[Interview] ‘Halloween 2-6’ Maestro Alan Howarth on Composing Fear
Alan Howarth has performed the music for half of the existing 10 films in the Halloween franchise, having worked alongside John Carpenter on the first two sequels before taking over the sonic reigns entirely for Halloween 4 through 6, making him perhaps the top authority on the signature sounds of these beloved movies.
When I met Howarth earlier this year, at the massive Halloween reunion that took place during Flashback Weekend in Chicago, we discussed working with Carpenter on 1981’s Halloween II and its 1982 follow up Halloween III: Season of the Witch, bringing his own style to the soundtracks of the Thorn Trilogy, and how he is ready and eager to come back for the upcoming Halloween Returns.
Our interview took place following a panel that the composer took part in discussing Halloween 4 through the sixth film The Curse of Michael Myers, collectively often referred to by fans as the “Jamie Lloyd Trilogy” or the “Thorn Trilogy”, the three films for which Howarth inherited soundtrack duties fully.
He talked in the panel (you can watch it here) about the School of Carpenter and how he really felt like he came into his own as Halloween’s composer with the soundtrack for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. I asked him to talk more about graduating from the School of Carpenter.
“Halloween was John before I met him,” Howarth said. “Halloween II now was the sequel, in which John was busy on The Thing, so I basically, with the model of his original score, did a more gothic version.
“Halloween III was the departure, trying to break away from Michael Myers, which ultimately was not successful in the view of the owners, and then here comes Halloween 4 and they approach me.
“I said to John, ‘Is it okay of I do this?’ ‘Sure, man, whatever,’ he says.
“So on Halloween 4, I still inherited John’s compositions, the Halloween theme, Laurie’s theme, the Shape attack, and so with those iconic markers, I got to build on top of that. It was a chance to really put my personality into it.
“I was influenced by all this English rock stuff, like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Moody Blues, Genesis, so all that kind of musical composition stuff plus my own jamming in the ‘70s with my echoplexes and my guitars and my synthesizers all got to come into this box. I was using sound effect-y things. It wasn’t about the notes, because they had already been established, what I was going to do.
“I also took a more laid back approach. In the beginning of Halloween 4, I don’t even hit the Halloween theme until like four or five minutes in. I do this atmosphere and I’m building stuff, because it was a reboot, if you want to look at it that way. It was a do-over, so whatever happened, we’re going to start another thing, and turned out to be that 4, 5, and 6 are like a trilogy. So that middle – 4, 5, 6 – is sort of like Alan Howarth does Alan Howarth instead of John Carpenter. God bless him (Carpenter), great man.
“By then we had midi. I had samplers, I had emulators. My ArmadaC’s were still on board. I was recording to two-inch 24-track tape. I had a nice big Soundcraft board with automation. I had a Lexicon 224 reverb, so it was state of the art of those days, and I have to tell you, there is nothing like that.
“Even with the modern everything I got, that was a sound. That gear made that noise going through all those wires, up and down and in and out of circuits or whatever. And it had like a print, like a model, so I knew when I went back to redo the soundtracks to 4, 5, and 6 (for their recent re-releases), and I put them in and it was like, ‘Ah, it sounds so good.’ And it wasn’t about the fact that it was on tape, because tape had an issue with noise. When I did the re-releases I had to go back into the tapes. Now here we are 30 years later going back into stuff.
“There’s a sound quality to tape, and there’s a sound quality to boards, and at the time you don’t know it because you have nothing to compare it to. This whole retro thing is authentic. There’s a subtlety, but it’s authentic.”
What’s your process of writing? Were you literally writing to the scenes?
“As a composer, the movie’s already been filmed, and there’s some edited version of the movie you’re working to. In those days it was video tape. And I had a synchronization between the video tape recorder and my 24-track audio tape recorder, so there was a sympi-code and tracking.
“It was painting with sound to picture. For me that’s the most creative thing, because I was a painter when I was a kid.
“Probably one of the reasons I’ve done well in this area is because I’m a visual person that has a good knowledge of sound, so doing sound for picture is where I’m best. When I was playing in rock and roll bands, I never wrote a three-minute hit. Whatever recordings of music I did were still soundtracky anyhow. It wasn’t about having vocals. It was about doing things visually. So all that early jamming paid off.”
While he has not yet been in contact with the producers of the new film, nor writer Patrick Melton or director Marcus Dunstan (at least not as of the time of our conversation), Howarth believes that, aside from Carpenter himself, no one else is more qualified for the job of scoring the recently announced new movie Halloween Returns.
“Instead of hiring some kid to sound like me, they should just hire me,” Howarth tells Halloween Daily News.
“Let’s think about this for a second. If they’re going to go back to the original format, and the look and feel and sound of that stuff, why wouldn’t they want me to do the music? I’m the one guy that knows everything. I think it’d be great if the fans sort of used social media to let the producers know they really want that to happen.
“Really, when you think about it, if you want to make a Halloween, you need Michael Myers and the mask, you need a good story, and you need the music. Those three things, and it’s another Halloween, and everybody will like it and they’ll buy into it, as opposed to hate it. I think it’s a great opportunity.
“I’d love to do it. Hopefully, they’ll call me up and we’ll do that. If they don’t, then it’s a missed a opportunity.”
@Wright_Khalil@PatrickWMelton I kid you not… I was playing this as I read the article! We should be so lucky! pic.twitter.com/0mqfWvw6yz— Marcus Dunstan (@MarcusDunstan) August 13, 2015