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The Turk


Across the chessboard
Ornately robed, a-piped in thought
My opponent - the infamous Turk

The whirl of machinery
Its stern eyes hide computations
The Turk makes its move

Pins, skewers, forks
The automaton is fluent with tactics
I am at the disadvantage

Checkmate - its rook takes my king
The machine has triumphed
But I'll gladly play it again


Alex's Notes: pending..

Nick's Notes: My 4th song I've written lyrics for, composed in April 2013 shortly on the coattails of "A Sign in Space". Alex had a specific instrumental in mind and wanted me to compose a song that was 4 verses, 3 lines each. Constraint writing can be quite fun and the outcome unique, an example being the novel Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. So I wanted to pen a creative song within these constraints.

The natural suggestion with the 3 line constraint would be to do each verse haiku style, but I felt this would've been too constraining (and perhaps cliche). So while the verses may inherently sound haiku-esque, that's purely incidental.

The Turk was a chess playing automaton that existed in the late 1700s to the early 1800s. Many people would play chess against the Turk, believing it to be a machine, but the reality was that there was a person hidden inside. I found the topic fascinating and used that as my stepping stone for subject matter. The perspective of the song is of a chess player playing against, and subsequently losing to The Turk. He is also unaware that The Turk is an illusion, and believes it to be a real automaton. The verbiage of the song reflects this, I keep referring to The Turk as an "It". There is some strange irony at play in the last verse in that The Turk wins the match, which seemingly reaffirms the question of Man vs. Machine, with the machine winning, as we are seeing in our lives with the advent of more and more amazing technology. Of course, the secret irony is that the machine is really a man! Regardless of the Man/Machine winning, the narrator states that he would gladly play again, showing either respect to either our technology or our fellow man. 

Another bit of symbolism - The Turk wins the match with the rook, the chess piece that is not considered "alive", as everything else is the king, queen, pawns, knights, and bishops.

Another tidbit to point out is the phrase "a-piped in thought". For the longest time, when I heard Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, I always thought he said that phrase during this verse:

"He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought."

Since Jabberwocky is full of made up words, I always thought Carroll coined the term "a-piped", which when I visualize, I imagine a man with a big pipe, smoking away in deep contemplation. So when I actually read the text and saw that this was not the case, I've rushed to claim it as my own made up word. I think it's rather clever!

One last musing - when I composed this song I had only the historic Turk in mind. When I shared the song idea to both Alex and Marcel P. of Miel Noir, both responded back the same fashion of: "that's an episode of The Sarah Connor Chronicles!" How two Germanic musicians know about the plots of a short lived show on American television leaves me flummoxed. 

Release Notes

The song "The Turk" can be found on the following releases:

Ceremony of Innocence - Passing Through the Interstellar Gas