TE: Hello Tim! Please tell us a little about yourself and how you were commissioned to create the Duet in-game soundtrack.
TS: I’m a musician and I’m also a gamer, but it wasn’t until a couple of months ago that it occurred to me that I might be able to find a way to combine both those passions. I was inspired by a few things - I saw a documentary about the rise of indie gaming called Indie Game: The Movie which sort of opened my eyes to some of the creative work being done by small teams, I don’t think I’d ever really stopped to think that just as there is a really creative, global independent music community, there is also similarly a very active and lively global community of indie game developers who are trying to push things forward and often working without much support. I think I realized after watching that, that the gaming world might not be as monolithic as I assumed and that I just needed to start reaching out.
About the same time I discovered a couple of great game soundtracks, including Loscil’s work for “Hundreds” or Gustav Santoalla’s “The Last of Us” score, that made me realize that people were starting to push the limits in terms of what game music can be - Disasterpeace’s “Fez” soundtrack and Jim Guthrie’s work also big inspirations.
I came to be involved in Duet through some mutual friends. There was a big gaming conference called PAX that rolled through Melbourne a few months ago, at around the same time I was having this lightbulb moment of wanting to get into games, and some friends there introduced me to Kumobius, the three guys behind Duet.
TE: What was the main thing that caught your attention with this project?
TS: I was drawn to it initially because the game mechanic was so simple but also really addictive - at its core Duet is really a very minimal game and its also one of those “I can’t believe no one had this idea before” kind of games. Something about the very uncluttered aesthetic of the game was very appealing to me too, I got the sense early on that the developers were trying to do something a bit different and to maintain a strong minimal aesthetic in opposition to a lot of the more popular mobile games which are sort of bright and chirpy, sensory overload. I also sensed that because of that simple design and minimal aesthetic, there was actually room for me to be a bit florid with my arrangements - there was space in the game for me to do something creative, and luckily the developers trusted me enough to let me run with it.
TE: At what point in the process did you decide to use the OP-1, and how did you use it?
TS: The OP-1 has become a pretty important part of my studio setup, its a great little device for finding inspirational sounds. Its finding its way into everything I work on at the moment. The soundtrack for Duet has a recurring melodic motif that I suppose I intended to be the theme for the score, and I found that by working on the OP-1 - its a very simple melody but played through some of the OP-1’s weird synth patches it took on a life of its own and essentially inspired me to write the rest of the score. I also used the OP-1 for some noise improvisation that I cut up and used throughout the soundtrack.
Perhaps the most distinctively “OP-1” sounding moment in the soundtrack is the collision and rewind sound effect. Whenever a player collides with a falling block, the game instantly pauses and rewinds back to the start of the level. I sort of knew instantly when the developers showed the mechanic to me that I was going to make use of the OP-1’s virtual tape machine to find that sound - I created the sound by recording part of the score onto the OP-1’s tape and then re-sampling a tape stop and short rewind. It took me a while to get it right - with player death happening so frequently in the game (it can be really challenging at times), I felt like I had to really nail that sound. I could listen to the sound of an OP-1 rewinding all day, so hopefully others feel the same way.
TE: What would a typical days work be like? Describe the working process.
TS: The Duet score was composed primarily with a Nord Stage 2 which is full of sounds from their sample libraries, an iPad running a few apps that I really love (DM-1 and Samplr in particular) and the OP-1. I also had a couple of friends provide instrumental contributions - Luke Howard on pianos both prepared and unprepared, and Ben Edgar on lap steel guitar.
I tend to be in one of two modes when I’m working - I’m either exploring sounds and improvising, trying to add new melodic and rhythmic layers onto what I’ve already written or recorded. Or I’m doing more technical detail work, tweaking the sound and working on balance and arrangement. But I also tend to flip in and out of these modes pretty quickly, flipping back and forth and blurring the lines between the two. In short: I sit at my desk and play with sounds until I think it sounds good.
TE: What were some of the challenges when composing music for a game like this?
TS: I set some self-imposed limits on myself - I pieced together the whole forty minute score inside one Ableton project, which meant I had to reuse the same sounds, samples and instruments. It was an interesting way to work - I felt like it was important to find a palette of sounds that felt right and then maintain that through the whole score, so that every moment “felt” like Duet.
I actually felt really freed up working on this game. The developers really gave me the space to follow my own ideas through, which doesn’t always happen in collaborative situations.
Photo Tonje Thilesen
TE: What is your favorite feature of the OP-1?
TS: If I had to pick one, right now, it’d be the FM radio. Its not the most hi-tech part of the OP-1 but I really enjoy sampling live from radio into a piece that I’m working on, it can really be that random element or spark that turns a whole arrangement on its head. Its so easy to rip for example an orchestra from a classical radio station into the OP-1’s tape deck, do some very quick repitching and effects, and suddenly have this raw and completely unprecedented element to play with that hasn’t come from you, its a sound that literally has been plucked out of the air. I love community and public radio, so it was also great while I was on tour with Gotye because it meant I got to listen to lots of local radio in all the cities we travelled to, while jamming out on the OP-1 backstage before a gig.
TE: Thanks a lot Tim!
Duet the game: http://duetgame.com
Duet soundtrack: http://timshiel.bandcamp.com/album/duet-ost