Carter Burwell was born on November 18, 1954.
He graduated from Harvard College in 1977. While at Harvard he studied animation with Mary Beams and George Griffin, electronic music with Ivan Tcherepnin, and pursued a course of independent study at the MIT Media Lab (then known as the Architecture Machine Group). After graduation he became a teaching assistant in the Harvard Electronic Music Studio.
In 1979 his animated film Help, I'm Being Crushed to Death by a Black Rectangle, won first place at the Jacksonville Film Festival and second place at the Ottawa International Animation Festival.
From 1979 to 1981 Carter worked as Chief Computer Scientist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Long Island, where he wrote software for image processing, lab automation and protein analysis.
From 1982 to 1987 he worked at the New York Institute of Technology where he began as a computer modeler and animator, but ended up as Director of Digital Sound Research. During this time he worked on many computer-animated television spots and films, ultimately contributing models and animation to the Japanese anime Lensman.
During the 1980's Carter pursued a parallel career in music, playing with a number of bands in New York City, particularly The Same, Thick Pigeon, and Radiante. He was also writing music for dance (RAB, which premiered at the Avignon Festival in 1984), theatre (The Myth Project at Naked Angels in 1989) and film (Blood Simple, Psycho III, Raising Arizona).
Since this time he has scored a number of feature films including Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, Rob Roy, Fargo, Conspiracy Theory, The Spanish Prisoner, Gods and Monsters, Being John Malkovich, Before Night Falls, Adaptation, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, Burn After Reading, Where The Wild Things Are, Twilight, The Kids Are All Right, True Grit and Seven Psychopaths, while teaching and continuing to compose dance (The Return of Lot's Wife), theatre (Cara Lucia, Theater of the New Ear) and other work.