Jump to content

Game piece (music)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Game piece is a concept of experimental music having its roots with composers Iannis Xenakis, Christian Wolff[need quotation to verify] and John Zorn. Game pieces may be considered controlled improvisation.[1][page needed] An essential characteristic is that there is no pre-arranged sequence of events. They unfold freely according to certain rules, like in a sports game. Therefore, game pieces have elements of improvisation. A number of methods can be used to determine the direction and evolution of the music, including hand gestures. Zorn's game piece "Cobra", which has been recorded several times for various labels, uses a combination of cards and gestures and can be performed by an ensemble of any size and composition. Zorn's game pieces, written in the late 1970s and mid-1980s, include Cobra, Hockey, Lacrosse, and Xu Feng.[1]

As well as a sports game, a game piece may also be considered analogous to language: The performance is directed by a well-defined set of rules (a grammar) but by no means fixed or predetermined (just as all sentences generated by the same grammar are not the same). The length of a piece may be arbitrary, just as a sentence can be of any imaginable length while still conforming to a strictly defined syntax.

In Formalized Music (2001), Iannis Xenakis mentions two pieces in his oeuvre that utilize game theory: Duel (1959) and Stratégie (1962).[2] The first of these, Duel, involves an orchestra that is broken into two groups, each with a separate conductor. Each conductor chooses from a palette of six modules, and points are assigned to each conductor based on the combinations of modules that occurred. Stratégie expands this process to a larger orchestra, and it simplifies the rules to make performance easier.[3]

German experimental group Einsturzende Neubauten developed a 600 card game piece named Dave. Vocalist Blixa Bargeld describes the card game as "not too much of an aleatoric thing as it is a navigation system". Dave is used as an improvisational spur in live performance and was used extensively in the composing and recording of Alles in Allem.[4]

Brotzman's Signs and Images

Free jazz saxophonist Peter Brotzmann devised, designed and illustrated two card games, Signs and Images, in the early 2000s to be used by the Chicago Tentet.[5] Signs consists of twenty-five cards and Images fifteen. The games were released by Brotzmann as a limited edition in 2002.[6]


  1. ^ a b Brackett, John. John Zorn: Tradition and Transgression, p.xi. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-253-22025-7.
  2. ^ Xenakis, Iannis (2001). Formalized Music (second ed.). Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon Press. pp. viii.
  3. ^ Harley, James (2011). Xenakis: His Life in Music. New York: New York. pp. 23–24.
  4. ^ Harriman, Andi. "40 Years of Einstürzende Neubauten: Blixa Bargeld on the Phases of Making an Album". post-punk.com. post-punk.com. Retrieved 15 August 2023.
  5. ^ "PETER BRÖTZMANN – Signs & Images Card game". Trost Records. Trost Records. Retrieved 15 August 2023.
  6. ^ "Images and Signs – A Card Game [Numbered]". Boo-Hooray. Boo-Hooray. Retrieved 15 August 2023.
  • Bailey, Derek: Improvisation. Its nature and practise in music, 1992, pp. 75–78.
  • Beresford, Steve: "John Zorn interviewed", in: Resonance. Published by London Musician's Collective vol.2, nr. 2, summer, 1994.
  • Cox, Christoph and Warner, Daniel: "The Game Pieces", in: Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music, New York (Continuum), 2004, pp. 196–200.
  • Harley, James. Xenakis: His Life in Music. New York: Routledge, 2011.
  • Huesmann, Günther: "John Zorn. Über die Verfügbarkeit der Töne" i Ohnesorg, Faanz Xaver: Die Befreiung der Musik. Eine Einführung in die Musik des 20. Jahrhunderts. Köln (Gustav Lübbe Verlag), 1994.
  • Lange, Art: Article in booklet of Zorn (1991;I1),
  • Lange, Art: "Der Architekt der Spiele. Gespräch mit John Zorn über seine musikalischen Regelsysteme", Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 2, 1991.
  • Mandel, Howard: "Howard Mandel interview John Zorn", EAR Magazine Vol. II no. 2, oct., 1986. LOGOS.
  • Mandel, Howard: "Ich habe viele kleine Tricks". John Zorn interview. MusikTexte 23, Febr., 1988.
  • Mandel, Howard: "Guerilla Strategist: John Zorn interviewed by Howard Mandel", Resonance vol. 6 nr. 1, 1997.
  • McGuire, John: "Spiele um des Spiels willen. Der New Yorker Komponist und Musiker John Zorn. MusikTexte 23, February 1988.
  • Rovere, Walter; Chiti, Carlo in collaboration with Achilli, Alessandro; chadbourne, Eugene; Coralli, Michele; Romero, Enrico: Itinerari oltre il suono. John Zorn. In Italian and English, Milano/Valdarno (Materiali Sonori Edizioni Musicali snc) 1998.
  • Solothurnmann, Jürg: "Trickfilmmusik" (1986), Landolt, Patrik; Wyss Ruedi (ed.): Die lachenden Aussenseiter. Musikerinnen und Musiker zwischen Jazz, Rock und neuer Musik. Die 80er und 90er Jahre. Ein Buch der Wochenzeitung (WOZ) im Rotpunktverlag. Zürich (Rotpunktverlag), 1993.
  • Tetsu, Shiba: Two Game Pieces (English and Japanese versions). https://web.archive.org/web/20080605113636/http://www20.brinkster.com/improarchive/sht.htm
  • Watrous, Peter: sleeve notes for John Zorn: Cobra. 2 LP-sæt, hatART 2034, 1986.
  • Whitehead, Kevin, "A Field Guide To Cobra," Pulse!, November 1994.
  • Xenakis, Iannis. Formalized Music. Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon Press, 1992.

External links[edit]