World Championship Musical Interludes

by Macauley Peterson
11/26/2018 – One of the laudable goals of World Chess has been to attempt to forge ties between the chess community and the wider world by highlighting working creatives who are inspired by the game. Three chess fans who are eager to share their passion through their primary mode of expression have been among the guests in London over the past weeks: Pianist and composer Jason Kouchak, singer/songwriter Juga, and designer Daniel Weil. Each brings a unique musical style but shares a common aim — to generate excitement around the sport and reach new audiences.

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Chess Notes

The "official" World Chess and music project comes from London-based designer Daniel Weil, whose firm Pentagram designed the World Chess logo, and the pieces used in all the World Championship matches since 2013.  

Weil's latest initiative is a "digital platform [that] allocates each chess piece and move to a particular sound, delivering a unique symphony dedicated to each game. As each piece navigates the board, the sound it emits changes — reflecting its journey, as well as the phase of play".

Here Weil briefly introduces how the early-stage prototype works:

"The most important thing is no piece plays in isolation, no piece plays by itself"

Part of the idea is to create compositions by replaying all games of the World Championship match, but so far they have only uploaded Game 2 (Game 1, the 115 move marathon was considered to be too long to be optimal):

Game 2


Game 2 annotated by Jan-Krzysztof Duda from our round report

The concept obviously shares some artistic lineage with the John Cage / Marcel Duchamp composition Reunion from half a century ago, and like that piece, the modern, somewhat dissonant effect is not going to appeal to everyone. But it is a cool idea, and opens up a new avenue for "chess performance".

Weil further elaborated on the idea, his background, chess connection and creative impetus after making the first move for Magnus Carlsen in Game 9:

Design / chess connections with Pentagram partner Daniel Weil

Isolated Pawn

We previously wrote about singer/songwriter Juga and the release of her chess-inspired pop song "Oh Capablanca" which was released in September and performed at the Batumi Olympiad and Judit Polgar's Global Chess Festival. Now she has a new track out "Isolated Pawn" which is accompanied by a slickly hypnotic 3D-animated video.

She writes:

In my new Chess video "Isolated Pawn" I go through the human emotions of an isolated pawn, in first person, as if I was alone and undefended in the middle of the chessboard.

The song and video begins with the lowest self conception one can have, and the labels that are put on you by other pieces (society): that you are weak, you can be blocked, attacked and captured.


But if your aims and hopes are high enough, you can empower yourself to break through, advance and become the most dangerous piece of attack.

In the case of the song, even achieve promotion, when the pawn arrives to the enemy's side of the board, the 8th rank and becomes the most powerful piece, that is the Queen.

The golden scar across the isolated pawn's head represents how special and strong your wounds can make you. In Japan when porcelains are broken, there is a traditional art called "Kintsugi" which fills up these "scars" with gold, honouring the story of the object instead of throwing it away.  It is the triumph of Spirit over Matter, something that happens often in Chess.

For me that is what makes Chess so poetical and beautiful, the continuous contrast with its scientifical and logical side.

At the end of the video there is a Chess sequence which portrays the diverse dimensions of a Chess game, inspired by the famous Chess poem by Jorge Luis Borges, which ends asking:

"God moves the player, and he moves the piece. Which god behind god begins this plot of dust and time, and dream and agonies?"

Watch the video:

The idea of doing an entire series of songs with serious chess themes and content is uncharted territory, and is the kind of undertaking that can crossover into mainstream consciousness. Evidently "Juga" and "Judit" are too similar for some TV producers under broadcast deadlines!

Victory Moves

Turing to a more classical genre, pianist and composer Jason Kouchak published an homage to Carlsen and Caruana on the eve of the World Championship match entitled "Victory Moves". 

King Maker on YouTube

Kouchak was also involved in a chess-themed ballet project in collaboration with dancers Jenny Logan and Lucy Jane who performed two small orchestral ballet pieces composed by Kouchak at the outdoor chess set in Holland Park earlier this month.

The pieces were called 'Power' and 'Grace' and the project marked the 100 year anniversary of women's rights and empowerment in the UK.

Jenny Logan and Jason Kouchak

Jenny Logan and Jason Kouchak from a 2015 collaboration performed at the British Museum | Photo: Ray Morris-Hill

Kouchak previously created a cover version of the song 'windmills of your mind' from the 1968 film, The Thomas Crown Affair (originally sung by Noel Harrison), as a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the film, which contains one of the most famous chess scenes in cinema history.


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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