Deep Blue Plays Chess

Do not interpret the following as me thinking this is some awesome piece of music – it isn’t. But unlike most days I have a story to tell so I’m telling the story for those who may be interested.

This piece is dedicated to Marcel de Velde, Kraig Grady, Andrew Heathwaite, Jacob Barton and John Chalmers who provided resources and ideas on melding Just Intonation and serialism. Of special note is that Marcel provided the tuning that ultimately was used to compose most of the piece and render the final version. (scala formatted file below) Also, I make no claim that this is on the level of Ben Johnston’s serial String Quartets in Just Intonation. This work is a long, long way away from that level of complexity and compositional thought.

The basic goals when starting out this composition were:

1. To use serialism and Just Intonation in a tonal framework with the idea to maximize the contradiction in preconceived notions about these musical techniques.

2. I have been participating in Andrew Heathwaite and Jacob Barton’s microtonal classes in Urbana. The first class I attended the goal was to write and perform a short piece in 11 notes per octave using serial technique applied to pitch in a microtonal setting. I had not thought about serialism in quite some time and wondered what I could do with the technique if I revisited it.

3. I have been composing classical music in “free tonality” for some time. Having finally discovered Schoenberg’s music theory writings and his Op 19 and Pierrot Lunaire I found another root of my early to mid twentieth century musical stylistic choices. It seemed logical to follow Arnold one step further.

4. To describe musically a chess game, from the point of view of the computer Deep Blue who bested Garry Kasporov. I’m not a big fan of programmatic music – but that was necessary to execute the idea.

5. A challenge to myself to drag out a lot of material from tone row matrix. I allowed myself to use a “relaxed serialism” which allowed for chordal grouping, but excepting a mistake in the opening phrase (which carried through) I did not violate pitch order.

My own take on the composition is that the whole piece hangs on the strength of each phrase, and then the grouping of phrases. The piece is in 3 portions as delineated on the score, The Opening, The Middle Game, The End Game, to follow the logical progression a chess matches takes as it evolves. As a while I have not made up my mind about the piece to be honest. Some phrases I like – especially the ones that I hear could use further development but within a different context. Measure 58 through 64 come across to me as strong with the repetition working well despite the fact that the harmony is not particularly dissonant.

Why 5/4 time signature? Only to force myself away from 4/4 time. I tried to avoid harsh dissonance – in places where I desired a large enough chunk of the tone row I was working with I used pitch register to reduce the dissonance.

The PDF of the score is here: Deep Blue Plays Chess for solo piano.

The full quality video is here

Music only

Here is a comparison of the Ramis monochord tuning (left channel) and 12 equal (right channel)

Marcel’s tuning

! E:\Cakewalk\scales\Marcel\ramis-monochord.scl
Ramis monochord transposed by Marcel

*** 12-Tone Matrix Plug-in. Calculated 12-tone matrices ***

Original Tone Row: 0 4 7 11 6 1 8 3 10 2 5 9 
	I-0	I-4	I-7	I-11	I-6	I-1	I-8	I-3	I-10	I-2	I-5	I-9	

P-0	0	4	7	11	6	1	8	3	10	2	5	9	R-0	
P-8	8	0	3	7	2	9	4	11	6	10	1	5	R-8	
P-5	5	9	0	4	11	6	1	8	3	7	10	2	R-5	
P-1	1	5	8	0	7	2	9	4	11	3	6	10	R-1	
P-6	6	10	1	5	0	7	2	9	4	8	11	3	R-6	
P11	11	3	6	10	5	0	7	2	9	1	4	8	R-11	
P-4	4	8	11	3	10	5	0	7	2	6	9	1	R-4	
P-9	9	1	4	8	3	10	5	0	7	11	2	6	R-9	
P-2	2	6	9	1	8	3	10	5	0	4	7	11	R-2	
P-10	10	2	5	9	4	11	6	1	8	0	3	7	R-10	
P-7	7	11	2	6	1	8	3	10	5	9	0	4	R-7	
P-3	3	7	10	2	9	4	11	6	1	5	8	0	R-3	

	RI-0	RI-4	RI-7	RI-11	RI-6	RI-1	RI-8	RI-3	RI-10	RI-2	RI-5	RI-9	

3 Responses to “Deep Blue Plays Chess”

  1. peter says:


    Rather than thinking about the whole row in a single swoop, think about cells in the row: Webern used trichords, and he made them all uniform, making the motivic unity incomparable! Schoenberg used combinatoriality, which opened up the matrix to large scale development. I recommend a book called Post Tonal theory by Joseph Straus. It is an excellent straightforward book on all issues concerning atonal music. Also, keep doing this! Composing this way opens up roads you will never think about by way of improvising. Also, Pirrot Lunaire was one of Arnold’s early pieces and was mostly intuitive!

  2. admin says:

    Hi Peter, thanks for the tips. I’m not sure if you realize that I often compose. I improvise mostly to relax. You might be interested in and and among others.

  3. Hi Chris,
    Good work and also enjoyable ! “Composing this way opens up roads you will never think about by way of improvising” and Peter is absolutely correct.

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