Buysoundtrax has had varied luck when re-performing cult score favorites, especially ones done with then state-of-the-art keyboards like THE BOUNTY and LEGEND. So if you’re attempting to replicate such a distinctive sound, who better to get then a composer who helped create an unrepeatable sound in the first place? That’s the reason why Alan Howarth, the musician best know for being “in association” with John Carpenter on such genre favorites as HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH and PRINCE OF DARKNESS (the real deals of which are available through Buysoundtrax’s site on Howarth’s AHI label) has had the best success with replicating Ennio Morricone’s Carpenter sound-alike score for THE THING. Now his double bill of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and DARK STAR once again catches musical lightning in a retro bottle, achieving the near impossible of making it seem as if nothing much has advanced in the decades since then, equipment well older than Carpenter had when serving as his own composer.
Originally electro-penned in 1974 and 1976, these scores are repeated pitch-perfect examples of the synth minimalism that Carpenter would turn into one of the most iconic horror themes of all time with 1978’s HALLOWEEN. But PRECINCT 13 is just as memorable in its unpolished way, a lean, mean, percussively melodic machine that conveys a relentless attack from near-invisible gang called Street Thunder. Yet Carpenter is never one-note about his beat approach, ingenious varying his Big Theme so it takes on the quality of stealth drums and mean-ass guitars, coolly going from the energy of the stalk to bullet-piercing sustains and full-on rhythmic assaults. There’s also a memorably bluesy theme, conveying the feeling that all is lost, or the exasperation of just being damn tired from shooting the unceasing waves of “Indians” attacking the police fort for Carpenter’s re-imagining of RIO BRAVO. While you can track down the original 13 tracks on Le Band Son, hardcore fans will likely be equally happy with the spot-on job that Howarth has done at recreating Carpenter’s vibe, getting every beat and held pause correct, right down to the ice cream truck jingle for PRECINCT‘s infamous message about why it’s wise to never question your cone’s flavor.
While the raw quality of ASSAULT is deadly serious, DARK STAR is all about having fun with the cheesy sound of no-budget sci-fi music, given the advantage that there was no budget for the soundtrack of this student film-turned-feature begin with. The one instrument that Carpenter is seemingly trying to embody here is the Theremin that accompanied any number of wire-hanging spaceships from the 1950’s, a shrill, cold quality that’s never seemed more eccentric than when embodied by bulky synth machines. Propelled with a deceptively menacing theme, Howarth again reveals Carpenter’s diversity, from the glass bottle sounds of “Doolittle’s Solo” to the buzzing of a playfully nasty beach ball. DARK STAR still remains one of Carpenter’s starkest works, conveying the vast, creepy emptiness of space and the pointless loneliness of patrolling it for unstable planets, ennui that gives gravity to DARK STAR while still having bare bones melodic content. Though score purists might have preferred this sans the alien effects that covers whatever music might be in those scenes, “Howarth’s bits of spiffing up have a musical 2.0 vibrancy to it, while thankfully not attempting the musical equivalent of turning analog to CGI. It’s a low-tech charm that also includes Dominik Hauser’s nicely ironic country redo of “Benson, Arizona,” with informative liner notes by Randall D. Larson that helps continue on Howarth’s fine tradition of replaying the Carpenter classics without seeming to replay them at all.
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Article: CD Review of the ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13/DARK STAR soundtrack