Starting Monday, October 4, Q2 focuses the spotlight on New York-based technology-obsessed composer and artist Tristan Perich as the next installment of our Composer Introductions series. Tracks by Mr. Perich play at the top of each hour Monday. For the rest of the week, we devote special time and attention to his music, which seamlessly melds electronic and acoustic sounds. We're also offering Perich's qsqsqsqsqqqqqqqqq for three toy pianos and three-channel one bit tones as a free download (above) for a limited time.
Mr. Perich finds inspiration for his music and art in the aesthetic worlds of math and physics. He strives to create beauty and elegance by putting simple media through complex and rigorous processes. The result is music and art that is both primitive and sophisticated.
Mr. Perich's most recent release on Cantaloupe, 1-Bit Symphony, has received widespread critical acclaim. The five-movement work is contained on one microchip, and a hand-built electronic circuit housed in a traditional CD jewel case "performs" the music live through a headphone jack mounted into the case.
I like code when it doesn't surprise me.
The word algorithm in art and music has become synonymous with creativity on the part of the computer, though the word is much older and has a more basic meaning. Algorithm refers to formalized process, a series of discrete steps that precisely describe an action. It is algorithm's abstraction that allows it to encompass an enormous range of complexity, from adding two numbers to rendering the graphics for Wall-E.
In my music and art, I don't have computers doing anything that I couldn't do myself, with pencil and paper. A few additions here, checking one value against another there, flipping a 0 to a 1 in the output. In this way, I try to focus on the act of computation itself, not how it can disguise itself in the complexity of other media. The limits of computation are in the basics, not how difficult it is to create artificial intelligence. The only difference between computers and calculation-by-hand is that computers can do these things millions of times faster than we can, so their actions exist on a different plane, at the level of sound or motion, for example.
I work with microprocessors, basic computers that in my case run around 8mhz and can store about 8kb of data. It's an engaging constraint that forces me to write the entirety of 1-Bit Symphony with about as much information as a text three times as long as this one. It is an exercise in information theory. Writing in Assembly language gives a programmer direct access to the commands the processor will later execute. There is a sense of electrons being shuffled one way and then another by the arithmetic logic unit in response to the series of instructions it reads.
I construct my code this way, from building blocks that fit together to give me a framework for composition, either musically with my 1-bit work, as visual signals for video installation, or in the traditional medium of ink on paper drawings. The closest I come to generated content in my music is repetition, which has been around as long as the double-dot repeat marks in traditional scores. This framework is the blank page before a composer or an artist, a scaffolding to support whatever musical or visual ideas I have. While I find beauty in the theoretical underpinnings of this process, it must be complemented by beauty in the resulting work on a purely musical or visual level. I wouldn't be doing any of this is the music itself didn't resonate deeply within me.
Computation is immensely interesting to me: it's an intersection between language and mechanics, a wonderful link between the abstract and the concrete. Their connection is realized by microchips, where an electric charge can both mean "true" in code as well as physically move the electromagnet in a speaker cone. Information and physics are bound at this level, and that's what I'm ultimately trying to explore.