Checkerboard Step Sequencer V2 from Josh Silverman on Vimeo.

Shall we play a game?

Have your checkers chops ready, because Josh Silverman’s Checkerboard Step Sequencer, a tangible interface for music, will test both your game mettle and your grooves.

Built with the open source coding tool OpenFrameworks and Ableton Live as sound source, the checkerboard fuses computer vision technology and … well, some beats.

This video should make obvious the relationship between the position of the checkers pieces and the noises they represent and trigger. It’s still a work in progress, but for now I won’t subject you to the cacophony that is the sound of an actual game of checkers.

Aside from the kick drum, which just keeps pace on every beat, all other drum samples are triggered off the board.

In this version, I’ve implemented a Mute Region that surrounds the board. When the application sees activity in the mute region, it disables the updating of the sequencer. This way, my hand doesn’t trigger a cacophony when I move the pieces.

More technical explanation on Josh’s blog:

How it works [prettyextreme]

As it happens, you can meet this project in person if you’re in the NYC area. We’ll be hosting Josh on Sunday night at Handmade Music, at Culturefix’s Lower East Side. 4:30-6p is an open lab, a chance to check out this project and others (including MeeBlip!), followed by cacophonous demos and raucous music starting at 7p.

Detailed Lineup; Handmade Music site
Event on Facebook

Historical precedent: It’s fairly hard to top John Cage and Marcel Duchamp playing chess, with or without sonification, but apparently sonified they were:
John Cage Playing Chess [Uncertain Times]

No information on what the chess game sounded like, however. Backgammon, anyone? Thanks, SkyRon, for the tip! Also, from 1997, a grid game with Toshio Iwai and Ryuichi Sakamoto; thanks, Ctrlsave. (Interesting to reflect on how much easier this is to do in 2010, thanks to more accessible software and greater, cheaper horsepower.)

  • Sasa Rasa

    From what's shown in the video, it seems to me that it's simpler to implement the same functionality using just a launchpad.

    On the other hand, the project seems to be in active development and it's likely Josh will come up with something more interesting. I mean, it only makes sense if some advantages of having a physical checkerboard are found and exploited, so that the 8×8 grid concept is extended beyond what can be done with the launchpad or monomes.

  • (Historical Note: John Cage plays Marcel Duchamp on chessboard that produces electronic music. Toronto, 1968) More at… .

  • Ctrlsave
    Toshio iwai and ryuichi sakamoto did the same thing way back in 1997.

  • Peter Kirn

    Well, not the same thing. This is checkers.

    Anyway, 1968 takes 1997, Cage takes Sakamoto. Checkmate. Match: Cage.

  • Peter Kirn

    (awesome link, btw, SkyRon – wonder if there's any sound.)

  • dead_red_eyes

    Toshio Iwai is so damn crafty!!! I love that guy!

  • FrankyAnderson

    This is super cool, it's a amazing what can be used today as a controller, and even back in the 90's!!!

  • funny & nice way to add some stochastic values 🙂

  • In the Iwai video, the keyboard seems to output a stream of lights linked to the number of notes played. IT reminds me of this installation, the clavilux 2000:

  • Random Chance

    While checkers (this one), chess (Cage), and Go (Sakamoto) might all be board games I don't see the necessary similarities to call prior art on any of them. Cage apparently used the board to mute and un-mute the sound of live performers playing alongside the chess game. Sakamoto triggered single piano notes with pitch depending on absolute position and time between notes on distance between individual pieces. This example seems to use a different metric so to speak, but I might be wrong, because it's not entirely clear to me which metric (or way to scan the board) was used by Sakamoto.

  • Sorry I didn't include this link, too: In grad school, one of my professors was Lowell Cross, who was responsible for creating the electronics for the chess board. A quiet and accomplished man, laser show pioneer:

  • Sorry, again, but on further reflection (a quality, I think, pretty much lost on, uhm, many) I would really like to hear Josh's notion of cacophony! In a beat-centric world, how do we define disorder? Is it multi-temporal in a Nancarrow-way? Does it exhibit timbral masking? Can there be dissonance in 2010? What defines cacophony? Can we make a digital cacophony generator (never mind, I can do that). Peace out!

  • I was developing some video triggering similar to this. I was going to use construction paper of different colors and put them on a wall in a grid. Different paper colors would trigger different sounds as well. If I only had time to finish even half the projects I've started…

    Anyway, the checkerboard is a nice idea, but as has already been mentioned, at that form factor I would just use my monome. Even so, very nice work of course.

  • It doesn't surprise me to see that people have done this kind of thing before. What I didn't mention in the checkers blog post is that the game board implementation was really just one step along the way toward developing another system. Ultimately the steps are projected on the ground and the positions of dancers are used to turn the steps on or off. Details and demo vid here. I am very curious to know if anyone has seen this done before.

    The fact that a checkerboard is an 8×8 grid is convenient for the purposes of the checkers demo and comparison to traditional step sequencers, but the code is written to be extremely versatile and enable alternative step patterns.

    And SkyRon, this is what I meant by cacophony. Triggering every sample on every tick. While technically interesting, I don't find it to be musically pleasing for very long!