"Alien Terrain" is the second fake film score released by my label Phantom Soundtracks. The label is a lark of mine to do some interesting collaboration between actors, composers, photographers, writers, tech personnel, and others. Definitely visit the site if you want to know more (or, even better, let me know if you have an idea for a soundtrack!)
There are actually 3 other Phantom Soundtracks projects cooking around the U.S. right now with people I know leading the charge. However, I'm a lot quicker than most people so we pulled together a team, an idea, and everything about "Alien Terrain" in about 60 days, which is crazy fast.

The first release from the label, "Spikes," was a supremely cool experience. It wasn't a commercial success, but it was a solid debut. We decided, since that was 70s slasher/horror, to not stray too far on release #2 and stick to a retro genre vibe.

The idea came about when watching films like Saul Bass' "Phase IV" and early David Cronenberg flicks like "The Brood." You can definitely see the influence in the lobby stills. The alien suits are a direct homage to the snowsuits from "The Brood." mixed with the military wear in George Romero's original "The Crazies." I've always love lo-fi sci-fi, where there weren't many special effects and instead of constructing alien planets, they just dressed up weird 60s and 70s buildings. I was on the Northwestern campus one day and it looks so much of that time that I thought it was a perfect match for the location.

This project was aided by a really great cast and crew. With "Spikes" complete, there was now a good template to explain the idea of a "fake film" to the production team, so everything came together quickly and without a lot of fuss. In fact, a few people returned to this project from "Spikes" -- Jim Luning as photographer and Fraser Coffeen on special makeup effects, both awesome fellows of awesome talent. It was fun for me, too, because I got to work with several actors I'd admired, and also with my wife and kids, who did a fantastic job.

Ellen Girvin starred in my play "Kill Your Enemies" and was really interesting; Andrea Lucius delivered a great performance in another piece I directed, Nancy Gall-Clayton's "Don't Call Me Loretta." Ellen and Andrea looked similar so the idea to cast them as sisters had been in my mind from the start. I had seen Mike Dunbar in a play and thought he looked like he could pull off a 70s Travolta in "Carrie" sort of presence, and also looked different from Dan Caffery, who played Jacob the janitor. Dan's the artistic director for Tympanic Theatre Company and is also an actor and playwright. Gosia Goralczyk did costumes for a 2010 Polarity Ensemble Theatre production and Jen Poulin works for WildClaw, another fantastic theatre company here in town. Graphic design was started by Ruth Schmidt, moved forward by Regan Davis, and finalized by me. Other new names to Phantom Soundtracks are screenwriter Andy Sumpter and director J.D. Costling.

For the score, I chose Demetri Fox. He composed and played piano. I did the synthesizers, production, and some other instruments. There was a lot of consideration about the style of the music and what approach should be taken to production and instrumentation. "Spikes" was very specific -- with simple numbers mostly with analog synthesizers put to 2 inch analog type; it was a very dirty sounding score, very blurry.

For "Alien Terrain," it was important to be more subtle and have some other qualities, such as melancholy and, at one point, humor, in order to match what had been shot. This score is very mellow until the end, when it becomes more of a thriller score. The early half is very child-like and full of space. The only exception is "School," as we agreed a Wendy Carlos style march in the middle might give it a lift. It may seem out of place, but I just found that children in these white protective gear attending regular elementary school with other children to be mildly humourous, and I could picture the montage of what might happen in that situation.

Scores we liked and listed to a lot were Lalo Schifrin's "THX1138" and Jerry Goldsmith's "Logan's Run." (I also really liked how "Logan's Run" had songs that grouped together various moments in the film (Thing happens / Thing / Another thing,) so we stole that for this, making only 10 songs total, compared to the 28 cues from "Spikes." The solo piano in David Shire's "The Conversation" was also a point of reference, particularly for the piano treatments and low hits. And, of course, since the feel of the piece is so in the David Cronenberg style (we even have a physical transformation with the fake skin), that we had to reference Howard Shore. Shore did the great scores for "The Brood" and "Scanners." This stuff's super hard to find and I hope one day is reissued. Shore kinda crapped out lately -- I think his "Lord of the Rings" stuff sucks. But his early work is interesting and I love "Ed Wood" and "The Truth About Cats and Dogs."

One last score was really inspiring for this recording, and that was Pino Donaggio's "Blow Out." This is a fantastic sore that really stands on its own. Even though it's not science fiction, there are two things that "Blow Out" brought to the table. First, the song title "Gary Attacks Diane." I love titles like that in film scores -- those types of titles ONLY exist in film scores. On "Blow Out," there's "Burke Kills Sally," followed by the TMI title of "Jack Kills Burke."

And the second thing inspired by "Blow Out" was the inclusion of a flautist. Michelle Mathena I had not worked with before but she was perfect for this gig. Her performance totally makes the sound of that period. In fact, I'd say the flute helped set it in the 60s/70s lo-fi sci-fi error even more than the synthesizers. Now it totally sounds like "Zardoz," which I caught on TV and cinched it -- this record MUST HAVE FLUTE! I NEED MORE FLUTE! I've got a fever and the only cure is more flute -- wait, that sounds incriminating.

I hope all this talk of other soundtracks doesn't make you think "Alien Terrain" isn't its own thing, because it definitely tries to be more than an homage. And, I hope it doesn't mean you'll spend your money on the excellent "Blow Out" rather than the incredible "Alien Terrain." 'Cos, well, I'd like to sell more please. So we can keep making them. I really want to do a roller disco movie!