Composers Interview: Joe Henson & Alexis Smith (Alien: Isolation)

Joe Henson and Alexis Smith began collaborating in 2005 when they co-produced an album for Joe’s band Seventhsun. After realising they had a similar approach to life and wildly divergent musical tastes, they formed a creative partnership that quickly encompassed song writing, production, and composition. The duo have worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry including Lana Del Rey and newcomer Chlöe Howl as well as composing major soundtracks for some of the game industry’s biggest titles including Alien: Isolation and Assassins Creed. 

You’re known for your work as producers, as well as for your work as composers. Which area did you get into first – producing or scoring, and how did the overlap in the two areas occur?

JH: I started out as a touring bass player, then moved into producing. I had started to do some TV work about the time I met Alexis. He was hired to produce my band at the time, and we really got on well. After that we started doing a lot of work together, me bringing in TV and film stuff and Alexis more artist related work. That’s when The Flight started.

Many composers work alone for the majority of the composition process. Working together, do you find you ever have “creative differences” sometimes? How do you manage your working relationship to ensure this is kept to a minimum?

JH: This doesn’t happen much in our studio, we trust each other’s judgment. If one of us doesn’t like something it goes. We’re not saving lives, we’re making music… There are more important things to worry about.

AS: We got together because it just seems to work; we think the same way about music. I think we’re very lucky.

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Alien: Isolation licenses some of the original themes from Jerry Goldsmith’s score. How did you expand the themes and motifs from the original score?

JH: We worked with my brother Christian Henson on this project. The first thing he did was expand those licensed themes into an 8-minute suite. We used parts of this throughout the game, and explored them in more depth.

AS: There are also some very iconic non-thematic elements in the original soundtrack, like the col legno orchestral snaps or the ‘Alien whale’ sound. We could move pretty far away from the original score but still pull it back into the Alien world quite easily by using the same sounds and techniques as Jerry Goldsmith used in 1979.

As is common with most game scores, Alien: Isolation makes use of a reactive or “evolving” score that changes with player decisions, actions or areas etc.

How did you tie together the more intense and dramatic parts of the score with the less intense/more moody parts of it to ensure it all remained cohesive as a whole?

JH: The system on Alien: Isolation was pretty complicated but we tried not to let it get in the way of our creativity too much. You have to keep it in mind, but the music should come first.

When you begin scoring a project, how do you decide on the “sonic palette” to use?

JH: We do a lot of preparation, and try to apply some limitations. With the technology we have access to nowadays the amount of sounds possible can be overwhelming. On Alien: Isolation we tried to mostly use ‘real’ instruments that include real analogue synths, tape delays and spring reverbs. We kept plugins and sample libraries down to a minimum.

AS: A big part of the game’s production design is its ‘retro-futurism’ where they wanted it to look like it is from the original film’s time, kind of space 1979. We tried to mirror this as much as we could in the choice of electronic elements too.

What are some of your little composition tricks that you consistently use from project to project?

JH: We don’t really have any tricks! Alexis and I have a lot of instruments in our studio… so we try and play as much stuff as possible ourselves.

AS: Yes, playing and listening to lots of music to keep your ears fresh.

What are your favourite plugins and sample libraries at the moment?

JH: We love the stuff by UAD, Spitfire orchestral libraries are the best…. but I would have to say that!

AS: My favourite plug-ins are Vintage Warmer, and Ratshack Reverb.

Learn more about The Flight at www.theflightmusicofficial.com.

Written by: Emmett Cooke

Emmett Cooke is an Irish composer for film, tv and video games. His music has been used around the world by high profile companies including Sony Playstation, Ralph Lauren, ABC, CBS, NBC, Lockheed Martin and many more.

Film and Game Composers

www.FilmandGameComposers.com offers a wide range of interviews, reviews, guides and tutorials for composers and musicians who are interested in writing music for film, TV and video games.

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