Tim Shiel - Duet OST

When Tim Shiel initially started talking publicly about his interest in working on video game soundtracks, I was filled with the kind of bubbling glee that I usually reserve for Christmas markets and mulled wine1. From his previous work as Faux Pas, and one-half of TELLING, I knew that with the right game he could create something phenomenal.

And he has. Inspired by Indie Game: The Movie, a documentary following the trials and tribulations of four developers as they struggle to design, develop and release three independent video games, Tim formed a relationship with Melbourne-based team Kumobius. Together they started work on Duet, a rhythmic dance to the death available for iOS.

The soundtrack is haunting, complex, and densely layered. Listening, eyes closed in a darkened room, feels like the moment before you step into an abyss, your hands cold and clammy and your heart racing in your chest. Despite its heavily digital aesthetic it manages to be both lush and beautiful, stark and terrifying. It maintains a constant spark of life, pulsing alongside you in its endless textured layers.

Shiel made extensive use of an OP-1, a ridiculously cool synth2 by Teenage Engineering, and its trademark tape sounds are peppered throughout the soundtrack. The conclusion of the opening piece, Theme from Duet, features a whirring, bleeping cacophony. A tape in reverse, like a dying cell desperate to be born again. It is a key part of the game itself, death and resurrection, an endless cycle always moving forward forever, and Shiel has captured it perfectly.

Nay bleeds effortlessly into Tempa, with its bleating synths bouncing against a steady beat, a hushed piano tip-toeing around the periphery. It’s the fourth track, Exchange, that sees Shiel collaborating with friend Luke Howard. With the frenetic mix of beeps and beats, his piano anchors the soundtrack beneath wave after wave of swinging motion. And he’s not the only one, with Crater seeing Gotye bandmate Ben Edgar joining the fray on lap steel guitar. Laps sees a stronger emphasis on percussion, a thick bass line resting beneath a bolder 4/4 rhythm.

The second half of Duet sees Shiel chart new territory on Patinkin, a heavier track that relies on a thick, buzz-like bass fuzz contrasted against short bursts of a sharp piano. Arete I and II develop these opposing sounds, introducing a deep sense of urgency into the mix. A note repeats in the background, racing onwards, like finally seeing a peak at the top of the tallest mountain, or a distant shore from an endless ocean. The record pushes towards its inevitable conclusion, higher and higher, reaching towards one final crescendo. And then, as suddenly as it began, Credets signals relief. A deep breath, and a steadied hand. A game over.

But it’s the 38 second middle track ◄◄ that exemplifies the essence of the record. A flickering tape deck bounces between songs like radio stations, never quite settling. It, like Duet, is in constant motion, rocketing from wall to wall to wall despite the torrential rain outside1. Melancholic but optimistic, synthetic but safe, a million new beginnings, over and over again.

Do yourself a favour. Buy a copy from his Bandcamp, and check out the game. Here’s hoping that this is the first of many soundtracks from Shiel. Because Duet is pretty close to perfection.

  1. Clearly England is getting pretty cold.  2

  2. Full disclosure, I own one. And I really like it. 

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