soundtrack cover

What a great start to the New Year! The first soundtrack I listened to this year was Christopher Willis’ score to The Personal History of David Copperfield directed by Armando Iannuci. The score is sweeping, symphonic joy and superbly played by the award-winning Aurora Orchestra and has already received praise.

“…the forward rushing camera’s momentum underscored by Christopher Willis’s shamelessly neoclassical (and, honestly, disarmingly lovely) string-heavy score
                                                    Filmmaker Magazine

“…all of it set to whimsical, soaring score courtesy of Christopher Willis”


Composer Willis was born in Australia and grew in the UK. He now resides in the US. Christopher composed the music to the Emmy Award-winning show Veep plus contributed to a number of major Hollywood movies including The Twilight Saga:Breaking Dawn Part 2, X-Men First Class and Winnie The Pooh.

I am delighted that Christopher was able to discuss the Copperfield soundtrack with me.

I very much enjoyed your score, it’s beautifully symphonic and in parts quite majestic.

Thank you very much! I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

Given that the film is a ‘re-imagining ‘ of one of Dickens best-loved stories, was there an urge/thought to compose in the style of ‘modern’ music?

Yes and no. One of the very first things Armando said to me about the film was that, to the characters, the world of the story isn’t “period” or “Dickensian” but simply their own world, and that we should feel the vividness and modernity of that world. That ethos is immediately clear from the production design and the cinematography: there’s no sepia tinge, the paint and the clothes characters wear are vibrant and fresh. And musically, too, we quickly found that this feeling of vibrancy was going to be all-important. If the music leant too far towards the actual period of the story, the ear would instinctively hear it as being “old”, as being at one remove from us. On the other hand, we still felt that the music should be orchestral and somehow symphonic in tone.

 Did director Armando Iannucci have any ideas about what he wanted for the score?

 Yes: I’m very fortunate to be working with a director who’s extremely well-versed in classical music. We tend to get the ball rolling on a movie by sharing playlists and references with each other. By sharing like this, you can convey an awful lot to one another, so that when you actually start discussing things in words, you already have a frame of reference. What’s nice about using all kinds of music, and especially concert music, rather than, say, referring only to other pieces of film music, is that the references are not always straightforwardly cinematic but more like a mood board or a brainstorm. Each thing has found its way onto a playlist because it has some quality or other that one of us likes, but that doesn’t mean it could simply be dropped into the film. They’re a stylistic jumble, and it’s up to me to process it all and try to distill something out of it. I think if we built our playlists out of film music, each thing would be much more film-ready, but there’d be less room for me to create something new.

Early on, we talked a lot about British symphonists of the early-to-mid 20th century: composers like Elgar, Britten, Arnold, Rubbra. As the writing progressed, though, I found myself catching up with the present day in a way, listening to and responding to more and more recent concert music, almost like I was composing a new British symphony.

 Last Days Of Innocence is a very measured cue, poignant and with sadness to it. In fact, with all the emotions running through the film you must have felt there was enormous scope for your score? Did you find it overwhelming at all?

Early on there was a stage when I was struggling with how it was all going to fit together. I had pieces I was pleased with but I wasn’t convinced they were going to add up to a whole. Eventually, I realized that in fact, I had too many building blocks. I needed to discard a few in order for everything to fall into place.

Another thing that really helped me was figuring out that in most cases, this score didn’t benefit from becoming more and more harmonically overwrought when the emotions were very big. Instead, I found I could draw things out over long phrases, as in “Last Days of Innocence”, or actually let the music wrestle with one single dissonance for a long long time, which happens near the end of the film: there are several very minimalist cues that essentially have one harmony for minutes at a time, building emotion through tension.

 The Murdstone’s really intrigued me, obviously, there are very dark tones needed for these characters, but it also has the feel of a 1930s/40’s soundtrack composition in its structure in this and other cues – which was a nice surprise. Could I ask which composer/s you have been influenced by?

 Much of the time, the music isn’t really commenting on the characters’ eccentricities but acting as a unifier, joining experiences together. But yes, as you say, I felt with the Murdstones that this was one area in which I could go a little more melodramatic and channel older film music a little bit. Dickens draws his nastier characters with such bold strokes that I felt I had to get sucked into that sometimes. This probably grew indirectly out of my listening to the British symphonists I mentioned. Many of them were also film composers, such as Walton, for instance, or William Alwyn, so they definitely had a lot of darker emotions at their fingertips.

With 33 tracks/54 minutes long, did you envisage this being a longish score?

 We had an instinct early on that the total mass of music would be about 50-60 minutes, and although it looked from time to time like it might grow or shrink based on the picture, it did actually end up at about that length. I like having this kind of scope: it allows me to think of the score as being somehow symphonic – it’s not a symphony, of course, but symphonic perhaps like a tone poem, with recapitulations and memories and a kind of developmental energy running through it.

 The character cue Uriah Heep also has dark notes signifying his sycophantic character but there is also a sorrowful violin running through it that surprised me, I felt it worked quite well but wondered what it signified?

I think of the violin perhaps as being “wheedling” like Uriah: sort of sickly sweet like his hollow compliments. Also, I think Ben Whishaw does a wonderful job of conveying the fact that Uriah is in many ways a tragic figure: a lifetime of humiliation and want have played a big part in making him the way he is. So there was always something mournful about the ideas I had for Uriah.

 A stand out track for me is Adventures of a London Gentleman, which bustles along but retains Copperfield’s striving through its violin playing. Would you say this bustle/sweeping refrain is the score’s leitmotif as it pops up several times and what was the motivation for this?

Thanks very much! I love that you used the word “striving”. The first texture I worked on for the film was the pulsating texture in “My Own Story”, the very first cue, which “London Gentleman” is based on, and in some ways, I would say I was trying to capture something I got from the novel (which I read for the first time just before I started working on the movie) even before I saw the film. The book is so fresh and so modern, sometimes startlingly so; and one of the key feelings I get from the book is the sense that simply existing, simply being alive, is this thrilling, almost exultant thing. And at the same time, David is in this search, this very open-ended quest, to find his place in the world. So yes, I did feel that it would make sense for us to return several times to that texture throughout the film.

Love the music hall feel of Mock Turtle. Did you have fun putting this cue together?

Thanks! It was nice to be able to use a different kind of musical voice for that cue, but still to nod at some of the motifs and shapes from elsewhere in the score. Something very fortuitous happened with the recording of this cue actually. I was supposed to record it myself at Air Lyndhurst in London after the orchestral sessions were over – it would have been the very last thing. (It’s a piano solo.) But the scoring process had been absolutely exhausting. I was finishing the last few fixes right up to the last minute, and in fact, I wrote the end credits cue in the middle of the night before the final day of recording. I’d slept only a few hours in the three days I’d been in London. And I hadn’t practiced “Mock Turtle”. I had made it through all the orchestral sessions but when everyone left I was just totally zonked. The recording engineer (Jake Jackson, who did a wonderful job) was feeding me chocolate bars and cups of tea, trying to get my energy up for just long enough, but I just couldn’t do it. So we called it a day and went off to the pub. That meant I just had to record it back in LA later. But what’s fortuitous is that the piano sounds quite different from the piano in the rest of the score as a result, and I rather like the effect: as you say, it sounds a little music-hall, a little bit like a movie pianist.

Thank you very much, Christopher.

Interview with composer Paul Mills


Multi-award winning composer and producer Paul Mills has been creating music for over three decades. Among his 15 feature film scores are the critically acclaimed Woodlawn and the #1-rated inspirational film, War Room, for which he won an ASCAP Screen Music Award in 2016.

Born in the panhandle of West Texas, Mills was drawn to the piano early on and worked his way up the ascending scales to graduate Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Music in Theory and Composition from the University of Houston. In the early days of his career, Paul spent a portion of his time in the studios of Music Row, producing and recording artists like The Imperials, Wayne Watson, Phillips, Craig & Dean, Twila Paris, and Newsong. Over those industrious ten-plus years, Paul’s production efforts helped to craft a staggering 40 #1 singles. He produced and co-created the highly successful album/concert series, “The Young Messiah,” an annual Christmas tour boasting a variety of talented artists.

The accumulation of such a wide range of accomplishments earned this busy musician his first-ever GMA nomination for Producer of the Year early in his career. Since that accolade, others have been added to the list including American Songwriter Magazine’s ‘Christian Producer of the Year,’ Best Score at the Gideon Film Festival, and multiple Platinum and Gold-selling albums and compilations.

Through his work as a producer, Paul was led to filmmakers The Erwin Brothers where he produced music for the Roadside Attractions hit music biopic I Can Only Imagine starring Dennis Quad. Some of Paul’s other film credits include Against the Sun starring Garret Dillahunt, Tom Felton, and Jake Abel, Kill the Man starring Luke Wilson and Joshua Malina, the critically-acclaimed Still Breathing starring Brendan Fraser and Joanna Going, among others. Paul’s latest score for the feature film Overcomer will be released in August 2019. The soundtrack is available on CD through major retailers.



This [Overcomer Main Theme] is a great opening piece and it totally grabbed my attention with its beautiful surge of strings, it really captures the sporting ‘reach’ – the power and the force of mental and physical strength needed in sport. How did you find the ‘hook’ for this score?

Thanks so much for your kind words, I’m glad that the opening did its job and grabbed your attention! Director Alex Kendrick and producer Stephen Kendrick always want strong “hummable” themes. Alex used words similar to yours in wanting the music for the opening to immediately grab the audience’s attention and let them know that an important story was unfolding. I chose the horn section to carry this first iteration of my “Overcomer” theme because they carry gravitas and nobility to the sound. It’s almost gladiatorial in feel and scope, especially as the audience is carried along by the music into the gymnasium where the crowd is cheering and the athletes are competing. The theme itself climbs and then falls, then starts higher and climbs and falls again. In only a few notes I wanted to represent the continuous effort of a great athlete as they make headway, and then lose a little, but then they come back harder only to keep coming back. This mirrors the journey that the two main characters embark on as they try to find their true identities.

I was delighted to hear the 6 note leitmotif reappear complete with sweet violin in the track We Take Everything. This was stripped back and held more gravitas – it’s sad and thoughtful. How do you get the balance musically between the physical and emotional sides of the story?

I must thank you again! It’s gratifying as a composer that you noticed this. To me, the “Overcomer” theme being stated here in a more vulnerable and emotional way helped us see these athletes as still noble and a bit heroic, even in defeat. I think you noticed yourself how I get the balance musically between the strong physicality and the human emotion of the characters. It’s in the orchestration. The first two cues, “Opening” and the basketball game “Full Court Press” use horns and low brass as well as big percussion and very active pulsing strings to show power. While the locker room scene “We Take Everything” strips all that back to no percussion and just warm heartfelt string swells with a single lonely horn at the end of the piece.

The tangible gentleness of Hannah’s Theme with piano and violin – the lead instruments throughout the score, what made you choose these?

I am blessed to have an incredible principal violinist, David Davidson, and I am always composing with him in mind. A dark, soft and gentle piano with his violin stating a theme or partial theme over the top always pulls my (and I hope the audience’s) heartstrings, but without getting maudlin or sappy. Again, I wanted a theme for Hannah that would show her loneliness and struggle in the beginning, a very intimate orchestral treatment. But, after she wins the final race, her theme becomes very boisterous and victorious in the medal ceremony.

In other places, for instance, when Thomas is talking from his hospital bed telling his story, the dark, simple piano mixed with ambient synth pads work well under those dialogue-heavy scenes.

The First Race with its drums is aspirational as is You’ve Got This, the latter having a momentum, there is a feeling of no turning back. How do you build these layers?

I will watch action scenes without any music several times to get a feel for the visual rhythmic activity and natural breaks in momentum. In “The First Race” there is a natural decrease in activity from the start of the race 37 seconds in as everyone is finding their stride. You hear this in the music. So, the opening has many layers of percussion, strings, and brass, but at that break, it backs off to lighter strings and less percussion.

 Sometimes I will score action scenes like this by building a drum and percussion track first. So, the opening of “The First Race” has massive drums at the start, but then they back off in the middle, then come back at the end. As you noticed in “You’ve Got This,” there is more sixteenth note activity both in the strings and in the constant tick tack tick tack in one of the percussion instruments to add almost an underlying anxiety and movement. The low perc builds 1:34 into the track and there’s a key change there as well that builds momentum going into the end of the piece. Also, “You’ve Got This” is layered a bit differently in that 52 seconds in it has a very high string melody with less going on in the middle register of the orchestra, a relaxation to a degree after the big opening. The horn section and this high melody have a sort of duet together later on, and the further the piece progresses, the thicker the layering gets, adding low brass and percussion to fill out the spectrum.

You are no newcomer to music for sports films with Woodlawn and Run the Race. Was it your work on these soundtracks which influenced the film company to approach you to score this film?

This is my second film to score for the Kendrick Brothers, the first being 2015’s “War Room.” I was hoping to work with them again as “War Room” was a great experience. So, it really made my day when Stephen called me to join the team again.

 “Run The Race” probably did not influence them since it is a very sparse indie-oriented film score with lots of acoustic guitars, solo violin, calliope, banjo, and even washboards and bicycle bells! BUT interestingly, the Kendricks actually temped “Overcomer” with a lot of my music from “Woodlawn,” so I knew they liked that music and were looking for a more epic treatment for much of the “Overcomer” score. In a way, Hannah’s story is a little like a superhero origin story because she is discovering her identity with the help of her coach, John, and the school principal.  

One of the pivotal tracks is The Last Race, which brings all the soundtracks elements together. At 11minutes 28 seconds was this a difficult cue to put together?

It took a while to get going on it for sure! After Alex, Stephen and I had our music spotting session we decided that this was the most important cue, so I went back to my studio and started on it first. It was a real struggle for a couple of weeks, but then I realized that I did not have any thematic material to develop there yet. I then told Alex that I needed to go back to the very beginning and find the themes for the movie. So the “Opening” was actually the first cue I composed and got approved by the filmmakers. I then went to the scene where we first see Hannah in her room and worked on her theme until it was approved. Next, I composed the scene where John and Amy have an argument and a subsequent reconciliation (“You’re Not Helping Me” and “I’m Right Here For You”). Some of this material is used and developed in the scenes with Thomas. So really, “The Last Race” was almost the last cue I composed, but by that time I had such a wealth of thematic material to draw on, I knew what I wanted to do and what the musical journey needed to be. The first version was about 80% there, and with Alex’s very clear and specific direction in the music, we got it reeled in with just a few revisions.

Do you have any other score assignments coming up which you can share with me?

Yes! I am currently finishing producing and mixing the songs as well as mixing the score for the new Erwin Brothers’ music biopic “I Still Believe.” I am also composing the score for the new Chonda Pierce comedy “Laugh. Love. Karaoke.” It’s my first comedy to score and I’m looking forward to it. It’s already been a laugh-fest hanging out with director Chris Dowling and Chonda. She kept us in stitches during her song vocal sessions!

Ley, thank you so much for this enjoyable interview! Your questions were very stimulating, and it was great to get to talk with you about the scoring process for “Overcomer.”

My pleasure!





CAPSULE REVIEWS: Early Man, The Cloverfield Paradox , Game Night & Videoman


EARLY MAN  composed by
Harry Gregson-Williams

Animation scores are always fun to listen to even if you don’t know what’s going on. It opens with the sweet and laid back Dug’s Theme. Prehistoric Prologue is mock horror of the finest order complete with ‘man choir’. There has to be a chase somewhere in most animations and here it’s Stadium Chase complete with those time gaps for the laps, which makes for the laughs. Royal Game Day is a joy and sounds like one of those Pathe News intro’s.
Mostly short cues, one of the longest being The Final Game , which of course is football. This gets the full orchestral treatment with the brassy heroic tones. Trophy Presentation repeats the soft, melodic leitmotif which runs through the score but here gives it a huge swell of emotion. A fitting end to a lovely soundtrack.


Bear McCreary

The overture slams into play, literally. A deep musical slam surrounded by busy violins, it’s an exciting opener. Converging Overload soars with wondrous I do love the way McCreary uses strings and in A message For Ava they are very moving. McCreary is always working, score after score and this one is a worthy addition to his catalogue.



GAME NIGHT composed byCliff Martinez
Cliff Martinez

Give me a synth scores anytime. Martinez’s score is great to listen to without breaks where it melds into one mighty fine electronic soundscape. Cue of notice has to be Isn’t That Your Neighbor. It’s fun score!
It’s a fun score!




VIDEOMAN composed by Wave Shaper
& Robert Parker
What an absolute blast this score is. It’s a Swedish comedy/Drama about a woman obsessed with the 80’s and a VHS collector. Takes me back to my own video collection as it captures that 80’s feeling so superbly complete with drum bracking.

Interview with Nicholas Britell

Nicholas Britell is an award-winning composer, pianist, and producer. His music is diverse to say the least. From his spiritual, work and dance music for 12 Years A Slave to Whiplash then The Big Short. Each piece is different and compelling. His recent scores for Free State of Jones [sparse, mean & moody and down right good] and Natalie Portman’s directorial debut A Tale of Love and Darkness push the boundaries again, no score is alike. Our interview covered this diversity and also working with Natalie on Love and Darkness.

Re-visiting your previous scores, there is such diversity in the range of projects you have taken on. From the period music for 12 Years A Slave, to the contemporary feel of The Big Short, you then moved to atmospheric sparseness in Free State of Jones, and now we have your new score to A Tale of Love and Darkness. You certainly like a challenge.

NB: Thank you Ley, yes it has definitely been a fascinating few years. One of the things that I really love about film music is the opportunity to explore different musical worlds with each project. And the fun challenge is to discover a way to create a unique sound world for each film. I feel that each film is like a different creative assignment where you can try out new ideas, new techniques, new palettes of sounds.

LB: How did you become involved in A Tale of Love and Darkness?
NB: Natalie and I have been dear friends since college, and I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to collaborate with her on her other short-film projects which she has directed. In 2008, I performed a piece of mine, “Forgotten Waltz No. 2” in her short film Eve, and I scored the vignette she directed for the film New York, I Love You as well. In 2013, Natalie asked me if I would be interested in scoring A Tale of Love and Darkness; I was incredibly honored to get the chance to work with her on it.

LB:  WAS there any remit to what music was required?

NB: From early on in the project, Natalie and I spoke extensively about many different musical possibilities. In fact, Natalie asked me to write some musical suites for the film before shooting commenced; in this way, she and her DP Slawomir Idziak could have some musical rhythm and atmosphere for their on-set experience of the film. From the beginning, Natalie and I discussed the many potential musical influences of the characters within the film. We talked about the Eastern European origins of Amos’ family, the Middle Eastern world into which they entered, and also the Western European classical music which their family cherished. Ultimately, I tried to craft a musical landscape which was not directly related to any one of these traditions; my hope was to create a musical language which felt inspired by – but not beholden to – any of these influences.

LB: The beginning of The Opening Music gives not only the feeling of sorrow but of something lost, the strings almost sound rusty, it’s quite haunting and certainly grabs the attention. It then goes into a classical mode. It’s not a opening theme as such but rather creates an unsettled atmosphere and then it just stops.
How did you approach this first track?

NB: The opening music for the film presented a distinct challenge. Certainly, opening music often “sets the tone” for a film. Yet, there were many other elements which needed to be considered here. First, the opening of A Tale of Love and Darkness has a voiceover – an element which requires that the music balance itself with the need for verbal clarity. In addition, the opening of the film presents an exposition of the history of Amos’ family, of his mother’s dreams and worldview, as well as of the tragedy of the execution of their friends and relatives in Rovno. With all this material to cover, the music needed to weave a connection between everything while maintaining a musical cohesion.
I’m glad you pointed out the almost “rusty” sound of the strings. I really wanted the instruments to have a unique texture in the film – we recorded and mixed them in such a way that we emphasized the sound of the bowing itself. The sudden stop of the music was an idea that we discussed early on as well – we wanted there to be a musical counterpoint to the sudden revelation of the execution in the Sosenki forest. By literally cutting off the music at that moment, we hoped to create an additional drama: the disappearance of the music paralleling the disappearance of the people.

LB: Main Theme in F#/ Poeme in F# is achingly sad, it made me realise that my emotions were not being flooded by a full orchestral overdoing it with strings, but with a piano refrain and the beautiful voice of Re’ut Ben-Ze’ev. Is this how you perceived your score to be? Did you ever consider an orchestral score.
NB: Throughout the project, Natalie and I were in total agreement on the need for intimacy and restraint in the score. We never wanted the music to feel too overt, or to feel like we were pushing too much. The instrumentation I utilized was an ensemble of primarily lower strings (violas, cellos, basses), pianos, bells, and harp. In certain cues, I introduced some woodwinds (as in the “Soldier’s Tale” piece), in others there were instruments like altered sitars (“The Monk’s Tale”) or even prepared pianos (in the scene with Steletsky’s story). But overall, it was absolutely a conscious choice to not utilize a full orchestra. I often feel that when you reduce the instrumentation, you increase the potency of each note; sometimes the most powerful music is really the most sparse.

LB: The simplicity of the seven note Post-War Jerusalem [one of my favourite cues] is short and effective as is the ‘quietness’ of Arieh Goes Out. It’s a very measured score.

NB: Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed those! We really tried to tailor each moment in the film to its most appropriate musical idea. Natalie and I worked very closely together on the score – we experimented with many different ideas for each scene until we found the ideas which felt most “woven into” the fabric of the film.

LB:The incongruity of a gavotte being given the title of Dance of Death is unsettling and yet this is the most lyrical of the cues. Given that I have not yet seen the film, can you describe what this piece of music is the background to?

NB: Yes, that cue is in fact the “climactic” piece of the film. Without giving too much away in the film, this “Dance of Death” is the musical counterpoint to what we see onscreen: the culmination of Fania’s hopes and dreams which, sadly, are disappointed by the harsh realities of her new life in Israel. Throughout the film, there is a recurring appearance of a mysterious figure: the “Pioneer,” a personification of Fania’s “ideal” man. While the Gavotte plays, we see a surreal “dance” in which Fania finally embraces the Pioneer, just before her death.

LB: Toccata is the longest piece on what is quite a short soundtrack. It’s movement tells of hope. This is a very accomplished soundtrack and given it’s source I was expecting a heavier score, but less is most definitely more here, is that what you had in mind?

NB: The Toccata is, in many ways, the focal piece on the soundtrack. It is the last cue in the film and, interestingly, it was the first piece which we knew was really “right” for the film. It was from this final piece of music – which plays during the last montage in the movie – that we discovered the sound of the film. The theme in the Toccata became the main theme for the film; for us, this theme seemed to signify musically “the world through Amos’ eyes.” As I described earlier, it was really crucial for Natalie and for me that the music always be extremely sensitive and restrained. Any time we experimented with larger-scale musical ensemble textures, it always felt unbalanced with the nature and nuance of the film. We worked very hard to really find a musical landscape that felt like it was part of the fabric of the film. It was an extraordinary experience working on the film, and I really feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Natalie on it.


  • 1. Opening Music (feat. Caitlin Sullivan, Kyle Armbrust)
  • 2. Women’s Dance from Aleko (Excerpt) (feat. Tim Fain)
  • 3. La mer – Charles Trenet
  • 4. Swing Sequence (feat. Caitlin Sullivan, Kyle Armbrust)
  • 5. The Monk’s Tale
  • 6. Main Theme in F# / Poeme in F# (feat. Re’ut Ben-Ze’ev)
  • 7. The Soldier’s Tale
  • 8. War Footage
  • 9. Post-War Jerusalem (feat. Caitlin Sullivan)
  • 10. Arieh Goes Out
  • 11. Amos Sees Arieh (feat. Caitlin Sullivan, Kyle Armbrust)
  • 12. Pioneer on the Mountain (feat. Caitlin Sullivan, Kyle Armbrust)
  • 13. Cossack Lullaby (Traditional) -Natalie Portman
  • 14. Emunah V’omanut (feaat. Re’ut Ben-Ze’ev)
  • 15. Dance of Death (Gavotte) – Emunah V’omanut -Ben-Ze’ev
  • 16. Toccata


INTERVIEW WITH JOE HENSON & ALEXIS SMITH – Alien: Isolation video game

First published: 20th November 2014 in previous Filmic Blog.

Composers of the Alien: Isolation video game.
This first person, survival, horror game was developed by The Creative Assembly and released in October 2014. In keeping with the Alien movies, this new chapter is set in 2137, 15 years after the events of Alien and 42 years prior to Aliens.
The game follows Amanda who is investigating the disappearance of her mother Ellen Ripley. She is transferred to the space station Sevastopol to find the flight recorder of the Nostromo. As we all already know, an alien had terrorized the station and killed most of it’s crew.
The score is ingenious and a true musical nod to Jerry Goldsmiths score from Alien. Having obtained the license to Goldsmith’s score, Joe & Alexis plus Joe’s brother Christian, lifted the scores motifs and expanded them. The result not only re-creates the Alien world and all the tension which goes with it, you get to hear the original score motifs in a completely different way.
This is on top of the Henson and Smith tension filled score and SFX. It’s a heady mix. And an extra bonus is that musicians who played the original score at it’s recording were also part of the orchestra for Alien:Isolation. Sadly the score has not been released, here’s hoping that it will become available soon.


Firstly I would like to say that having heard the sound clips – it is just fantastic how you have taken the Jerry Goldsmith original Alien score motifs and expanded them. It is great to hear them in a new way. How did you feel working from a Goldsmith score?

Joe Henson: There is always a little bit of ‘blank page’ fear when you first start a project – especially something as well-known as Alien. Once we got started it was amazing, being able to use the motifs and sounds that we had always loved.

Alexis Smith: Yes, it was a bit intimidating at first, but as the music we were doing was to be mostly interactive, and the gameplay was a lot longer than a film, we knew that we would be going in a lot of other directions as well, not just using his score.

Hearing the expanded motifs they do capture the doom laden horror of Alien, was it difficult to broaden them out and then to add to them?

J. We worked with my brother Christian on this score. The first thing he did was a piece where he took all the licensed Jerry Goldsmith cues and expanded them out to an 8-minute suite. We then used elements from that suite throughout the game.

A. As we all knew the score well beforehand, and studied it in even more detail at the beginning of this project, it wasn’t difficult as such, we just wanted to make sure we did it right. There are a lot of sounds and textures as well as motifs that instantly put you in the Alien world – the col legno snaps through tape delays, the atonal aleatoric string chatter. We used these kinds of sounds to unify the score.

Altogether how much music did you record for the game?

J. We recorded a huge amount of music. As well as the actual score we also recorded a lot of assets to be used during the process of writing the soundtrack. It is almost impossible to mock up the aleatoric orchestral elements, so we recorded a lot of this first that we then made into bespoke sample libraries.

A. We ended up with about 3 hours of music that was used in the game though.

I was fascinated to see that the developers did not want a ‘static score’ and that they had a Context Driven Sound Engine. Did that make any difference to how you put the score together?

J. You always have to keep it in mind, but we try and not let the implementation of the technology impede the compositional process too much. In the end it is just music, but it’s being delivered in a different way.

A. It’s a puzzle, sometimes quite a complicated one. A lot of composers get put off by this, but we quite enjoy it.

How much music did you compose for the actual game? [repeat]

J. Actual in-game music was about 3 hours. The gameplay is 10-20 hours so it is played back by the system in ways you will sometimes never hear twice. It is so interesting in games that we sometimes won’t hear the music in its final form until we sit down and play the game on release.

Seeing the gameplay videos it works brilliantly, are you happy with it?

A. We are all very proud of both the music and being involved with such an amazing project. There will always be things that we’d love to go back and tweak, but it is amazing playing the game now seeing the Alien and music working together. It still scares us too!

Official website at
Alexis & Joe’s creative, musical partnership is called The Flight.
More info at

Interview with Penka Kouvena

Film, TV and game composer and orchestrator Penka Kouneva hails from Sofia, Bulgaria. She has lived and worked in Los Angeles for 15 years. Penka has orchestrated with Hans Zimmer [Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End] and Steve Jablonsky for the Transformers franchise and video games Gears of War 2 and 3

Penka has also composed 2 concept albums, A Warrior’s Odyssey in 2012 on the Howlin’ Wolf label and the recent The Woman Astronaut released by Varese Sarabande. This last album shows Penka’s musical storytelling with it’s sweeping emotional themes and orchestral textures.

Penka is also a member of the Alliance For Women Film Composers, an organization which highlights the fantastic women composers that are out there and to mentor those women in their career aspirations. I talked with Penka recently about her career, The Woman Astronaut and the AWFC.



The Woman Astronaut
Varese Sarabande

1. Earth — featuring Lili Haydn, violin (5:00)
2. Starry Way (3:43)
3. The Forest — featuring Sara Andon, flutes (2:40)
4. Land Of Burning Fields — featuring Andrew Duckles, viola (2:10)
5. Looking Up — featuring Katia Popov, violin (2:45)

6. Training — co-composed with Jeff Broadbent (3:50)
7. Broken — featuring Mike Lang, piano (2:21)
8. Taking Flight — featuring Sara Andon, flutes (4:55)
9. Alarm and Rescue (2:15)

10. In Space — featuring Ayana Haviv, voice, and Nathan Barr, bowed guitar-viol (4:07)
11. Insomnia — featuring Lili Haydn, violin, and Mike Lang, piano (3:45)
12. Siren — co-composed with Christopher Lord (3:30)
13. Goodbyes In Zero Gravity — featuring Lili Haydn, violin (3:19)
14. Solar Flare (4:00)