm just too old".
Now a comment like that could be easily misconstrued.
Too old to compose music? Or simply too old to take on the added responsibility of both directing and composing the soundtrack?
Well thankfully Carpenter's comment reflects the later. Music continues to be an outlet for his creativity. And the end result of this creativity is the 2014 release "Lost Themes", Carpenter's first non-filmscore album.
Unencumbered by the narrow parameters of composing and syncing music to flickering frames of film the nine tracks on ""Lost Themes" present Carpenter with a blank screen and unfettered freedom of expression. The end product is a high octane cinematic soundscape just as exciting as any of his feature films. And a delight for fans of instrumental progressive rock.
Carpenter's compositions on soundtracks like "Halloween", "The Fog", "Dark Star", "Assault On Precinct 13", "Escape From New York", and "Prince Of Darkness" showcase Carpenter's eerie electronic minimalist approach to music while his raucous rock and roll roots (Carpenter formed the band The Coupe de Villes in the mid-70s) are in evidence on films like "They Live", "Christine" (the main theme is George Thorogood's "Bad To The Bone") , "Big Trouble In Little China", "Vampires", "In The Mouth Of Madness" and "Ghosts Of Mars".
Carpenter brings it all together on "Lost Themes", melding his unique electronic synth styling with aggressive guitar driven rock, complete with his patented moody melodic atmospherics, electronica, percussive sequences, and synthesizer zingers - now refined and expanded beyond those short snippets of mood music and catchy title themes. This is Carpenter the musician ... unleashed.
In preparation for writing this review I listened to as many Carpenter soundtracks as possible to compare his past filmscores to the music on "Lost Themes", and what immediately stands out is the full rich texture and many layers of the new compositions.
While Carpenter's original filmscore are quite memorable, his minimalist approach can easily be broken down as: a percussive synthesizer sequence or electronic drum track (from which to build upon), a bass line, keyboard or guitar lead, and an addition track or two of analogue synthesizer to thicken up the sound if needed. His frugal K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) approach to creating an effective piece of film music keeps complexity to a minimum yet captures the mood to perfection. One example is the beautifully simple yet very evocative track entitled "Julie's Dead" from the film "Assault On Precinct 13". A haunting melody performed solely on electric piano.
In contrast the nine tracks on "Lost Themes" immerse the listener in a wall of sound, presenting cinematic grand scale compositions reminiscent of Tangerine Dream at their prime, as well as the Italian prog/rock band Goblin (who also know a thing or two about composing filmscores).
The transition from analog studio gear to the limitless possibilities of the digital studio was quite liberating for Carpenter judging by his comments on the liner notes:
"The plan was to make my music more complete and fuller, because we had unlimited tracks. I wasn't just dealing with analogue anymore. Its a brand new world."
Carpenter recorded the album with his son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies.
Cody Carpenter is a prog/rock keyboardist recording under the moniker of Ludrium and has recorded three albums ("Pleasures Of A False Past", "New Adventures", and "Zeal"), as well as having contributed music for the films "Vampires" and "Ghosts Of Mars", and scoring the two Carpenter directed episodes of the Showtime horror anthology series "Masters Of Horror" ("Cigarette Burns" and "Pro-Life").
Daniel Davis is an English-American singer, guitarist, and songwriter and front-man for the rock band Year Long Disaster. Davis also has a few solo albums to his credit. In 2014 Davis and Geno Lenardo, working under the band name 'By Maker', recorded 10 tracks for the horror film soundtrack "I, Frankenstein".
For fans of the Berlin School of electronic music and the pioneering synthesizer group Tangerine Dream, John Carpenter's "Lost Themes" would be a welcome addition to your music library.
As a matter of fact shortly after the death of Edgar Frosse (January 20, 2015) I pulled out my entire Tangerine Dream collection revisiting their music, and consider what's commonly referred to as their 'Virgin Years' (between 1974 - 1983) as well as two albums from the Blue Years, "Le Parc" (1985) and "Underwater Sunlight" (1986) to be their best. And it's easy to mistake "Lost Themes" for archival Tangerine Dream studio sessions recorded during that most creative period of their career. I jokingly refer to it as 'The Best' Tangerine Dream album - not recorded by Frosse and Company.
My one quibble with "Lost Themes" is not the compositions - but the unintended consequences of Carpenter's transition from old school analogue to digital recording, where the music is occasionally plagued by the common engineering tendency of over-compression (louder is better), which tends to distort and modulate at higher ends when the music builds to a climactic crescendo. Such is the case on the closing moments of the track "Fallen". It can be a bit annoying - but not enough to dampen my enthusiasm for the album. And that aside - this is still a great headphone album.
Carpenter on making the album:
"Lost Themes was all about having fun. It can be both great and bad to score over images, which is what I'm used to doing. Here there were no pressures. No actors asking me what they're suppose to do. No crew waiting. No cutting room to go to. No release pending. It was just fun. The best way I can describe what we've done is that it's a 'soundtrack sampler'. They're little moments of score from movies made in our imaginations."
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on June 15th, 2015