John Carpenter

Assault on Precinct 13 [Original Soundtrack]

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John Carpenter's 1976 score for Assault on Precinct 13 -- his second feature-length film after 1974's Dark Star -- was composed and recorded on a synthesizer in about three days and features, at most, four overlaid music tracks at a time. Stacked against almost any composer working in the mid-'70s, the score's minimalism -- forced upon Carpenter by the funding constraints that also thrust him into the role of composer -- strikes the ear as shockingly modern. Comparisons to early electronic music would be valid, yet Carpenter's score is perhaps best appreciated as an extension of work done by Ennio Morricone for Sergio Leone, or Lalo Schifrin's rock-jazz compositions for Don Siegel, pushed to minimalist extremes. The pulsating beat behind elongated and eerie droning notes combined with a mournful main melody containing elements from Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" instantly and relentlessly holds your attention. The almost funereal "Julie" echoes Schifrin's "End Titles" from the masterful Dirty Harry soundtrack, and even manages to one-up the original inspiration. The music is repetitive and introduces only three major melody themes matched to mood cues, but it is nevertheless effective and sublimely evocative for the 30 minutes found on the CD. It's interesting that Carpenter's simple and subtle compositions were perhaps more influential on minimalist electronic music than on movie scores during the decades to follow. While continuing to compose music for most of his films, Carpenter expanded his musical interests to include a fuller, more complex composition style that still remained instantly recognizable as his own up to at least 1988's They Live. His 1978 Halloween score would become his best known, but the Assault on Precinct 13 score provided the original musical blueprint and remains its equal in elevating a fine, low-budget action film to classic status. Most film composers working today could learn valuable lessons from its simple eloquence.

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