There are more ways to arrange a deck of cards than atoms on earth. —Yannay Khaikin
Composition for 52 Keys pairs a deck of fifty-two playing cards with the fifty-two white keys of a digital player piano. Thomson’s custom computer code assigns the cards to the piano keys. Working in ascending order to match low card to low note and high card to high note, the program then shuffles the deck over and over, and plays these shuffles as sequences of notes. A sequence of fifty-two single notes is played, then a pause between shuffles, then another sequence, and so on, as the program explores every possible combination.
The number of possible sequences in multiple shuffles of a fifty-two-card deck and the odds of the sequence ever repeating are astronomical. Thomson’s Composition for 52 Keys will not run through all the possible combinations of musical notes (more than 8 x 10 67th, or 8 followed by 67 zeroes) during our lifetimes nor the lifespan of planet Earth — assuming constancy of electrical power to the work and other contingencies.
Mungo Thomson’s works in film, sound, sculpture, and photography examine the perceptual mechanics of everyday life in relation to a wider historical and cosmic scale. Composition for 52 Keys is presented as one of the newest additions to the Henry’s collection. It was commissioned by William and Ruth True and gifted to the museum in celebration of the Henry Art Gallery’s 90th anniversary. Yamaha Disklavier piano provided complements of Classic Pianos Bellevue.