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Reviewed by:
  • Musical Dice Games
  • Jim Hearon
Musical Dice Games, ISBN 3-7957-6080-1, EAN 9783795760809, 2001, CD-ROM € 24.95; available from Schott Musik International, Mainz, Germany; electronic mail; Web

The Musical Dice Games CD-ROM, in German or English, for Windows 95/98, requires a 486 or higher Wintel processor, a 4× CD-ROM drive, 16-bit audio card, 16 MB RAM, a 640 × 480 graphics card with 256 colors, and Video for Windows.

This CD-ROM features multimedia versions of musical dice games by composers Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Anonymous (probably Maximilian Stadler), Johann Philipp Kirnberger, and Gustav Gerlach. In total, nine dice games are represented, each with a number of different instrument playback timbres, as well as possible MIDI control.

The compositions are based on sectional pieces such as minuets, polonaises, and waltzes. For the musical dice games, a method of composition was used whereby bars were based on the same harmonic pattern but varied according to rhythmic and melodic lines. The games are shown in a number grid format to reveal the possibilities obtainable from the throw of the dice, which can be entered manually, or chosen randomly by computer if desired. A system of clearly drawn staves shows the resulting composition, which can be played, saved, and also printed. An [End Page 99] interesting and educational use of the dice games is to change only one or two measures of a composition, and then play back the piece using the slightly different combination of possibilities. Haydn intimated this approach in the title of his "Gioco Filarmonico, Philharmonic Joke or the Art of Composing an Infinite Number of Minuets Without the Least Knowledge of Counterpoint" (1790). Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's "Idea of composing a six-bar double counterpoint at the octave without knowing the rules" (c. 1757) also alludes to the game-like nature of using chance composition as a form of entertainment.

No joke today however; serious composers of automata will find this historical and entertaining collection of games an interesting and practical connection to the past. A chronological history of all known musical dice games is included along with a bibliography of sources.

Credits: Christoph Reuter—programming, music graphics, MIDI input, texts, audio, and idea; Michael Boland—screen design; Claudius Klein—MIDI input; and Frank Christian Stoffel—MIDI export programming. [End Page 100]

Jim Hearon
San Francisco, California, USA


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pp. 99-100
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