Song of the Day (Shocktober): John Carpenter “Vortex”
One of my absolute favorite horror movie filmmakers is John Carpenter. He is an auteur and horror movie pioneer who has done as much as anyone to shape modern horror and genre films in general. With his cleanly blocked style, straightforward narratives, mastery of the “show don’t tell rule” sharp writing and memorable self-composed synth scores, Carpenter is one of the most complete film-maker working. Since breaking into the mainstream with his runaway low-budget, early slasher hit, Halloween, Carpenter has been a big influence not just on filmmakers but also on electronic musicians. The sinister synths and eerily repetitive minor key piano vamp that Carpenter composed as the theme to that film helped kick start the widespread embrace of the synth and paved the ways for groups like Boards of Canada, Zombi, Umberto, Slasher Dave and many others who have picked up marker that Carpenter laid down so ably.
Carpenter has always downplayed his composing chops, often stating that his scores were often a matter of necessity. The low budgets that he was frequently forced to work with meant that Carpenter was encouraged to flex his considerable musical talents (he grew up with a father who was an orchestra violinist and music instructor, and played in rock bands for years prior to entering film school) and compose and record the scores to his films himself (or with the help of his frequent sound designer, Alan Howarth) in order to save money. Irregardless of the necessity, Carpenter’s scores were often far better (and far more eerie) than anything a more traditional film composer could have provided him and added a certain thematic link between his films.
“Vortex” is one of my absolute favorite John Carpenter compositions. The song was written not for a film, but for a stand alone album of music Carpenter put together a couple of years ago (entitled Lost Themes) as a result of jamming with his son and his son’s friend while taking breaks from marathon video gaming sessions. “Vortex” starts with a series of haunting minor key piano chords before dropping in a chugging synth, drum machine and fuzzy electric guitar. This theme is ingenious and would work perfectly as the main titles to another still unmade John Carpenter film classic, or better yet, to the truly terrifying horror film that lurks in the dark recesses of your subconscious and which haunts your imagination on those nights that you struggle to sleep.