I don’t often review soundtracks in general, let alone video game soundtracks, but this one I couldn’t stay away from. One of the songs has been featured on the Video game Music Mixtape, but the entire collection released along side the breakthrough 2011 game Frozen Synapse is exquisitely noteworthy, and I have nothing but admiration for the composer, as he’s also on the development team of the game itself. Nervous Testpilot’s real name is Paul Taylor, and he’s been making electronic music for about ten years now, under several names, out of which the most staggering is “Module YOU.DLL Caused a General Protection Fault in Application MY_HEART.EXE”. Gotta give him kudos for that name, if for nothing else. Fortunately, there’s quite a lot of other things I’d like to give him kudos for. The reasons why I like this music so much will be, as always, elaborated upon after this message from our sponsors.
When I was in middle school, I had a very strong affinity for trance music. I guess it very rarely shows nowadays, but I assure you, it was all-consuming. Probably a weird time to have such an inclination, since I back then I wouldn’t have known a club from a cudgel, so the dancing and sub-culture aspect was entirely lost on me. To be entirely honest, it’s probably entirely lost on me to this day. However, the music really got to me. “Trance” wasn’t just the genre or any random word, it was an instruction manual for me. I would slip into one almost instantly when a good song came up (Members of Mayday, Dune… oh my…) and would have endless debates with my father on the virtue of lyrics (him) or lack thereof (me). It is then that music became such a wordless affair for me, when I began to think of lyrics as pollution rather than enhancement. I hope I’ve been able to evolve out of that during the last years, but for the longest time, trance music had molded me to feel that way. I thought the chapter was forever closed for me, and for the music industry in general – it seemed that particular sub-genre of electronic music had faded away, and it probably has, in all honesty. But now, Nervous Testpilot showed up to smack me 14 years back in time with this album – because it is an album, regardless of the extraneous purpose it was composed for.
To help you fully grasp the appropriateness of this music, I must first describe the game it was meant for in a few words. Frozen Synapse is a very good tactical game, in which you play the role of a computer program named Tactics, with the sole purpose of preparing for and countering every possible contingency during combat scenarios in a self-aware, cyber-punk metropolis named Markov Geist. It’s a sort of chess, if you will, in the far future, with a shockingly blue, sleek visual aesthetic. The game encourages you to think furiously, simulate endless scenarios in such a way as to ensure your team’s success, and it does it with staggering gusto. Here’s where the music kicks in. I don’t know if any of you ever wanted to be able to compute rather than think, but it’s something that has a certain appeal to that adolescent within me, still pining for the trance fix. Nervous Testpilot’s music caters to that hidden need like nothing ever has ever since I first discovered this genre.
It’s impossible not to notice similarities between this music and Tangerine Dream’s more recent work (such as Mars Polaris), with subtle [sic!] touches of dubstep thrown in as far as texture is concerned. The music as such a cold pulse, such a wonderfully crafted way of evoking the narrative context for which it was designed, that I can’t help but think it exquisitely appropriate as a reading soundtrack for certain Philip K. Dick novels, not to mention the likes of Norman Spinrad or Greg Egan, with their stark, harsh visions of futuristic dystopias. The sounds are very well-layered, there’s a real sense of synergy between the different rhythms and textures used throughout the record, and there’s a lot more diversity than I’d expect on this record. From meditative, panoramic tracks, to heart-thumping, adrenaline boosts, the spectrum of emotion and evocation is truly remarkable.
The soundtrack is available on the Frozen Synapse game webpage, and believe me when I say it truly does stand up as a powerful electronic music album in its own right. Enjoy!