What was the first soundtrack or composition that you listened to and how did it affect you?
Alexis Smith: The first soundtrack album I can remember listening to a lot was a record of The Blues Brothers. However before that I remember recording bits of my Star Wars videotape onto cassette so I could listen on my Walkman. I could close my eyes and see the film in bed.
Joe Henson: The first soundtrack I bought was Miami Vice. I loved Jan Hammer when I was a kid – his records used to say, “There are no real guitars on this album.” I loved his synth guitar stuff. When I was young my brothers and I played the Flash Gordon soundtrack by Queen until we wore out the record.
What was it that first attracted you to horror?
AS: We don’t really pick and choose our genres that much, but we do enjoy writing music that’s on the dark side.
JH: On this project it was more that it was Alien, more than it being horror. It is such an iconic world. A film that we are a little obsessive about – to the point where we name our hard drives after characters in the film!
What considerations do you take into account that are unique to composing horror scores?
AS: You have to scare people! Also, make them feel uneasy, so that they never quite know what is around the next corner…
JH: You also need to know where to be subtle. This game is very much about listening out for things. So there are points where you have to pull the music right down to almost nothing. This can heighten tension just as well as screeching atonal strings.
What’s your approach to composing a score? Talk us through your method from preparation to completion.
AS: First of all we gather as much background on the game we are composing for as possible. If there’s not a playable version then we use concept art, video captures etc. We try out existing music and play things ourselves until we have a sense of the overall atmosphere of the world. Then we start writing. In an ideal world you get to go from beginning to end, developing the music along the way, but if not then we always try to have an overall picture of this to refer back to.
JH: We watched the original film a couple of times as well, not that we needed to. I have been watching Alien almost every few months since I got a VHS copy when I was ten. We know this film and its music and sound very well.
What are you working on now?
AS: As you probably know, game developers and publishers are very secretive about future titles, so we can’t really say anything about them. We are just finishing working on some tracks for Ripper Street Series 3, with composer Dominik Scherrer.
JH: I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you and get rid of your remains in some kind of acid bath.
What achievement are you most proud of?
AS: Probably at the moment, Alien:Isolation. But that might be because it has just come out!
JH: Mine is nothing to do with music – I can do the knife game that Bishop does in Aliens.
Who do you most admire musically?
AS: I love composers who do something a bit different than the standard Hollywood orchestral score. People like Clint Mansell, Cliff Martinez, or Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. With recording artists there are too many to mention, but big influences for me include Fairport Convention, Leonard Cohen, Tori Amos, and Aphex Twin.
JH: And don’t forget Vangelis. I recall someone on working on Alien said they wanted it to sound timeless. I completely disagreed. There was a time when Blade Runner sounded really dated, the same with Dirty Harry and the music from the Spaghetti Westerns, then with time they become classics. Like Alexis, I admire people who break the mould.
Talk us through your musical training and background.
AS: I studied classical guitar, but was always more interested in the overall sound of a track than playing. I taught myself the basics of sequencing and synth programming, and then was lucky enough to work my apprenticeship with the amazingly talented producer and composer Marius de Vries.
JH: I am pretty much self-trained. I had a bass teacher for a while but when he talked about music theory it just sounded like the teacher in the cartoon Peanuts. I just never got my head round it! I do everything by ear.
What influences you when writing music?
AS: All the music I’ve ever listened to up until that point in time, what is going on that day, and who is in the room with me.
JH: I am very influenced by visuals. When working on something I like to surround myself with as many images as I can get my hands on. Be they design concepts or videos from whatever it is I am working on, or just trawling through the internet for inspiration. I have a huge Tumblr page where I collect a lot of inspirational images.
Recommend a score.
AS: The Virgin Suicides by Air.
JH: Dirty Harry by Lalo Schifrin.