Great Moments in Synth: John Carpenter’s ‘Escape From New York’

escapefromnyEscape From New York, the famous Kurt Russell film vehicle from 1981, has one of director/composer John Carpenter’s most notable movie themes. It builds up and repeats consistently throughout the film and fits in beautifully with the Tron-like computer images and the grimy deserted images of “1997” New York. The special effects are really old-school ’80s stuff, but still manage to be poignant and the characters are really wonderfully over-the-top without being self-parodying.

The movie has also become a cultural staple, influencing various films and games internationally. The most obvious reference is Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid franchise, a copy of Kurt Russell’s character, Snake Pleskin. And the Mike Judge film, Idiocracy contains a variety of scenarios which bear interesting parallels regarding a doomed, futuristic United States.

John Carpenter is often grouped in with the horror and cult-film directors that came into fame in the 1970s and ’80s. However, Carpenter’s films often stood above the crowd for their distinct atmospheres (very sad and creepy, but always with a few pinches of B-movie humor), exceptional special effects (see The Thing) and really wonderful original soundtrack scores.

For almost all of his movies, John Carpenter composed the score and often performed it on keyboards. The results are quite exceptional, and the low-fi, saccharine synth contrast between the music and film itself feels as though it could have been inspired by the Italian giallo-film composers, Goblin. But Carpenter’s music has a distinct set of aesthetics, with prominent basslines with a slightly muffled sound, and nice mild sine-waves, with tasteful decay levels, leading the minimalist melodies. And here, Carpenter’s theme sounds like the music from L.A. Law and Law & Order gone cyberpunk-noir.

The minimalist, synthesizer soundtracks of John Carpenter’s films are much appreciated here at CRM HQ. If you like what you hear, you might be interested in the more recent video-game soundtracks to Metroid: Prime and Halo 3 (skip to about 3:15 on this track to see where it starts getting good). They have similar determined but lonely, melancholic theme songs, stuff totally appropriate to musically represent really scary, tough battle-hardened protagonists.

John Carpenter – Escape From New York Theme

Carpenter revamped the theme for 1997’s Escape From LA, but the film lost a lot of the charm of the original. Still — a decent B-movie, and the music totally rocks. In ways this version of the theme is almost better, except it loses that dark analog-electronic sound of the early ’80s, a la Terminator, Blade Runner, etc.

John Carpenter – Escape From LA


~ by chaosrexmachinae on January 5, 2009.

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