Chess Duets

chess board notes chess 1 to 20 chess 20 to end

I was in the Music by Rules group and became interested in the use of computer programs and dice games to generate musical compositions. I had hoped to develop a program that would work with an animated chess game to create a duet. I do not have the time or skills necessary for that iteration, so I decided to complete the task manually. I decided that jazz would be the best type of music to write since it is heavy in improvisation. I used the notes of the Bb blues scale in setting up my chess board. I distributed the notes randomly among all squares of the board except for those in the top and bottom two rows. I wanted to have continuity between these rows of squares because every piece would start moving from those rows. I watched the “Game of the Century,” the chess game between Bobby Fischer and Donald Byrne in 1956, and recorded the moves of the chess pieces. Next, I converted the positions I denoted to the notes I had assigned the squares. I copied these notes to manuscript paper and had my friend Valerie McGraw form rifts from these notes on saxophone. Alto saxophone represents the moves of the white pieces and baritone saxophone represents the moves of the black pieces. I spliced these tracks and created a jazzy duet on REAPER. Due to the timeliness of analyzing the chess moves, I was unable to finish the chess game. I would expand on what I was able to do if I were to revisit this project. Due to my interest in musical composition, I hope to attempt more projects similar to this later on.


One thought on “Chess Duets

  1. Hi Emily,

    This was quite the undertaking! If you do plan to continue this type of project in the future, taking the time to learn some of the skills to work in Max or a similar program will be time well invested. Doing this work by hand works on a smaller scale, but with a computer’s assistance, you will open up significant possibilities in working on larger scales.

    On the other hand, you could take the approach of giving live players instructions to follow as they watch a game unfold, live, in a concert space.

    Beyond that, my biggest suggestion is to experiment with space and timbre, and to balance the purity of the idea of following the game with some artistic license, to keep things feeling somewhat spontaneous, especially within the jazz framework you have chosen! Nice work.


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