Games and Music

by Moritz Eggert

Transcript of our podcast from 13 May 2007

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First of all I have to warn Jay Tummelson from Rio Grande games. Yes, Jay, I'm warning you. I heard you saying that you wanted to do the English version of "Jenseits von Theben" from Queen Games, which in itself is of course a great endeavour. But you also said that you wanted to leave the original German title, as you thought it was simply a German name.

Dear Jay, this is wrong.

"Jenseits von Theben" literally means "Beyond Thebes". And I mean "Thebes" the ancient city, which is "Theben" in Germany. Unfortunately the pun of the German title is difficult to translate, as the title by Peter Prinz makes a reference to the German title of John Steinbeck's famous novel "East of Eden", which is called "Jenseits von Eden" in German, but "Östlich von Eden" wouldn't have sounded that great in German.

So Jay, don't say I warned ya! Just call it "Indiana Jane", wait....

Now I'm going to talk about things related to gaming and my own field of profession, which is music.

For many gamers gaming begins roughly in the 60's of the last century, when gaming as a hobby really took off and prepared its start into the mainstream. Most gamers know games from this period and of course some classic games like chess and go. But of course gaming is as old as mankind itself, and there are some interesting facts and stories associated with gaming that many of you might not know.

So this time I will talk about one of the greatest geeks ever in the history of mankind, the ueber-geek if you will. A gaming geek so monstrous in talent, wit and imagination that up to today one can only bow before his greatness.

His name is Wolfgang Amadé Mozart. Please note that he never called himself "Amadeus" with second name, only "Amadé".

All of you might have a very clichéd picture of the great German composer. Yes, I did say "German composer". Austria and Germany didn't exist as countries in the same way like they do today, and Mozart called himself a composer "teutscher Nation" in his letters, which means "of German provenience". So there you go.

One of the clichés you might have is that he was some kind of crazy Tourette syndrome guy, with pink hair and rolling eyeballs, like he was portrayed in the Milos Forman film "Amadeus". Well, the film is great, but it is pure fantasy and has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with reality.

But fact is that Mozart rather enjoyed life, and with that I mean all aspects of life. And one thing he enjoyed in particular was gaming. It is known that he played lots of card and board games; he also gambled in games of luck and was a student of probabilities. If he was living today he probably would have a huge game collection.

This love for gaming pervades his whole oeuvre. He basically invented the description "playful" for music. He was never content to just follow the trodden paths but instead created his own rules. This is especially notable when he struggles with things like the sonata form - he usually gets bored with presentation of themes and such but really comes into his own in the so called "Durchfuehrung" when the themes and motifs are juggled around like crazy and new ideas come into the fray. This is where he felt at home.

Also his 22 operas certainly show a love for playfulness - best examples are perhaps operas like "Cosi fan tutte" with a plot so crazy that one needs years to really understand it, and the first true fantasy opera, "The Magic Flute" which pretty much describes a classical adventure quest that is not so far from a typical D&D adventure than you all might think.

But his love for games is never so apparent as in his extremely interesting piece "Das Musikalische Würfelspiel".

This translates literally to "The Musical Dice Game". Wow - a game by Mozart and it is not on Boardgamegeek. So you folks rather have the dreadful Nazi propaganda game whose name I won't even mention here in your database, but not this work of art by one of the greatest artists in the history of mankind????

Ok, to be honest, it's not really a game. And it isn't even the only musical dice game in the history of music, but certainly the most famous. What you do is roll 2 dice 8 times twice and look the results up in a complicated table that Mozart invented to rival even Advanced Squad Leader. The results translate into bars of melody and bars of accompaniment for piano solo. And wonder of wonders: after you have rolled the sequence up, you have created your very own piece of music, by the means of dice. Mozart wrote this little waltz in such a way, that every of the literally millions of possible results and combinations always make - kind of - musical sense. Before the advent of TV and TV dinners: this is how the educated elite of the world spent their free time in the 18th century: rolling up pieces of music.

You don't believe me? Just type in "Musical Dice Game" and "Mozart" into your search engine and you will find several sites which offer MIDI realisations of the piece with the option of generating your very own piece. The best implementation is a German site, here is the link provided by the excellent Sam, that actually has a real pianist play your version by means of a complicated live mixing process.

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