I attended the Automatic Music Hackathon on December 7, and composed a game piece for improvising musicians that for now is known by the sturdy and workmanlike title “Cargo Cult Nonet using Tic-Tac-Toe Yin Yang Sonification Notation”.
While most projects at the hackathon used computer programs as the key implementation of their automation, I used a board game, Ultimate Tic Tac Toe. The automation occurs because, as the score says, “the game players are obligated only to the goal of winning the game, and must not act with intention to influence the music. The musicians must have a clear view of the gameboard, as it is their score and conductor.”
The piece was performed in the evening. It was an honor and a thrill to have nine musicians (Hunter, Linda, Nick, David, Travis, and 4 members of the Sensorium Saxophone Orchestra) and two game players (Cassie and Brady) ready and eager to give it a run-through, fresh out of the oven. Later on, I’ll share further documentation, including sound, video, and hopefully more comprehensive personnel credits.
For now, you can read score, reproduced below. I have some ideas for refining and extending it for future use, but even this initial draft should be pretty serviceable. It was a good day’s work!
Cargo Cult Nonet using Yin Yang Tic-Tac-Toe Sonification Notation
by Jason Das, December 7, 2013
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
The composition uses Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe as a score/parameter generator for improvising musicians. Each move/turn in the game generates specific musical instructions. There are two game players and nine musical players. The game players are obligated only to the goal of winning the game, and must not act with intention to influence the music. The musicians must have a clear view of the gameboard, as it is their score and conductor.
In Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe, the game board consists of nine smaller boards arranged into one larger board. Each smaller board can be won by a player or end in a draw. When three boards in a row are won by a player, that player wins and the game is over. (Complete game playing instructions are not included here, as they are not entirely necessary to the musicians.)
A blank game board:
Each small board within the larger game acts as a score for one of nine musicians. Assignment of musicians to squares may be determined by chance, consensus, or executive order.
A hypothetical assignment of musicians:
Key, Melody, Rhythmic Pattern, and Tempo are not determined by the game and may be freely negotiated by the musicians.
The game may begin in any square (and thus the piece may begin with any musician).
Each small board has 2 axes, and 2 possible values for each square (X, O).
As each turn is played, a single musician is activated or reoriented. Each musician continues to follow their most recent direction until they receive a new one. (Or until their square ends in a draw or the game ends.)
The vertical axis determines Harmonic Range: bottom = Low, top = High.
The horizontal axis determines Complexity: left = Simple, right = Ornate
The game player’s symbol, X or O, determines dynamics and timbre. O is Yin and X is Yang.
Yin (O): “slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, wet, passive; associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity, nighttime”
Yang (X): “fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, aggressive; associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity, daytime”
When a square is won, the musician plays continues playing the winning subsquare until the end of the game.
When a square ends in a draw/tie, the musician stops playing completely, and is out of the piece.
When the game is won, all musicians stop playing, and the piece is over.