Oct 312014

Last night, I saw Halloween (the original 1978 film by John Carpenter) at the movie theater for the very first time, and found myself wondering what synth(s) were used in the soundtrack. Read on for the surprising answer.

My teen years having taken place in the ’80s, I’d enjoyed watching pretty much every classic slasher film and horror movie as they were shown through the new magic of cable TV and compulsively recorded by my dad on our then-new VHS recorder. Those early years of slasher films were defined by the beginnings of what have become two of the genre’s biggest franchises: Halloween & Friday the 13th.

As a young pianist, the Halloween theme was something I simply had to play. It’s not as simple as it first seems – it utilizes an odd time signature and unconventional chord progressions – making it one of those themes that’s easy to play recognizably wrong. But a quick cassette tape recording and plenty of stop > rewind > play did wonders for me as I learned the subtle complexities of the classic theme by ear.

But I’d never watched Halloween properly (i.e. at a real movie theater) until last night. And between all of my “wow, I didn’t remember that part like that” moments, I found myself wondering for the first time, “What synth made that sound?” The pads, the stingers, the not-completely-in-sync hi-hat-like ticking sound … and I had to do some research.

The answer wasn’t as easy to find as I thought it’d be. John Carpenter’s official website has this page dedicated to the Halloween soundtrack, but makes no mention of specific synthesizers used. And while fellow Synthfiends in forum discussions like this one, this one, and this one are quick to post well-documented, extensive and drool-worthy gear lists based on Carpenter’s body of work, most are corrected that this early Carpenter soundtrack was almost entirely realized on a … Moog Modular III.

Wonderfully detailed in this CultureRamp.com article, the soundtrack, recorded in one week at Sound Arts Studios in Los Angeles, was Composed and performed by John Carpenter, with synthesizer programming by Dr. Dan Wyman. Wyman explains:

“I used only the modular system Moog III: five boxes of modules, with 4 sequencers, two keyboards, and a Ribbon Controller [a touch-sensitive strip that controls pitch]. However, I may have duplicated one or two of the [sound effects] on a Minimoog which was in the room…” “…I had written the Moog Modular Systems Handbook for Bob Moog, and without reservation preferred the quality of this famous instrument to any other.”

So there you have it. I highly recommend reading the rest of the article, which is the best coverage of the production of this classic soundtrack I’ve been able to find: Culture Ramp – “Killer Punk”

For further reading, see all 5 articles in Culture Ramp’s “Blood on the Moog” series detailing the role of the synthesizer in numerous classic films: Culture Ramp – “Blood on the Moog” series

  One Response to “What’s that synth? John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978)”

  1. A great article! Thank you for this. I’ve also wondered long and hard about which synth was used, etc. I thought perhaps I was just being a little too obsessive but as a composer myself, we do tend to think about things like this. Again, well done on the article.

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