Tristan Perich

A young New York composer creates a new medium.

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If you happen upon a young man talking into an old-fashioned desk telephone while walking around the East 20s, understand that this is no stray loon in conversation with himself. Rather, it is Tristan Perich, a Manhattan composer, artist and inveterate tinkerer, who has replaced the clunky yellow phone’s innards with those of his cellphone. Although it involves neither music nor art, the device shares traits with all of Perich’s creations: It is playful, retro-futurist, digitally based and hopelessly, unapologetically nerdy. “I’m really interested in beauty,” Perich enthuses; he is speaking about mathematics.

Perich, 28, lives a stone’s throw from Madison Square Park, his apartment strewn with both instruments and electronics. In recent months, his home has doubled as a manufacturing plant, as Perich takes on the unenviable task of hand-assembling all 5,000 copies of his eccentric new album, 1-Bit Symphony. The record’s five movements come not on traditional CD or LP, but via an idiosyncratic device of Perich’s creation: a loop of wires attached to a microchip and lithium battery, all housed in a jewel case. To hear his piercing electronic compositions, a listener plugs headphones directly into the case—a music box for the iPod era.

“Electronic music is generally pretty opaque,” explains Perich, who issued an earlier album of the sort, 1-Bit Music. “There’s a laptop, and you don’t have any idea what’s going on. I wanted to make something as transparent as possible, where the steps of production are very clear.” (Those unwilling to forfeit $29 for the device can download the songs, a cop-out akin to screening Avatar on an iPhone.)

The musician is a second-generation tinkerer. His father—and current next-door neighbor—is Anton Perich, an artist allied with the downtown ’70s who plies a similar blend of art and machine. Both men juggle different media: Along with his recordings, the younger Perich has exhibited “machine drawings” executed with a motorized pen, sound installations featuring walls of speakers and “1-Bit Video,” in which he applies his microchips to television visuals.

Perhaps most prominently, Tristan Perich composes scores that pair preprogrammed speakers with acoustic instruments. He recently toured the country performing a duet between harpsichord and microchip, and is now preparing a piece for 50 violins and 50 loudspeakers. “A violin is creating sound because it’s vibrating,” Perich says. “Which is exactly what a speaker does. Speakers and classical instruments are both extremely primitive. We got past that primitiveness when we started making recordings. All of a sudden, a speaker was playing back a wave from a LP or CD. Theoretically, you should not be aware of the speaker, just the recording.” The young composer-inventor-artist begins speaking of French cinema, hertz rotation and Wagner. Then, he pauses. “I guess exposing the medium is what’s interesting,” he says. “I think I’m sort of doing that.”

Tristan Perich plays Roulette Fri 20 and the Noguchi Museum Sept 12. 1-Bit Symphony is out on Cantaloupe Tue 24.

Buy music by Tristan Perich on iTunes.

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