John Carpenter / Alan Howarth

Escape from New York [Original Film Soundtrack]

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John Carpenter is a rarity among film directors in that he is also a composer who writes the musical scores for his movies as well. Carpenter's 1981 film Escape From New York was a kind of genre hybrid, a science-fiction crime thriller with suggestions of a spaghetti western thrown in. Set in a near future when Manhattan has been converted into a no-man's-land prison, the movie needed an appropriately futuristic soundtrack, and Carpenter came up with a score for synthesizer that he played with his sound designer Alan Howarth. Despite the instrumentation, however, the composer retained a style familiar from such earlier works as Halloween. He favored simple, repetitive keyboard figures, generally two per sequence, set in a fast-slow counterpoint. The Escape From New York score had a few changes of pace, notably a borrowing from Debussy and an ersatz Broadway show tune, "Everyone's Coming to New York" ("Shoot a cop with a gun/The Big Apple is plenty of fun"), but most of the music sounded like earlier Carpenter scores, similarly creating a tense, ominous tone much of the time. The high-tech sound was sometimes at odds with the bombed-out sets in the film, but it helped maintained a tense mood in a movie that sometimes threatened to become comical because it was so stylized. Two decades later, when the soundtrack was reissued on an expanded CD, the synth sound was no longer futuristic but very much of its early-'80s time. Howarth, who had constructed the original 37-minute LP, re-edited and retitled the previously released material and came up with an additional 20 minutes' worth of cues and excerpts from the film's arch dialogue. There was music from two cut scenes and an unused closing-credit theme, all of it in a consistent style with the previously heard material.

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