Chess Music
March 5, 2011 8:53 AM   Subscribe

"For absolutely no good reason, I found myself wondering what a chess game would sound like if played on the piano"
posted by rollick (15 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

FTL-> My hope was to somehow evoke the major seventh chord sound of the 1970s, when this game was played. It came out sounding like if Schoenberg wrote intro music for a morning talk show.


"My music is not modern, it is merely badly played" - Arnold Schoenberg
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 9:04 AM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I like how he describes the music of the Fischer-Spassky, Game 6 (link to MP3) as "sounding like if Schoenberg wrote intro music for a morning talk show"
posted by bitteroldman at 9:08 AM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Assigning these exact ratios to note values will create some rather annoying polyrhythms."

Polyrhythms are only annoying when you're trying to notate them in Sibelius or Finale or whatever composing software he's using.
I know this.

Anyhow, it is a clever idea, and it didn't sound nearly as horrid as I was expecting!
posted by mingo_clambake at 9:13 AM on March 5, 2011

I don't understand how he did the reverse with Ode to Joy. Ode to Joy can't consist of legal chess moves, can it?
posted by etc. at 9:17 AM on March 5, 2011

Here's a similar project by Jim Bumgarner, which sonifies all the moves that a computer chess algorithm is thinking about, rather than just the actual moves played.

Shortcut to mp3
posted by moonmilk at 9:19 AM on March 5, 2011

Because he was too tired to think particularly constructively tonight he savagely selected and copied a whole swathe of figures from the spreadsheet at random, pasted them into his own conversion program, which scaled and filtered and manipulated the figures according to his own experimental algorithms, loaded the converted file into Performer, a powerful sequencer program, and played the result through random MIDI channels to whichever synthesisers happened to be on at the moment.

The result was a short burst of the most hideous cacophony, and he stopped it.

He ran the conversion program again, this time instructing it to force-map the pitch values into G minor. This was a utility he was determined in the end to get rid of because he regarded it as cheating. If there was any basis to his firmly held belief that the rhythms and harmonies of music which he found most satisfying could be found in, or at least derived from, the rhythms and harmonie s of naturally occurring phenomena, then satisfying forms of modality and intonation should emerge naturally as well, rather than being forced.

For the moment, though, he forced it.

The result was a short burst of the most hideous cacophony in G minor.
posted by saturday_morning at 9:32 AM on March 5, 2011 [13 favorites]

"Welllll they are the same colors, but that doesn't mean they're the same. I don't think they can be compared." - my college professors.
posted by amethysts at 9:33 AM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

The King’s Gambit by Guido Van der Werve.

"The first act, The King’s Gambit Accepted, revolves around a perfect game of chess which ends in a draw because both parties are left only with their kings. This game is played by the artist and the ‘author’ of the game on the chessboard-piano mentioned above, and the piano notes produced by the game offer a framework for the orchestral score. This score persists throughout the rest of the film, along with algebraic notation tracking the ongoing progress of the game in the bottom-right corner of the screen."

(This score actually sounds quite nice).
posted by ovvl at 9:52 AM on March 5, 2011

This is pretty nifty and all, and sonification is an important area of research, but I'm always amazed at how people just make a 1:1 mapping of pitches to something else, and say "Hey, this is what chess sounds like if you make it into music!"

The way the resulting music sounds is largely based on the system the person imposed on the chess games. It sounds like Neoclassical Stravinsky because 1) he mapped essentially tonal materials onto a grid 2) he repeats pitches a lot, which makes it sound like there is a tonal center 3) he arbitrarily put rhythmic values on the different pieces, which doesn't have any musical analogue, making it choppy.

it's really a false mapping... the relationship between the squares on a chess board and musical materials is not a meaningful relationship. now, if you tracked the movement of a single chess piece and used it in counterpoint with other pieces -- that would be much more interesting. music is made of phrases and gestures - not stacked pitches that are revealed in repetitive sequence...
posted by teletype1 at 10:22 AM on March 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

now, if you tracked the movement of a single chess piece and used it in counterpoint with other pieces -- that would be much more interesting.

I agree, this is an idea that could have been expressed in more interesting ways.

Also, I don't see you guys rating the kind of moves I'm contemplating.
posted by daisystomper at 10:46 AM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Welp, ten comments in and we have a reference to Björn and Benny. It’s all downhill from here.

I agree with teletype1, though: with 32 pieces on the board, that’s a lot of voices to play with. Maybe one of these days I’ll sit down and figure out a way to map a piece’s (in)activity to notes.
posted by spitefulcrow at 10:52 AM on March 5, 2011

I'll bet you anything that Deep Blue vs. Garry Kasparov sounds just like something off of "Trans-Europe Express."
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:23 PM on March 5, 2011

They sound like 8-bit video game tunes.
posted by bwg at 3:30 PM on March 5, 2011

1) I'm about halfway with teletype1 here. If you're going to use an arbitrary system of rules to map the chess moves to sounds/pitches then stick to that regardless of whatever aesthetic concerns you may have. Leave the experiment in the "experimental music". OR, at the other end of the spectrum, find some way to express the idea or feeling of the game musically. The tension, the exchanges, queen-side versus king-side attack. There's plenty to be done where the specific notes don't necessarily correspond to any of the moves but that still represent the game. What you shouldn't do is like what this person did and do something between these extremes. An arbitrary system to map moves to notes along with his consciously chosen musical stylings to somehow make it fit. It's the worst of both worlds.

2) Having said all that, I don't necessarily think that the arbitrary mapping will produce anything that's musically interesting. I don't mean this because of how it will sound "random" but because it's just kind of lazy. If you're going to go the experimental route think bigger, think outside of the normal musical experience. I don't write music anymore but if I were to tackle this project a couple of things occur to me. One is to add a visual element, theater. Nothing obvious like musicians dressed as the pieces and moving about on the chess board but some inclusion of another medium where that artist translates what you do musically to a different medium. Combinations like this can make for a more interesting experience. The other thing that occurs to me is to create a situation where the musicians would map to the pieces but not know what was going to happen. All of a sudden one musician is thrust (musically, not physically) into action and lives, captures another piece, or is captured and dies. Giving the musicians their own goals (to live, be promoted, whatever) and representing that musically and then mapping the movements into the performance might result in something more compelling . Allow the musicians to feel and act as if they have musical free will but then are really under control of the chess players whose moves predestine the actions of the musicians.

So, yeah, I think there's some potential here but it just wasn't realized in a totally engaging way. And of course it reminds me of the Cage and Duchamp piece where they played a game of chess on stage with the board hooked up electronically to live musicians, turning them off or on via the moves made on the board.
posted by bfootdav at 12:37 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

music is made of phrases and gestures - not stacked pitches that are revealed in repetitive sequence...

Um, not sure you're qualified to define what music "is" and "is not", teletype1.

Actually, I'm pretty sure you're only actually describing "music that teletype1 is currently thinking of, or aware of."
posted by IAmBroom at 12:17 PM on March 16, 2011

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