Sudoku 82   CB0033

The music

Sudoku 82, a spare, beautiful, spacious piece for eight pianos, was composed utilizing systems derived from sudoku puzzles and the GarageBand computer program.

The composer writes about the piece: “Sudoku 82 is one of a series of pieces I have been working on since 2005. There are now over 125 of them that use Apple’s GarageBand software and random procedures culled from the numbers found initially in hexadecimal sudoku puzzles and latterly from online random number generators. I choose the sounds I want and the overall duration, but then let the numbers determine what goes where, how many times, how long, how much silence, and so on. Sudoku 82 used a number of piano loops played on eight pianos at an extremely slow tempo, the result being that the pianists seem to be frozen in time. It was Jim Fox who suggested that the piece might be performed ‘live’ rather than using samples as I had originally done. This is therefore the first of the series to come off the computer and into the recording studio, and I am delighted with the result, which is dedicated to Jim Fox, whose music and predisposition towards slow tempos I have admired for many years.” 

“The ever-stylish Christopher Hobbs is a master of subtle surprise. This haunting music is both strange and familiar, and balm to an alert ear and keen intelligence.” —Howard Skempton

“Hobbs’s Sudoku pieces, based on the newspaper puzzle, are exotically listenable and remarkably varied.” —Kyle Gann, PostClassic

The composer

Christopher Hobbs is an English experimental composer and a pioneer of British systems music. He was Cornelius Cardew’s first student at the Royal Academy of Music, the youngest member of the Scratch Orchestra, which he joined at the group’s first meeting, and an early member of AMM (appearing on AMM’s albums The Crypt and Laminal). He also was a founder-member of the Promenade Theatre Orchestra (with John White, Alec Hill, and Hugh Shrapnel), a group of composer-performers who specialized in music for toy pianos and reed organs. On the breakup of the PTO, he and White formed the Hobbs-White Duo. Hobbs has also taken part in several momentous one-off concerts, most notably in a complete performance of Erik Satie’s Vexations with Gavin Bryars in Leicester.

In the late sixties, Hobbs founded the Experimental Music Catalogue as a distributor of sheet music mainly by British experimentalists, but also works by Christian Wolff, Frederic Rzewski, Terry Jennings and other American experimentalists. This music was often grouped into anthologies according to themes (the Verbal, Keyboard, and Educational Anthologies are typical). After a few years, Hobbs was joined by Gavin Bryars and Michael Nyman in the operation of the Catalogue, which lasted in its original form until the early 1980s.

A combination of strict rigor and audience-friendly surfaces is typical of most of Hobbs’s work since 1970, as is his use of cheap (toy or amateur) electronics. His musical output includes Duchamp-influenced musical readymades, in which found materials are manipulated in some manner (e.g., The Remorseless Lamb, in which sections of an arrangement of Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze” are rearranged by random means). One of his best-known early works is Aran, in which the note-to-note system is taken from the knitting pattern for an Aran sweater. Hobbs has also written in a freely-composed eclectic style. (Since his friend and colleague White had been writing piano sonatas of great charm and brevity, Hobbs began writing piano sonatinas of great length and weight.) In the 1980s, Hobbs wrote for the then-new Casio electronic keyboards, including the toy VL-Tone (e.g., Back Seat Album) and the MT-750 (e.g., 17 One-Minute Pieces for Bass Clarinet and Casio MT-750). In the 1990s, Hobbs returned to systems composition, often with an emphasis on textual content, as in Extended Relationships and False Endings (systemic manipulation of American soap-opera synopses). His Fifty in Two-Thousand uses keyboards and percussion in strict permutations, while maintaining a friendly, melodic soundworld.

Hobbs was Director of Music at Drama Centre, London from 1973-1991. He has taught at Leicester Polytechnic (later De Montfort University) since 1985. He is also Associate Senior Lecturer in Music at Coventry University.

His music has been recorded on the Obscure Records/Editions EG, Experimental Music Catalogue, Sonic Arts Network, Advance, Matchless, and Black Box labels. As a performer, he has appeared on the Matchless, Impetus, Les Temos Modernes and Deutsche Grammophon (in Cardew’s The Great Learning) labels.

“[Hobbs’s] quietly alluring music possesses the seemingly incidental beauty that can arise in music composed under self-enforced restraints.” —Julian Cowley, The Wire

“Hobbs stylistically seems to be the most intellectually intense and thorough of all the English Experimental composers” —Peter Garland, Pieces 3

The performer

Bryan Pezzone is a Los Angeles pianist who specializes in contemporary music and film and television soundtracks. He has worked with many noted conductors—Pierre Boulez, Oliver Knussen, John Adams, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Kent Nagano—and performed as a soloist with major orchestras. From 1991 through 1999, he was principal pianist with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. He performs regularly at the Monday Evening Concerts, the Green Umbrella Series, the Southwest Chamber Music Series, and the Ojai Festival and has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, the Joffrey Ballet (soloist in Stravinsky’s Les Noces), and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Pezzone has been the pianist on virtually all of the cartoons released by Warner Brothers and Disney over the past eight years. He is also responsible for recording much of Yamaha’s Disklavier Piano Series. He is a consulting editor for the publication Piano and Keyboard. His recent recordings include works by Steve Reich (Daniel Variations, You Are Variations), Mel Powell, John Briggs, and John Cage. He is heard on seven Cold Blue CDs, performing music by Daniel Lentz, John Luther Adams, Michael Jon Fink, and Jim Fox. He has also performed on CDs from Nonesuch, Eroica, Delos, Albany, New World, Mode, Varese Sarabande, RCA, Decca, and many other labels.

Comments

“Sooner or later, everyone will relish chill-out relief from the holiday madness. Christopher Hobbs’ dreamy but random Sudoku 82 for eight pianos (all excellently played by Bryan Pezzone) is the perfect drug. Try it with eggnog.” — Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times (from Times critic Swed’s “Musical Gift Ideas” list for Xmas 2009)

“It’s clever stuff, part of a series of 125 pieces on which Hobbs used GarageBand software and the hexidecimal grids of sudoku puzzles to generate material. If it stopped there it might be dull, but Hobbs disposes his sounds with charateristic grace. The subhead “for eight pianos” suggest Steve Reich busyness, but it’s lighter and infinitely sparer than that. Bryan Pezzone works wonders, however many keyboards had to be juggled.” —Brian Morton, The Wire

“Two exciting releases from Cold Blue [Christopher Hobbs’s Sudoku 82 and Christopher Roberts’s The Last Cicada Singing] that push new music in new directions.… Some 50 years after John Cage and Lou Harrison looked eastwards for musical inspiration, just how much their music has influenced subsequent generations is a matter of debate. But as these two CD singles from Cold Blue clearly show, their mentality is alive and well…. Christopher Hobbs a former Cardew student and founding member of the Scratch Orchestra, leans toward Cage’s corner, hauling the master’s ideas into the 21st century. Where Cage himself drew chance determinacy literally from a roll of the dice, Hobbs finds his in Japanese number games. His ‘sudoku’ pieces—125 by the composer’s count—take number sequences from the newspaper puzzles and online random number generators and uses them to structure his pre-determined sounds…. Sudoku 82, the first of these to be arranged for live performance (heard here in a multitrack piano performance), is quiet and contemplative, though not strictly minimalist, since it draws on a full range of post-impressionistic tone color. Through its quiet intensity—not unlike the music of Morton Feldman—the piece changes one’s entire perception of time. My watch said 20 minutes but it could have been anywhere from a moment to an hour.” —Ken Smith, Gramophone

“Cold Blue Music brings Hobbs into the realm of the corporeal market with a very modest, low-cost offering, Sudoku 82. This is a work scored for eight pianos, played by pianist Bryan Pezzone on one through the use of overdubbing. The process involved in composing the music—which is part of a series of now over 150 compositions—interfaces Apple’s Garageband software, the numbers in sudoku puzzles, and random number generation websites; while the mechanics of making the music involves the world wide web to a great degree, Hobbs reserves the creative end of the music for himself. The harmonic content of Sudoku 82 is Hobbs’ choice, whereas the external resources go towards shaping the form of the music. The result is a 19-minute CD single of unrelenting beauty and hushed restraint, and the numerically determined shape of the music renders it into a structure in which the beginning and/or end of the music is indefinable. Put the CD into your player on auto repeat and it would take a great many listens to develop an attraction to pet passages; it seems constantly changing, even though the basic harmonic materials—ranging from a kind of Bill Evans-like calmness to the occasional tougher, thicker harmonic idea—are quite limited for a piece that runs nearly 20 minutes. Superficially one might compare it’s sound to some of the early graphic scores that Morton Feldman composed for multiple pianos, but Sudoku 82 is very different in attitude and actually more attractive to the ears than Feldman’s pieces in that mode. While the struggling classical CD market might not be able to bear the whole brunt of Hobbs’ 150 works in this cycle, this one representative makes for truly great, relaxing listening. Sudoku 82 is musically coherent in its constant morphology and uncompromising in style but not confrontational, and it really makes one want to hear what else Hobbs has been up to.” —Uncle Dave Lewis, All-Music Guide

“I’m a compulsive sudokiste, as they say here in France, and was delighted to discover recently that fellow Paris-based composers Tom Johnson and Eliane Radigue (do forgive me for putting myself in such distinguished company) are too. To the best of my knowledge, neither of them has yet based a composition on one of those eternally frustrating 9x9 grids (though I bet Tom has considered the idea), but Christopher Hobbs, Scratch Orchestra vet and leading light of English Experimental Music for four decades now, has written no fewer than 125 (!) of them. That said, if you didn’t know that this latest “maxi single” on Jim Fox’s cool Cold Blue label was one, you’d probably not be able to guess—more on Hobbs’s method later.… It’s not hard to see why Sudoku might appeal to minimalists like Johnson and Hobbs (Christopher may well raise an eyebrow at being so described, but much of his oeuvre can be traced back to the unashamedly tonal systemic procedures of late ’60s American minimalism that the English Experimentalists latched on to as a way out of the cul de sac of total serialism)—after all, doing a Sudoku puzzle is nothing less than composing by block additive process (swot up on your terminology here). And there’s a potentially infinite number of possible ways to “translate” the numbers and their permutations on the grid into musical material. You could, for instance, assign a note—or a sound, or a duration—to each of the nine numbers, a pitch region to each of the horizontal rows, a dynamic or a timbre to each of the vertical columns, and still end up with a staggering number of possible realizations based on how you read the grid, from move to move.… Exactly how Hobbs has chosen to render the puzzle audible is, I’ll admit, a mystery to me. ‘I choose the sounds I want and the overall duration, but then let the numbers determine what goes where,’ he writes (supposedly helpfully). You might expect a lot of silence, with all those empty squares, but this particular piece is scored for eight pianos (not eight pianists: it’s Brian Pezzone playing with himself, if you’ll pardon the expression), each of whose material is as delicately wistful as an old sepia photograph. You might spot the influence of Satie in there, which is not surprising when you recall that it was Hobbs and Gavin Bryars who gave Vexations its UK premiere—I bet if the maître d’Arcueil was still around, he’d be into Sudoku too.”—Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic

“Here, with Sudoku 82, we have something else worth celebrating—a 19-minute composition for eight pianos, overdubbed by Bryan Pezzone, who plays the layered parts wonderfully. There is, throughout this composition, the limpid quality of Satie’s Gnossiennes but without the narrative, i.e., the feeling that one will know (literal repetition: Reich) or perhaps just ‘know’ (probable repetition: Feldman) what will happen next. Nor does this indeterminate composition have the somewhat chill feeling of many of Cage’s post-1960 works for piano. Sudoku 82 is episodic and confounds expectations without entirely destroying them. Its language is tonal and harmonically and melodically rich, deliciously so. How Hobbs has managed to translate a cerebral numbers game into music for eight instrumentalists is hard to fathom; we should just be grateful that that’s what he’s chosen to do, and done so well.” —Brian Marley, Signal to Noise magazine

“I have been an admirer of Hobbs’s music for some 25 years now. He is always creating music which is subversive…yet speaks directly to the listener.… This CD single comprises an arrangement for eight pianos, multi-tracked by Pezzone, of a work which is a perfect example of Hobbs’s music. It’s hypnotic, beautiful, non-aggressive, and it just seems to hang in the air, the music filling all the space around you. Hobbs’s Second String Quartet has the same feeling to it—why isn’t this played regularly? There is a feeling of West Coast transcendentalism about this performance. That’s not a criticism, it’s simply that there is more of a ‘laid-back’ feel to this performance than I was expecting. For me, 19 minutes isn’t enough, but it’s a fabulous taster for Hobbs’s music. It is to be hoped that it will help new listeners to get to grips with one of this country’s more elusive composers, one who is quietly working away at his art and only occasionally letting it out to the public. At least that is how it seems.… Buy this and love it for it is very special music. It lives long in the brain after the disk has stopped playing.” —Bob Briggs, MusicWeb Int’l

“A simple idea, probably more complex to realize than it may seem: let a sudoku compose music. That’s what Christopher Hobbs is doing with his “Sudoku” series: he pens the basic elements of a piece (sounds, duration), then lets the numbers game put the notes and rests in place. Sudoku 82 is a quiet 19-minute piano octet performed by Bryan Pezzone. A deconstructed tone poem full of strange ornamentations, devoid of logic, the kind of piece that generates its own mood and could go on forever. Random neo-romanticism? No, it’s simply a quiet work that fits squarely within the canon of the Cold Blue label. And it’s beautiful. (Released in Cold Blue’s low-priced EP series)”.—François Couture, Monsieur Delire’s Listening Diary

“Reading about Christopher Hobbs’s Sudoku 82 proves to be an entirely different experience than listening to it.… In the composer’s own words, ‘I choose the sounds I want and the overall duration, but then let the numbers determine what goes where, how many times, how long, how much silence, and so on. Sudoku 82 used a number of piano loops played on eight pianos at an extremely slow tempo, the result being that the pianists seem to be frozen in time.…’ If one were to banish all such background detail from one’s mind and broach the single-movement work on purely music terms, one would hear it as a beautiful meditation of spacious design and wistful character. Reverberant sustain bleeds into the generous rests between the piece’s single notes and chords, and, as performed by Los Angeles pianist Bryan Pezzone, the haunting, rather impressionistic work exudes elegance in a restrained presentation that sounds more often like it involves the playing of a single piano rather than eight. Sudoku 82 also feels organic and free-floating, no matter the formal strategies involved in its production, a fact that startles all the more when a review of Hobbs’s previous projects is undertaken. He infamously participated in a complete performance of Erik Satie’s Vexations with Gavin Bryars in Leicester, and Hobbs’s own compositions include Duchamp-influenced musical readymades such as The Remorseless Lamb (which involves parts of Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze” being re-arranged by random means) and Aran, wherein the note-to-note system derives from the knitting pattern for an Aran sweater. Needless to say, Sudoku 82, which is issued by Cold Blue in a classy CD single format, is dramatically different from those works.” —Ron Schepper, Textura

“A while ago there was a power cut in the block we’re in, at night. Having no juice at night is a nightmare: you can’t use internet, no phone, no TV, no light to read a book, so I picked up my iPod and looked for a bit of music to play. I picked La Nouvelle Serenite, an older CD compilation on Sub Rosa with Jon Hassell and Harold Budd, among others. It seemed appropriate for a dark house. I was reminded of that evening when I was listening to the Sudoku 82 CD by Christopher Hobbs. It was composed using Garageband, but played by a real-life pianist, Bryan Pezzone, on eight pianos. Although you may know Hobbs for his involvement with the Scratch Orchestra, his record for Obscure Records, his work with early AMM, he also performed Satie’s Vexations with Gavin Bryars. In that respect you should hear this piece, number 82 from a series that he started in 2005 and already mounts up to 125 pieces. Its Satie-like music, light, sparse, spacious and seemingly doesn’t go anywhere, simply because there is no need to go anywhere. A great work. One to play on a dark night, when the power is cut, and you can use your computer’s battery for only a short time: I’d say play Hobbs, followed by that old Sub Rosa CD or anything else by Harold Budd or Erik Satie’s piano music and that Roberts CD [Last Cicada Singing] on Cold Blue Music. The best night of silent music.” — Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly

“If you are looking for something pretty, Christopher Hobbs’s Sudoko 82 is the pony to ride. In his Sudoku series of works, Hobbs…creates or designates the sounds he wants, and then orders and assembles them in a Cage-like manner—that is to say, using either the numbers in a Sudoku puzzle as a template, or a random number generator. Sudoku 82 originally was ‘performed’ by a computer with the GarageBand program. Cold Blue Music’s Jim Fox encouraged Hobbs to allow the piece to be performed live on eight pianos, which is how it is presented here. You might assume that, with eight pianos, the texture would be thick, but there’s a lot of open space in Sudoku 82. With its dreamy harmonies and rolled chords, Sudoku 82 sounds like cocktail lounge music slowed to near immobility, and with the sustaining pedal held down. (All the better to blur you with, my dear.) It doesn’t really sound like Feldman (him again!) but the aesthetic is similar, and if you have enough patience to enjoy Feldman’s late piano works, Sudoku 82 should be a breeze—a very gentle breeze, that is.” —Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare

“Bryan Pezzone, the pianist, seems trapped in a beautiful glassy spiral of slowly drifting gestures. The loops are by no means predictable nor have they worn out their welcome after a third of an hour. Instead the loops provide the firmament of the composition and also the means by which Hobbs creates any sense of disruption. A single loop pops up that provides a bit of harmonic zing! every so often. It always seems to come at the right time.… I’ve been known to leave this disc on repeat for quite a while. The ambient flow of the composition and performance lend itself to directionless listening. You listen to this piece as if it was a bath you were taking. Soak in it for as long as you’d like, until your ears are all pruney and you need to towel off. The process that created the work may be random but Hobbs’ guiding ear still crafts a work of endless listenability.” —Jay Batzner, Sequenza21

“Some years ago Artforum published a gallery review of a piece…which consisted of a simple rendering of the western alphabet, implying that the answers were already there—one need merely find a particular set of combinations and sequences. Looked at this way a piano keyboard provides pretty much the same potential for music—nearly any and every piece is already there. In the case of Sudoku 82, the combinations and sequence were decided by using numbers culled from hexadecimal Sudoku puzzles, random number generators and Garageband. For this CD single—just under 20 minutes long—Christopher Hobbs restricts his participation to choosing voices and durations, resulting in music for eight pianos that is sedate and spacious, with shifting exchanges between reassuring individual notes and accidental chords—sometimes in series, sometimes solitary—within varied pauses. Elegant in its understatement, Sudoku 82 does not exhibit any agitated, atonal or dissonant tendencies. It maintains an even temper throughout, arriving of its own volition at something of a lower case, minimalist aesthetic. It never becomes merely pretty or sentimental. By relinquishing the absolute control of the composer, Hobbs offers a sense of order that seems convincingly deliberate while remaining free of more familiar and typical structure. He has added a beautiful example of allowing arbitrary processes to determine musical outcomes which, when you stop to think about it, proves very reassuring.” —K. Leimer

“The music displays a relaxed nature. Single notes linger, while brief gaps create rich expectations that are eloquently rewarded by rippling chords. While the keyboard expressions remain isolated, a gentle flow is generated … like drifting smoke guided by meticulously applied breezes.… a dreamy pastiche of haze and clarity.” —Sonic Curiosity

“Surprisingly lyrical and impressionistic.” —WRUV

“A score that is played by eight pianos, though I don’t think we hear them all clanging away…they seem to wander in and out of the scene and have moments of quiet serenity to share.” —Michael Barone, New Sounds, Minnesota Public Radio

“Christopher Hobbs was a member of the pioneering AMM, the Scratch Orchestra and studied with Cornelius Cardew. Sudoku 82 is a 20-minute work for eight pianos, written as one of over 100 such pieces by the English composer using the logic of Sudoku puzzles. Brian Pezzone plays all the piano parts, which were then subject to looping.

“The result is ravishingly beautiful, with ultra-slow, spanned-out chordal suspensions unveiling themselves in aural space like Nimbostratus clouds drifting slowly across the panorama of blue sky. The chordal envelopes work together subtly, one after another, in a haunting sort of tonality that is not affective as much as processually natural, lingering, formations with human origins yet with extra-human, majestic limpidity.

“There is affinity in my ears to some of Satie’s piano music and also some of the John-Cage-as-Satie pieces, with that prismatic aura even more refracted and embodied, slowed down to a reflective chordal-chorale crawl.

“It is music that has an uncanny quality, an ultra-present-day kind of natural impressionism that is a marvel to hear. If you think the pomo ambient textural kind of music (Eno, etc.) has made a final kind of foray into our ears, you would do well to hear this EP. It gives you a wholly refreshed and fully alive newness to its cosmic contemplation. Unforgettable!” —Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review