by Maggie Molloy
For many composers, a little bit of musical material can go a long way. For New York-based composer and sound artist Tristan Perich, even just 1-bit has a world of musical potential.
Throughout his career, Perich has created a variety of innovative works combining 1-bit electronics with traditional forms in both music and visual art. But what exactly is 1-bit? Perich describes it as music that never has more than one bit of information being played at any given time.
“In my work with 1-bit music, the audio waveforms are streams of 1s and 0s, on and off pulses of electricity that the audio speaker turns into sound,” Perich said. “I build my own circuits to make the connection between code and sound as direct as possible.”
Among Perich’s most famous 1-bit works is his 2004 composition “1-Bit Music,” the first album ever released as a microchip programmed to perform an entire electronic composition live. The piece takes the form of an electronic circuit assembled inside a transparent CD case—and the microchip performs the music through a headphone jack attached to the case itself. (Perich later created an entire “1-Bit Symphony,” also housed inside a single CD case.)
His latest musical venture? A series of four imaginatively packaged recordings, each featuring a single work composed for 1-bit electronics and acoustic instruments. The collection, titled “Compositions,” artfully captures Perich’s background in music, math, computer science, and visual art.
Each recording is set to be released individually throughout this calendar year, beginning with the March release of Perich’s “Parallels,” the first composition in the series. The piece is scored for tuned triangles, hi-hats, and 1-bit electronics, a fascinating combination of timbres which pushes the boundaries of music and sound art.
The recording features a performance by the Meehan/Perkins Duo, comprised of percussionists Todd Meehan and Doug Perkins. The sonic interaction between human hands playing instruments and computer codes generating tones creates a truly mesmerizing electroacoustic soundscape.
(Buy the album on iTunes)
Furthermore, the piece echoes an intriguing theme present in many of Perich’s artistic works: the intersection between music and math, mere mortal and machine. For Perich, the physical aspect of performance (by both human and computer) is a crucial component of his artistic vision.
“Similar to performance, computation itself is a physical process, so these compositions are essentially duets between human and machine, explorations of this soundmaking process,” he said.
“Parallels” seeks to draw comparisons between the duality of 1-bit sound (on vs. off) with the duality of tuned triangles and hi-hats (open vs. closed timbres)—hence the title. The 50-minute piece restlessly experiments with a unique fusion of pure 1-bit tones combined with pitched and unpitched percussive sounds. With rhythmic verve and mathematical precision, the music skitters, jitters, and glitches, relentlessly oscillating between tone and noise.
If you’re looking for a little bit more Perich, stay tuned for the rest of the “Composition” series. Next in the collection is “Telescope” for two bass clarinets, two baritone saxophones, and 1-bit electronics, followed by “Dual Synthesis” for harpsichord and 1-bit electronics, and “Active Field” for 10 violins and 1-bit electronics. Each installment of the series (including “Parallels”) comes as a CD package with a poster-sized print of the entire musical score.
In itself, “Parallels” is a hypnotic fusion of creativity, code, and computer science—an imaginative glimpse into the intersection of music and mathematics. And in a world full of composers competing for novelty and innovation, Perich has certainly made a name for himself as a 1-bit wonder.