Sound may be invisible, setting the air around us aquiver with little visible evidence. But the objects that make sound are physical, and no electronic music is virtual. Composer/musician/sound artists Lesley Flanigan and Tristan Perich continue to explore that material substance of sound, calling attention to the stuff of the media in its purest form. Lesley’s work focuses on the basic technique of amplification; Tristan’s on digital electronics in their rawest sense, 1-bit songs of microcontrollers in chorus.
The two young artists are part of a generation of people who dig through the strata of acquired technology to find the most essential electronic process. And the fact that this is widespread says something about attitude: there’s a quest on for many artists to find that expressive heart of all this tech. But what sets Tristan and Lesley apart is their unique mastery of form. There isn’t a glitchy chirp, an amplified swell, without connection to compositional intent.
So let’s take a look and a listen and some of their latest works. The duo join Robert Henke at Berlin’s FEED tonight (now housed at KW) before returning for a tour of US gigs, so they may be coming to your neighborhood.
Lesley’s music is subtle, gentle waves of fuzz and feedback succumbing to the effortless poetry of her singing, an ethereal, otherworldly purity against rattles and hums. But while it’s lovely to listen to, you really have to see it, as well. The play of objects is part of the piece, their esoteric choreography an essential dialog with the sound. As in Tristan’s work, the speakers are part of the image of the piece, sometimes projected behind her as she hovers over them with a mic. They give spatial, material reality to the ephemeral noises.
Video and sounds:
And some truly beautiful clips are on her site, as wistful as the music from Tristan below is insistently-percussive. This is Amplifications, which Lesley will play tonight:
Here’s the one I can embed:
Tristan’s Surface Image is a stunning new work for solo piano and 40-channel 1-bit electronics. Commissioned by pianist Vicky Chow, it will get its premiere in Troy, New York (at EMPAC) in December. And here, the 1-bit speakers sound organic, as though they have reeds, joining in an electric, animated chorus of gorgeously-dazzling swirls of post-Reich-ian minimalism, flurries of piano notes swept up alongside. Listen:
Tonight in Berlin, Tristan will share the European premiere of Noise Patterns, which debuted at New York’s The Kitchen earlier this year.
You can hear its aggressive dances of static on his site:
Tristan Perich > Noise Patterns
It isn’t just static in the timbral set: its rhythms grow from a kind of conducted randomness:
Noise Patterns is a composition for sequenced 1-bit patterns of white noise, programmed for and performed by microchip. Instead of synthesizing definite frequencies, the code in Noise Patterns outputs random sequences of 1s and 0s. The ‘notes’ of Perich’s ‘score’ are then varying probabilities of randomness—ranging from the sound of white noise to sporadic instantaneous pops—which he composes into rhythmic patterns. In a tidal wave of 1-bit noise, the music is an investigation into the foundational limits of computation, which surface in the seemingly simple world of randomness.
For a sense of where this came from, don’t miss Tristan’s epic, iconic 1-bit Symphony, mixing equal parts chip music (complete with the adventurous, optimistic spirit of early game composers) with neo-Baroque flourish.
And in the image most emblematic of his work’s commitment to sound as sculptural entity, see his 1500-speaker Microtonal Wall. This one has to be seen in person – which is why New York was again lucky, as the piece got a wide showing at the legendary Museum of Modern Art. (It’s about time sound got its due there.) Hot MOMA. Hurry, New Yorkers – Soundings, the exhibition, closes November 3.
The work has done a fair share of touring; the video captures it at Toronto’s InterAccess Gallery:
And maybe see you tonight at FEED. Go on – wear a costume. (Bonus points for CDM nerd-ery in the theme.)