Mark Van Fleet’s Alien Versions is an ode to Ridley Scott’s film Alien, a film-length alternate soundtrack to the film meant to be played at the same time with the volume of the movie turned down. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to actually listen to it with the film, and instead listened to it alone, but it doesn’t seem to matter much: even without the film’s visuals, the atmosphere of Van Fleet’s release is more than enough to evoke the stimulation and tension of Alien.
Alien Versions contains a lot of ambient noise that sits very well within the film; bleeps and bloops of space computers pair with quiet backdrops of electronic dread. Van Fleet often allows his soundtrack to thud along patiently, quietly droning with an ambient pounding or a subtle buzz. Side A’s 60 minutes often pair the ambiance with the alien growls and clicks, immediately visualizing Scott’s intense drama.
Side B’s opening pounds along with a soft feedback squeal behind it, the kind of muffled sound expected from a space shuttle. Without seeing the alien at all, the threat is there; and with this kind of alternate soundtrack, I think it’s just as important to listen to it without any visual aid as it is to listen to the two paired together. The effectiveness certainly comes from both combined, but Van Fleet is just as impressive at crafting intensity from sounds alone. In general, the cassette builds and builds without end, only multiple recesses before the next terrifying encounter.
The dark, somewhat muffled aspect of the approach is important to the soundtrack, too. The listener feels completely alone in its confining structure, subject to whatever horrors await. It’s a testament to what Van Fleet can do, and I certainly look forward to other re-imagined soundtracks because of this. Alien Versions is tense but also very much in line with Alien‘s atmosphere and mood, a difficult thing to re-enact but something Van Fleet is very good at.
Whether you’ve seen Alien or not (you need to rectify that though, really), Alien Versions is an important listen. Van Fleet effectively transitions between quieter moments and swelling, climactic encounters, forcing the listener to engage just as the characters in the film do. It’s a tight soundtrack full of dread, and one that shouldn’t be missed.