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constructinghorror.com: Alan Howarth [Sound Designer / Composer]

If you are a fan of science fiction or horror films then chances are you are also a fan of Alan Howarth. He is the man responsible for making the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and your blood race swiftly through your veins.


The Audio Interview

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Feeling the Sounds of Alan Howarth

Alan Howarth is a genius of sound. He can take the ordinary and turn it into so much more. The sounds of metal on cement when manipulated in just the right ways can assault your senses. He has worked on such classic films as: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Halloween II (1981) Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Poltergeist (1982), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Gremlins (1984), The Lost Empire (1985), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), Halloween 5 (1989), The Hunt for Red October (1990), Back to the Future Part III (1990), Total Recall (1990), RoboCop 2 (1990), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), Army of Darkness (1992), Dracula (1992), The Mask (1994), Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), Dreamer (2000) and The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008). These are just some of his more familiar films. He has also created sound effects and/or composed music for numerous other films, television shows, ads and even a music video or two.

Since his childhood in New Jersey, Alan Howarth has been interested in music. He began his exploration of sound at age five with everyone’s favorite instrument, the accordion. At around twelve Alan decided he’d had enough of the polka and began playing the saxophone instead. During his freshman year of High School Alan and his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio. It was during this portion of his adolescence that he was introduced to rock ‘n’ roll and like the rest of the world, swept away with Beatlemania. The music of this era got Alan interested in playing the guitar and the bass guitar. Like most adolescent boys of the 60’s and 70’s, Alan was in a few rock’n’roll garage bands around his hometown area. It was this rock’n’roll experience that got Alan deeper into the music scene and introduced him to electronic instruments. After getting a job as a keyboard technician touring with New York jazz fusion band Weather Report, Alan ended up in Los Angeles. After the move, the band went into a long “studio” period that left touring duties sparse. This was when he landed his first effects job on the Star Trek motion picture. Alan auditioned with tapes he had made showcasing what he imagined the Enterprise engines would sound like. He imagined right. That audition propelled Alan Howarth out of the music industry and into the movie industry.

On his first film Alan created the special sound effects used for the Warp Drive, Enterprise engines, transporters, lasers, etc. Alan originated his niche; he had found a career in which he could create sounds that didn’t exist in true life, objects straight out of his imagination. Alan began working with an instrument known as Prophet 5. It was the first polyphonic programmable synthesizer. He was one of the first sound effects artists to be using this new equipment. This coupled with the creativity he possessed to create impeccable sci-fi sound led Alan to involvement in future projects such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Poltergeist. These movies helped to cement his name as one of the top sound effects designers in Hollywood.
Alan was hired to do the special sound effects on John Carpenter’s film Escape From New York. Carpenter was also looking for someone new to do his musical scores with. John started out as the composer but as their friendship and partnership flourished they became a solid unit creating some of the most memorable movie scores produced. All you need is for the “MUSIC” to play and you know exactly which movie is on the screen. The effects sounds allude to the coming horror without giving it away. Your heart rate quickens at the exact moment needed, the result is the jump everyone loves, when the assault comes. This duo has created the sound for numerous movies that can be found in most households across the world.

Alan Howarth is a master of giving life to images. What would the Enterprise be without the sound of its warp drive? Would Michael Myers be as terrifying if we couldn’t hear the moment of attack? Would we even know there was a girl lost in another dimension in Poltergeist if it weren’t for the inventive sounds of Alan Howarth. What would movies today be without their legendary sound? Would we still be talking about them the next day?

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