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We Asked a Bunch of Artists to Interpret Director John Carpenter's First Album

"I think albums like these are themes or open-ended scores for people who imagine stories in their heads," Carpenter said. "You provide the images. I'll provide the music."
February 3, 2015, 6:31pm

Illustration by Nick Gazin

Although director John Carpenter will talk at length about his iconic horror films like Halloween or The Thing, he's pretty terse when it comes to describing his debut album, Lost Themes.

When I asked the 67-year-old over the phone if it was his longtime goal to release a proper LP—the album is out today on Sacred Bones—he was as straightforward as could be: "It's pretty simple. My son and I regularly hang out and jam in our basement, occasionally recording what we make. I've been known for making music, so I think the label thought it would be fun to put out an album by me."


When I asked whether individual songs have specific meaning, or if producing this record satisfied a creative itch (he hasn't made a movie since 2010's The Ward), Carpenter said, "Not really, I just like hanging with my son and son-in-law and making music." This surprised me, as the record is composed of ominous electronic soundscapes with a seriously cinematic vibe.

After a few more failed attempts to get one of my creative heroes to expand on his most recent work, he finally got frustrated and said, "There was no plan. I didn't plan to release an album. There was no conceptual goal or bigger meaning—and you don't seem to believe me. Trust me, you'd be the first person I'd tell."

Feeling defeated, I said it was my job to put him on the dissection table and get that oblique reference or weird answer to make our interview stand out from the inevitable others. He replied, "Here's what you can do to make it special: Take photos of yourself naked and put those next to this interview."

Even after a follow-up, the best I got from Carpenter is that this album stands out from his directing process and the scores he composed for many of his most well-known films in that he didn't have a movie or images in mind while he was creating it. "I'm letting you do that work. You provide the images. I'll provide the music," he told me. "I think albums like these are themes or open-ended scores for people who imagine stories in their heads. It would be great if people made their own movies and used my album as the score. I would love to see that—but you have to pay me!"


So rather than try to make sense of how Lost Themes came to fruition, I decided to reach out to a variety of artists, musicians, and writers who look up to the director, including members of the bands Parquet Courts, the Soft Moon, and Weekend. I asked them to listen to "Vortex," the first song on the album, and then create an illustration, photo, or piece of microfiction inspired by the song. Below is the track, followed by the responses I got about the horror legend's music.

Sean Yeaton, bassist of Parquet Courts (and former Motherboard editor):
Scornful Inventory. Day one at my factory for employee number 572. I'm at the Florida Welcome Center on I-75 picking up some free OJs for everyone, when my pocket buzzes. Even though I've dreaded this moment since I opened my factory four years ago, I never mentally prepared myself for what would ultimately become the period at the end of a long, protracted sentence, or maybe an ellipsis if I fucked up beyond repair. Not since employee number 388 have I even come close to having to "deal with" an employee questioning my product, its production, and even when 388 seemed, from behind the one-way mirrors, to be nearing the precipice of epiphany, his tortured embrace of ignorance was palpable. But 572, on the other hand…

Bill Kouligas, founder of PAN and producer:

Shaun Durkan, member of the band Weekend:

Luis Vasquez, singer and multi-instrumentalist of the Soft Moon:
In slow motion. A reverse vacuum-like effect from macrocosm to microcosm revealing abstract hallucinogenic imagery accelerates growing more and more intense until the ultimate breaking point when… a man bursts back into reality. There's a brief moment of lingering euphoria from what he just experienced before realizing he is now back to where he has always been. A dystopian world full of chaos but not the sort of chaos one would think. For the last 200 years humans have learned to become immortal with no way of reversing the effect. As a reaction to this, most of the population has become obsessed with death. The closest thing to death is achieving unconsciousness by inflicting as much agonizing pain as possible to the point of blackout. It's the only escape from this world. The more pain inflicted, the longer the trip into each ones own personal inner or outside journey. Sixty percent of humans roaming this world are disfigured, partially dissected, or have amputated themselves in search of a more peaceful euphoric realm. Death is the only true happiness. The only hope would be for infection to spread, causing a virus reversing immortality to set them free from an anguished existence.

Michael Bailey Gates, artist:

Brian Anderson, editor and producer at Motherboard:
1: The rest of your life is in the Future, but you are being assisted to death. So tell me something that's true! It must be exhausting, being such a smug prick. Be better. Be more. Find a bug. Inspect the bug. Behold it, eat it.

0: That thing when you and the schlub next to you grab drinks, drink, and set down drinks in unison, unplanned, no words exchanged? That. Just that. And then horrible, terrible drilling noises. The sound of melting machinery. Fatigue, fatigue everywhere. We are all on the conveyor belt, now.


Claire Christerson, artist:

Pauly Shore, actor and comedian:
I see Bo Derek running down the beach with her braids flowing. Some black dudes are standing on the dunes looking down at her weirdly. Everyone thinks they want to have sex with her, but it's not like that. It's not like, Let's hook up with this chick. It's more like, Let's go talk to this girl because she'd make a good assistant for our rap label. She's got it going on . Every time someone has a hot assistant, it makes dudes go crazy. When you go to see an executive and you see a hot assistant, it makes you think, I wanna do biz with these people.

She sees them and thinks, Oh shit. But they say, "No, we want you to work for us." It's this long drawn-out thing where the audience thinks one thing and another happens. The label would be called "The Bombs Stop Dropping." She's beyond excited because cause she loves the label, and says yes. It's a happy ending.

Ben Morsberger, guitarist of Blood Orange and Cable:

Fred Pessaro, editor-in-chief of Noisey:
She's fucking dead now, so quit crying and pull yourself together. It's time for you to go for the self. The feds are everywhere, but this is war, and you need to end it. You'll need a car, stolen, and a change of clothes. You stink from hiding in that dumpster all day. And weapons. There is no such thing as too many. Until then, wrap a cloth around the handle because it might be hard to hold a knife when the grip is slick with blood.

Matthew Leifheit, photo editor of VICE:

Charlie Ambler, VICE contributor:
Reginald Schwartz tossed a half-lit cigarette out the window of his '84 Camaro as a light mist attempted halfheartedly to envelop Mulholland Drive. A man can be both stark-raving mad and introspective, can't he? This, among an overwhelmingly diverse range of other reflections and recollections, began to barrage Reginald Schwartz's one-track mind. The Camaro carried on at a cool and near-invariable 60 miles per hour—twists and turns have never phased Reginald Schwartz, a man of one gear and one gear only. A half-hashed sense of nostalgia washed over him as he recalled nights past, nights like this. Though no night had ended quite like this. No night had ever ended with Reginald's booty baby, his sweet honey sugar doll of the evening, fast approaching him in her own vehicle. I may be mad, Reginald thought, but not as mad as this cold bitch. He'd lived the life of a modern day mythical dragon-slaying knight of dishonor, plowing his way through highfalutin antics, coke deals gone bloody, and attempts on his life—though never at the hand of his own boo boo, his downtown sexyface sweetie pie. Now she was on his tail. He never faltered, though he secretly wondered if she may just in fact be the first success of many previously unsuccessful assassins

Jane Moseley, artist:

Lost Themes is out now on Sacred Bones. There's also a retrospective of John Carpenter on view at BAM from February 5 to February 22. Find more information here.

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