Chance Operations

Chance Operations

There is a long history of chance operations in the context of music and art. In the 18th century, the Musikalisches Würfelspiel, or musical dice game, used dice throws to compose pieces through a random ordering of predetermined elements. In the early 20th century, Duchamp used these games to develop his own chance music compositions, such as 1913’s Erratum Musical. Drawing from the mathematical conventionalism of Poincaré and Le Roy, he also introduced chance operations into drawing, painting and sculpture, such as the dropped pieces of thread that formed the basis of 3 Standard Stoppages.
Undermining any claim to truth and objectivity, Duchamp sought to emphasise the ‘game-like nature of life’; he saw chance as a means to deconstruct aesthetic preconceptions. Later, in the context of music, Cage adopted chance operations for similar reasons, making use of the Chinese divination text the I Ching and coin tosses to remove his subjective intentions and tastes from his compositions. The open-endedness and unpredictability that Cage’s use of chance operations led to were widely adopted in the intermedial art experiments of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as in the more recent digital art, such as the Dirty New Media movement, glitch, obfuscation, and data-bending.