I’m pleased to present my latest mix, Elektronik. A project to compile some of the most powerful synthesised music ever made – from the ultra minimal electronic soundscapes of John Carpenter through to new school electro artists such as Not Waving and Ekoplez, all with a common theme of old school synths. Expect throbbing bass, minimal electronics, arpeggio synths and as much dramatic tension as your mind can take.
I’ve long been fascinated by film scores – music that is designed to elicit a strong emotional response, to underline the drama we see on screen. Music that is often epic in it’s scope, intensely euphoric or often terrifying and disorienting. I often wonder how much impact the infamous Psycho shower scene would have minus Bernard Hermann’s inspired strings-only score:
For Psycho, Bernard Hermann was to concoct nothing less than a cello and violin masterwork, “black and white” music that throbbed sonorously as often as it gnawed at the nerve endings. The score would prove to be a summation of all of Hermann’s previous scores for Hitchcock’s films, conveying as it did the sense of the abyss that is the human psyche, dread, longing, regret in short, the wellsprings of the Hitchcock universe. According to Stefano, Hitchcock was particularly amused by Hermann’s screaming violins” and “gave him more credit than anyone else he ever spoke of”. So pleased was the parsimonious director by Hermann’s score that he did the unheard of: He nearly doubled the composer’s salary to$34.501.
It got me thinking – what would a mix orientated around classic soundtracks sound like? I also wanted to explore the nature of electronic music pre-dance music and even before sequencers became commonplace. In the end my curation coalesced around a particular sound and atmosphere – one that placed the synth at the forefront, showcased evocative emotional vistas of sound, whether the composition is modern or from the eighties. There are songs present here that were used recently for movie sound tracks, as well as records that have never been used on any film but felt right to my ears in the mix.
So you will find classic scores from Manhunter, Assault on Precinct 13 and The Thing sandwiched alongside newer material from the 2014 Judge Dredd remake, and the space-age neuron-popping theme tune from Neon Demon. Add to this a sprinkling of odd Krautrock work-outs and even some pyschedelia and you have a heady concoction of pop cultural delight. Enjoy!
1. Kitaro – Seiun (Manhunter)
“If one does what God does enough times, one will become as God is.”
Michael Mann’s Manhunter was the first film to be adapted from Thomas Harris’s excellent Red Dragon book (first in the series to introduce Hannibal Lecter to the world), and arguably the best film of all. Rather than indulge in the all-out gore of the later films, Manhunter was a glacially cool and highly disturbing thriller that concentrates on unspoken unease and a claustrophobic electronic soundtrack.
This song by Kitaro didn’t appear on the official soundtrack release and is actually difficult to get hold of. It’s a perfect example of the sound I wanted to capture on this mix – sophisticated, dramatic, resonating with menace and pathos.
2. Not Waving – Conscious Subliminal and 3. Not Waving – Future Rain
These are the first two of the new school electronic records I include on this mix, and it’s hard to tell them apart from their eighties counterparts.
Not Waving is a favourite artist of mine, and one that is surprisingly prolific. Alessio Natalizia grew up on punk rock, industrial, noise and post punk before eventually settling on electronic music. This track starts like many of his, polite and musical, but degenerates into squalls of digital debris, sparking and fizzing like misfiring neurons.
Future Rain in particular reminds me of Goblin a great deal.
Both tracks are from the excellent Human Capabilities album.
4. Neu! – Leb Wohl
Neu are Krautrock luminaries and this lullaby of ocean waves, tinkling piano and odd vocals serves well to transition to the tension to come.
4. Ennio Morricone – The Humanity (The Thing)
“I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me right now, so some of you are still human. This thing doesn’t want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation. It’ll fight if it has to, but it’s vulnerable out in the open. If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies”
Morricone is an Italian composer, conductor and trumpet player who is famous for literally hundreds of soundtracks. He worked closely with Carpenter on The Thing – this could be one of Carpenter’s own tracks. The plodding electronic bass brings the tension, and the offkey strings serve to excerbate it. The horns are almost jazz-like. It’s a compelling opening to the film that sets the scene well for the chaos and horror to follow.
“Interestingly, Carpenter didn’t compose his own score for the film (at least not in full). Seeking a ‘European’ sound for The Thing, Carpenter made the unexpected decision to hire celebrated Italian maestro Ennio Morricone. Carpenter’s own scores worked wonders in the past (the repetitious, minimalistic Halloween soundtrack brilliantly mimicked the relentless nature of Mike Myers himself) but a Morricone score promised something truly special. Morricone has reputedly composed over 400 scores during his tenure but, in spite of the many genres he has covered, is most closely associated with the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and others. But he has an experimental, avant-garde side that has surfaced in his scores for horror master Dario Argento (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage saw Morricone compose a wonderfully creepy hybrid of lullaby and jazz) and in segments throughout much of his other work. He was therefore an ideal, if unusual, choice to score The Thing.”
5. Steve Hillage – Four Ever Rainbow
This is a bit of a curve ball but it works so well I couldn’t resist it. Hillage is a musician associated with the free party scene in the UK, playing psychedelic rock. This is a beautiful record, starting with chimes and developing into a wall of cascading warm euphoric synth, as he hypnotically sends guitar chords into the stratosphere of your consciousness. Hillage was later inducted into the rave scene by The Orb. This track was a direct source of influence on The Orb’s “Blue Room”. Such a spacious trip of a song serves to lighten the mood after Morricone’s taut electronic thriller.
6. Cliff Martinez – Neon Demon Theme tune (Neon Demon)
And on to Martinez’ accomplished OST for Neon Demon, a horror film that charts the entry of a 16 year old model into a sordid, exploitative LA fashion industry. I loved the way this film looks but there isn’t much depth underneath it’s gleamingly perfect surface – much as I find the fashion industry as a whole. Vapid airheads who are sexist and racist – still, that’s a rant for another time. The music…. well clearly Martinez is influenced by Carpenter’s work. It’s beautiful, taut and dark – with sprinklings of mellifluous stardust sprinkled over everything. I get synthesia when I listen to music, and this track literally pulses with red, purple and deep orange every single time.
This is by far the most pounding track I play on this mix – those dark side bass stabs are pure evil.
7. Paul Leonard-Morgan – Ma-Ma’s Requiem (Dredd)
Now on to Leonard-Morgan’s astonishing film score for the doomed but excellent Dredd remake (the original starring Stallone should be scrubbed from existence as far as I’m concerned – you took your helmet off!). I’m focussing on the score used to illustrate the effects of the fictional drug, “slo mo”. Here’s Leonard-Morgan on his production techniques:
When we see Ma-Ma in these Slo-mo sequences it is an opportunity to break out of the darker Dredd universe for a moment. Instead of seeing Ma-Ma as a brutal character, I wanted to try and convey what might be going through her head. Whilst she is an evil person, her back story was incredibly sad and poignant, so I wanted to detach her from the reality of Mega City One. If I could show how in her head she’s so self-obsessed that she doesn’t care about anyone else, that she’s emotionally isolated, then it would emphasize her brutality when she snaps out of her world and into the darkness of Peach Trees.
I used this incredible new timestretch software called Paul. I composed and recorded new tracks with real instruments, and then slowed them down by thousands of percent to match the vibe of the visuals, adding some realtime score over the top of it. So one second of written score could end up lasting 10 minutes. It sounds weird, but it creates some truly beautiful sounds. Really ethereal. It takes you to a completely different world. Getting to do experimental things like this in a film score isn’t something that happens every day, so it was really exciting pushing back the boundaries.
7. Ekoplekz – Trace Elements
Ekoplekz is a pseudo synonym for Nick Edwards, the man behind the seminal Gutterbreaks blog. I know Nick from my own blog running at the same time, Bassnation. Back then there was quite a small community of bloggers writing about grime, jungle, dubstep and the other shards, fragments and totems.
On a similar tip to Not Waving, I love Nick’s analog sound. Here he is, talking about his production technique:
Sometimes I go a couple of weeks doing nothing, then I’ll do five or six tracks in a week when the flow is there. Generally it’ll start with me pottering around a rhythm track or something, all my gear’s set up ready to go and I just start jamming. All the stuff you heard on Memowrekz, that was done in the garage, but I’ve promoted myself to a room up top of the house now, to be a bit more comfortable. So I don’t compose in the sense of having an idea first, I just start plugging things into each other, put a beatbox through an effect and a delay, and when something sounds interesting I’ll get it down to my four-track tape… which is a bit different to the MIDI way of doing things, because once you get something down to the tape, you can’t tweak the fucker, it’s done. So I’ll get a basic rough backing track down, then I’ll mess about doing live overdubs on the top. Going back to that track ‘Trace Elements’, it’s kind of like a techno track, as the Boomkat review highlighted, but it’s all hand-played, which is what gives it its particular feel I suppose. It’s almost like it’s dance music created on hand-played, pre-MIDI instruments.
8. Japan – Ghosts
I included Ghosts to illustrate the sonic lineage from Carpenter’s soundtrack explorations and classic british synth pop. It’s hard to believe this track got to number one in the charts – it’s so strange and disquieting. In other words, a perfect mix for the other delights to the senses featured here.
This track is also important to us junglists – it’s well known that Goldie and others were inspired by Japan, and you can literally hear the synth line in this track on multiple hardcore rave and jungle records.
9. Tangerine Dream – Hyperborea
Another band that sometimes aren’t classified as krautrock, when that is exactly what they are. Edgar Froese sadly passed away in 2015. This band were a huge influence on me and many others and I think they don’t get the credit they deserve. It should be clear to everyone now that their ideas pre-date house music by decades and we owe a great deal to them. Hyperborea is one of my favourite LPs of theirs:
Hyperborea’ is an unusual album in the TANGERINE DREAM canon, as despite featuring the classic Froese / Franke / Schmoelling line-up, it doesn’t really sound like anything the act had produced previously. It was almost as if the band decided to throw out the rule book and this resulted in an album which had diverse, almost world-music influences in places. Even though the trademark driving sequencers were still present and correct, the patterns were somehow different… the title track is the undeniable centrepiece of the album, a glorious two movement, pulse-slowing piece which mainly revolves around a simple descending rich resonant bass and a syncopated gated chordal synth part. A sparse kick and snare pattern ticks away in the background whilst musically the piece perfectly matches the album artwork of a giant glacier. According to Greek mythology, Hyperboreans were mythical people who lived in the far north where the sun shined for 24 hours a day, possibly suggesting an area in the Arctic Circle.
10. John Carpenter – Mirror Image (Prince of Darkness)
On to the first of the Carpenter tracks, after hearing many others influenced by him. This is from the Prince of Darkness soundtrack and is typically dark, understated and twinkling. It totally captures the somewhat off-key vibe of the film which I believe is amongst his most underrated. Sure, it has a b-movie premise but Carpenter took it very seriously and as a result it’s an accomplishment that does not rely on gore to disturb.
Lets look at Carpenter’s music more closely. As well as being a brilliant auteur director, Carpenter learnt music at an early age from his father, who was a music teacher. He once claimed doing his own soundtracks was a way to save money, but the truth is, he had a distinctive vision to articulate and making the soundtrack was a way to exert complete control over his art. He’s famously tight-lipped in interviews but his collaborative partners have spilled the beans on the kit he used:
Another important figure for Carpenter was Dan Wyman, a synth-programmer who also worked for Giorgio Moroder during the second half of the 1970’s. Wyman set up all the patches and Carpenter would play most of the parts, as he explained on an interview:
“Wyman programmed the synthesizers, oversaw the recording of my frequently imperfect performances, and often joined me to perform a difficult line or speed-up the seemingly never ending process of overdubbing one instrument at a time. I have to credit Dan as Halloween’s musical co-producer. His fine taste and musicianship polished up the edges of an already minimalistic, rhythm-inspired score.”
Over the years, the best source for Carpenter-related gear info has been Alan Howarth. Some of the synths and other gear used in John Carpenter scores include:
Prophet 10, Prophet 5, ARP Avatar, ARP Quadra, ARP Sequencer, Roland CSQ-600/Sequencer, Sequential Circuits 700 Programmer, Linn LM-1 Drum Computer, Stephens 821-A 24 track,Tascam 80-8 8-track, dbx 155 Noise Reduction, Otari 5050-B 2 trk, Tapco 7424 mixing consoles, Furman PQ-6 Parametric EQ ,Furman RV-1 Reverbs, MXR DDL delay, Mu-tron Phaser, Synclavier sampler, Oberheim SEM Module, ProphetVS, Oberheim Four Voice, Moog Vocoder, Prophet 2000, Ensoniq EPS, Ensoniq SQ-80, Kurzweil K250, E-mu Emulator II, E-mu Emulator, Fender Jazz Bass and Fender Stratocaster.
11. Disasterpeace – Old Maid (It Follows)
Continuing the horror them, we segue into this powerful horror score from Disasterpeace for the brilliant, innovative contemporary horror film, It Follows. The film explores the story of an entity that follows and kills it victims, that is passed on via sexual intercourse. Some regard the film as being a morality play about sexual abuse – how it is carried around with you. It received mixed reviews but i found it terrifying.
Here’s an interview from Vice:
As far as the actual writing, the transition was pretty fluid because we decided to do a synth soundtrack and I am very comfortable making synth music. So that part came natural to me, even though it was horror, which is something new to me. I found that what that requires, creating these really dissonant, wild sounds, for me, was license to just go crazy and do experimental stuff. That was a freeing experience.
12. Not Waving – Ability to gain access
Here’s a third track from Not Waving – going very deep with that electronic drone and scattergun atomicised synth rain.
13. Tangerine Dream – Phaedra / John Carpenter – Assault on precinct 13
A tiny snippet of Phaedra, widely regarded as Tangerine Dream’s best track and straight into one of Carpenter’s most well known soundtrack pieces used in his notorious “urban western”, Assault on Precinct 13.
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.
14. Harmonia – Hausmusik
It’s tempting to see the title of this track and assume it has something to do with house music, when in reality it’s a slice of unusual rock music (albiet with a hugely dominating synth that surges in like a tidal wave sweeping the plinky plonk piano line out of earshot).
By the time the trio banded together, they’d already helped define the sound that would eventually be called “krautrock.” Roedelius, 10 years older than most of his peers, had lived a trying life: as a child he appeared in films, was conscripted into the Hitler Youth, and jailed by the Stasi. Eventually freed, he found his way to West Germany and began exploring the experimental scene there with Moebius, a political activist with a taste for jazz and psychedelic rock. The two formed Kluster, creating clanging, proto-industrial soundscapes before eventually rechristening the group Cluster. Rother had traveled in his youth, studying in Düsseldorf and Pakistan, before joining up with Kraftwerk for a stint and forming Neu! with drummer Klaus Dinger. Neu!’s pop art sensibility popularized the “motorik” or “Apache beat,” an insistent drive coursing beneath cosmic swaths of sound.
15. Klaus Schulz – Angst
And finally to end the mix, here’s another track from the Manhunter soundtrack, from Klaus Schulze:
Klaus Schulze is a Germanelectronic musiccomposer and musician. He also used the aliasRichard Wahnfried. He was briefly a member of the electronic bands Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel before launching a solo career consisting of more than 60 albums released across five decades.