Playing the Numbers Game

Although Sudoku seems to have been a worldwide addiction for about two years, I only caved in to the phenomenon nine days ago when my flight was delayed at the Syracuse airport. Strangely, my cohorts in the Box are all somewhat disappointed by my new obsession, e.g. Randy: “FJO, you’ve finally gone popular culture; you’re just like everybody else now.”

Indeed, it seems like every other person around is playing this numbers game. But there’s something else in the back of my head as I rummage through each perplexing puzzle which is probably not so mainstream: those 9×9 no-repeat number grids are actually a form of, you guessed it, serialism. In fact, I just discovered there’s a 12×12 version called Monster Sudoku (a.k.a. Dodeka Sudoku) which uses letters in addition to numbers. Now, if only those letters and numbers were replaced by chromatic pitches, we might have finally figured out a way to make twelve-tone music a hit with the general public.

Nowadays, after years of negative publicity, even some of the formerly staunchest advocates of dodecaphony have publicly distanced themselves from serial techniques—i.e. “I don’t really use tone rows in my music,” etc.—fearing, of course, that admitting to such a compositional method would make their music seem too erudite. Ever the contrarian, all that critical vitriol had the reverse effect on me: it made me eager to explore combinatorial hexachords. But now, we avatars of combinatoriality have a new way to promote our music: “Just think of it as sonic Sudoku.”

5 thoughts on “Playing the Numbers Game

  1. day vallen

    …by my new obsession

    Ahh! There’s that WORD!!

    Great to see you here in Syracuse, Frank. Glad you made it back safe, even if newly Sudoku-addicted.

    This is my very first Chatter comment… what took me so long?

    Reply
  2. coreydargel

    Frank, have you heard of the new GIGA-SUDOKU which uses a grid of 1728 X 1728 to divide the octave into the number of microtonal pitches that modern acoustics has proved empirically discernible?

    Unfortunately, there aren’t enough letters, single-digit numbers, and wingdings to solve such a puzzle.

    Reply
  3. Daniel Wolf

    British experimental/systems composer Christopher Hobbs has written a large number of works based on Sudoko patterns.

    I have a personal compositional problem with systems in which the completion of lists is essential, and it doesn’t matter whether completing we’re consuming 12-tone aggregates or lists of all possible partitions, Babbitt-style, or running alternative serial systems, or grey-coded lists, a la Tom Johnson: once it is clear that a list is being executed, it seems to lose some of the magic as surprise inevitably gives way to the routine. While I recognize that there is a legitimate aesthetic of the routine, I can’t help but look for alternatives.

    Reply
  4. Daniel Wolf

    Not to be forgotten — Tom Johnson posted a Sudoko puzzle based on 9-tone aggregates some years ago in MusikTexte.

    Reply

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