Transforming sport into song

James Murphy makes over 400 music tracks from US Open tennis data

After closing the curtains on one of the greatest electronic acts of the 2000s, former-LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy has been satisfying his craving for creativity through a number of unconventional projects. Some of his most famed endeavors include directing a short film, writing music for a Broadway production, creating his own brand of coffee, and attempting to program the NYC subway system to generate its own music. His latest project however, transforming over 400 hours of tennis data from the US Open into music pieces, has undoubtedly confirmed his title as a musical mastermind.

In a partnership with IBM, Murphy has taken advantage of the natural rhythms that occur in each US Open tennis match and translated them into computer-generated tunes that resemble video game music. In order to complete this transaction of raw tennis data into music, Murphy and IBM developers created an algorithm that identifies a certain action in the game — like a serve or a volley — and then links it to a specific synthesized sound. Although the algorithm is written in code (a skill not yet in Murphy’s repertoire),  IBM was able to develop it in such a way that was comprehensible to someone more familiar with knobs on synthesizers and dials on guitar amps. This intersection of song and science has allowed the music to be virtually self-developed.

Match 186, Women’s Final, between Williams and Wozniacki

Murphy explained, “We’re gonna generate almost 400 hours worth of music, only I’m not gonna sit here and play 400 hours of music. I’m setting up a machine to do that. The primary music generator is the algorithm – it’s not me. I’m not writing music. I’m generating probabilities for music.”

In addition to each match in the tournament producing its own unique real-time soundtrack, Murphy also created a number of remixes where he uses his divine musical touch to reshape the dynamics in order to portray the emotional ride of each match. In reference to “Match 104”, Murphy describes how he goes about this:

“When this match began, it could have been either player’s game. And like the match that inspired it, this track opens with beats that are balanced – intense but equal, just like the players – with no instrument clearly taking the lead. The music pulses steadily until the last half of the track, when the instruments start to break form as one player falls behind, and the other takes the lead. The track ends with a soft, high-pitched whistle that ushers the defeated player off the court.”

If you wish to hear the real-time music of a specific tennis player or match, head to the official site of the US Open. Both the men’s and women’s matches are split up by date and round, as well as which court was played at and the scores by set. James Murphy’s remixes can be found on IBM’s SoundCloud stream.

[feature image via usopen.org]