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Arabic / Noir OST

The following is information about the original soundtrack for Detective Osiris, an interactive fiction game created for IFComp 2023. Here, you can learn about the soundtrack's style of music, how the soundtrack includes clues to help the player solve the mystery, and examples of documentation used to communicate with the creator. If you are looking for my reel, you can find it on my homepage.

The game Detective Osiris was created by Adam Burt, with artwork by Kama Mielczarek. 


musical styles

requested styles

During our initial discussions, the creator requested music that would clearly and accurately reflect the Egyptian setting, while including a "detective noir twist." He emphasized that the feeling was what would be most important: "To feel like it's otherworldly/divine, a hidden world just above/below/beside these ancient cities and the desert.”   

traditional arabic

I will fully admit that I jumped into this project without knowing much about "non-western" music, however I did so with an overabundance of excitement to learn about a different culture. Above all, I want to ensure that any music I compose that borrows from a culture other than my own is respectful and devoid of any inaccurate or negative stereotypes. I knew I would need to do a ton of research before I came anywhere close to actually sitting down and writing music, and I was pleased to do so! I enjoyed every moment of it. I would be remiss not to thank the following for their guidance and knowledge about traditional Arabic music and instrumentation: MaqamWorld, Maya Youssef Music, Oud for Guitarists, and The Reel Score. I began my research with music in Ancient Egypt. While I did learn about instruments that were used and the roles music played in society and religion, I also learned that we don't know exactly how that music sounded as we haven't found records from that era recognizable as music notation. What we do know is primarily gleaned from the physics of instruments found in tombs and from studying the music of other cultures that interacted with the Ancient Egyptians. For this reason, I decided to prioritize Ancient Egyptian instrumentation but otherwise pull from traditional Arabic music. For a list of instruments that I used to achieve this, see "environmental" below. Among a variety of stylistic conventions, I learned about the Arabic Maqam system and how maqamat function similarly to scales or modes in western music. The maqamat I chose were very intentional (see "clue 2: musical similarities in location" below), and I held fast to them everywhere except where the use of the ney required some variation to maintain its historically accurate minor pentatonic sound. I also investigated iqa‘at (a series of specific rhythmic cycles), which is reflected largely in my percussion parts.

detective noir

Giving the soundtrack a bit of a noir twist on top of its Arabic sound was a fun challenge. The two styles of music share some similarities, but they are certainly not the same! Not every location in the game called for a noir sound, but two spots I was able to lean into it a little more were Nekhen and Waset. A lot of what gives dark detective music that sort of "gumshoe" sound comes from the mood of the music. It needs to feel isolated, unresolved, and even a little bit lonely. Nekhen's track features a solo qanun over top a duduk and bass clarinet drone, and its only partner is an intermittent daf that grows just slightly in intensity as the player moves closer to solving the puzzle. The sound of the string instrument as Osiris enters the temple containing a prophecy about his death is hauntingly lonely, and the track leaves the player on an extended chord that reminds them the mystery has yet to be solved. Chord extensions and progressions are an obvious way to give a composition a noir feel, however the emphasis that traditional Arabic music gives to melody and rhythm over harmony made it so that I could not depend on chordal harmony as my primary means of evoking those feelings. Waset, however, is one of the few locations in the game where I did map out a chord progression before working on any other musical elements. I utilized bluesy chord extensions, such as 9ths and 11ths, and I embraced the major 7th on top of the minor tonic chord. The song ends on a variation of a typical cadence found in noir music, II9♭5 > V > iMaj7add9. While this track doesn't include much harmonic play between instruments, this progression can still be heard within the walking of the bass clarinet, an instrument I like to think of as the upright bass of the woodwind world.


Just as each of the main locations that the player can visit are unique from each other, I used a different instrumentation for each each location's track in order to differentiate them while still maintaining a cohesive feel to the overall soundtrack. The instruments used for the soundtrack were separated into earthly instruments (to be used in the land of the living) and divine instruments (to be used in the Duat and the Skyway). The divine instruments included the ney, the harp, and the sistrum (which I used finger cymbals to mimic). These instruments were often used in religious ceremonies. While there are several Ancient Egyptian gods associated with the creation of music, some legends say that Osiris used music to bless and civilize the world, so it felt fitting to use instruments that were used to worship the gods in the divine areas of the game. The first sound the player hears is the sistrum in the Glade, followed shortly by the ney, representing the ritual that Osiris would soon learn Isis had completed for him. Just as Osiris begins the adventure with the taste of the river in his mouth, the player begins with the sound of music in their ears. The ney can also be heard playing a more melodic and lullaby-like tune while interacting with the gods of the Skyway as they overlook Egypt at night. This ney plays alongside a harp that twinkles like stars until the mighty and muscular Ra appears, at which point it shifts temporarily into a percussive and uncompromising force. The earthly instruments included the zurna, the duduk, the qanun, the oud, the riq, the doumbek, and the daf. Sometimes, these instruments were used to represent the feelings of the people found in a particular location. For example, the duduk was written in such a way in the Nile (Iteru) soundtrack to evoke Isis and her powerful emotions when reuniting with Osiris. Meanwhile, the oud maintains a heartbeat-like pulse underneath the duduk—steady, but not without the occasional jump and a growing intensity, just as Osiris' heartbeat would have been had he still been alive during their reunion. Other tracks utilized instrumentation representative of the physical location. Sepermeru is the only track that uses both the riq and the daf in order to emphasize the desert surroundings, while Nekhen's use of the daf as its only percussion instrument creates a sound that is more akin to pushing sand and stone away to reveal a new clue. The bass clarinet, which is the one instrument used in both an earthly location and a divine location, gives Nekhen an ancient, almost ominous feel just as it does the Cavern in the Duat. The bustling city energy described in Heliopolis comes through in that track's assortment of instruments, alongside its energetic (almost frantic) melodies and rhythms. The tracks in the divine areas also use stronger reverb, that lack of which brings an almost jarring sense of clarity to the earthly tracks for the player in tandem with the game's description of Osiris' return to the feeling of an earthly body.


pieces to the puzzle

CAUTION: this section contains spoilers!

clue 1: melodic motif

In Detective Osiris, the player takes on the role of a recently deceased Pharaoh, Osiris, who is tasked with solving the mystery of his own murder. A melodic motif was utilized in strategic tracks to give the player hints towards the truth: he was killed by his wife, Isis, after a fling with the god Ra initiated a plan that would transform her, Osiris, and their (?) eventual son into gods. The motif consists of notes 1 4 2 3 4 1 from the song's maqam/mode, but with variations in instrumentation and rhythm. 

The "murder motif" was used in the following ways:

  • The Duat (C Minor Pentatonic - C G E♭ F G C)

    • as the first melodic sound the player hears, while Osiris describes tasting the river upon waking up

    • multiple times throughout the scene whenever the characters discuss Osiris' murder

    • in retrograde while discussing the ritual Iris used to turn Osiris into a god; it is used similarly when discussing the gods' plan for Osiris to solve his murder

  • The Skyway (Maqam Kurd starting on C - C F D♭ E♭ F C)

    • to hint that Ra is indirectly involved via an extension of the original motif and in retrograde

  • The Riverbank/Iteru (Maqam Kurd starting on C - C F D♭ E♭ F C)

    • as the primary melody while Osiris reunites with Isis, associating her directly with the murder​

  • Heliopolis (Maqam Kurd starting on C - C F D♭ E♭ F C)

    • as a reoccurring callback to reward players who make the extra effort of investigating Heliopolis, hinting that the location is more than just a game transition point; at the end of the game, the same track is used as the truth is revealed to the player, including that Heliopolis was where Isis met Ra

  • Nekhen Temple (Maqam Nawa Athar - G C A♭ B C G)

    • ​in bits and pieces, much like Osiris is uncovering bits and pieces of the truth

In order to ensure that the motif did not become a game-wide theme, it was specifically not used:

  • while the characters speak about topics unrelated to the murder itself

  • at the House of Set (a setting full of red herrings)

  • at the Great Hall in Waset (a location required to unlock extra clues)

clue 2: musical similarities in location

Specific maqamat were chosen for each location to give the player clues about their role within the story:

  • Maqam Kurd (associated with freedom) was used for the Skyway, the Riverbank, and Heliopolis to help establish a connection between Ra, Isis, and the spot where Isis' plan was first conceived

  • Maqam Nahawand (associated with extreme emotion) was used in the Duat, which contained two out of three of the afterlife areas, the third being the Skyway

  • Maqam Hijazkar (associated with solitude) was used in the House of Set only in order to hint towards red herrings

  • Maqam Nawa Athar (associated with mysticism) was used in Waset and Nekhen, both of which housed important clues to uncovering the full story, presented to Osiris by prominent figures in Ancient Egyptian mythology


It should also be noted that the duduk was heavily featured at the Riverbank, the Temple in Nekhen, and Heliopolis so as to establish a common thread between the prophecy revealed to the player in the Temple and two important locations associated with the murder. 



music design document

My music design document for this project was a google doc shared with the game's creator, routinely updated with the following:

  • development information, including (but not limited to) services requested, a schedule of when assets were expected, and an implementation plan

  • story information, including (but not limited to) character- and setting-specific notes, such as melodic and instrumental motifs, maqamat, and in-game information that could be relevant to the soundtrack

  • supporting audio style guide, to quickly reference creator-suggested inspiration and requested styles

  • composer notes, a house for my research.

asset list

My asset list for this project was a google sheet shared with the game's creator. Here, I housed information about each individual deliverableincluding (but not limited to) implementation instructions and technical information such as length, LUFS, and peak dB.

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