Composer brings his bit-sized experimental sound to Halifax

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Composer brings his bit-sized experimental sound to Halifax

It was as loud as an orchestra, but without violins, clarinets or many other traditional instruments. 

Instead, there was just one piano and speakers blasting beeps created by 40 computer chips that sometimes sounded like hospital monitors or rapidly incoming text messages.

When it all ended Saturday night at the Maritime Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Halifax, the audience of a few dozen gave a standing ovation.

The composition is called Surface Image and is by Tristan Perich, an experimental musician from New York who uses computing coding in addition to regular instruments.

"When performers play from a score, they take this thing with very little information and turn it into this rich experience. It's the same with chips," said Perich, who was in Halifax for the performance.

Perich studied math, music and computer science at Columbia University and has a master's degree in interactive telecommunications from New York University. He writes the code for his compositions himself.

For Perich, there are no barriers between technology, art and everyday life.

"We have this implicit trust in systems we use every day. The more we understand about how code works, the more it empowers us."

The speakers he uses for Surface Image are "raw cones without enclosure," he says, which makes the sound more "primal".

Perich describes himself as a minimalist, who likes the structure of his music to be simple.

"It's the building blocks of code," he said. "We can see the artist's brain at work when they're creating something like that."

Perich predicts that art forms similar to his will become more common.

His wife, Lesley Flanigan, is also an experimental musician. She builds her own instruments using minimal electronics, microphones and speakers.

As to the question of computers replacing human beings as artists, Perich is less certain. "That's going to be an existential question."

Perich's past projects include pen and paper drawings made by a custom-built machine, a "microtonal wall" with 1,500 speakers each playing at a different frequency, and Loud Objects, a piece in which he builds electronic circuits live on stage.

An earlier work, 1-Bit Music, released in 2004, is a simple circuit board inside a CD case that plays "low-fi" electronic music.

For one of his next projects, Perich is planning to choreograph a dance routine.