Extra-curricular Listening Pt. 5 - Tristan Perich/Surface Image / by Liquid Music

By Patrick Marschke

As purveyors of contemporary chamber music with a growing and increasingly adventurous audience, we are wholeheartedly committed to the creation and cultivation of new and diverse types of music. An essential part of this process is providing bridges and context for new listeners to discover and appreciate what could sometimes be considered "challenging" music. Context that we will attempt (<—key word) to provide through our 'Extra-curricular Listening' blog series.

For each concert we will provide some extracurricular listening (or watching) and some rabbit holes for LM followers to excavate and discover their own exciting but perhaps obscure corner of the music world.

In preparation for this Thursday's Surface Image copresented with the Walker Art Center's Sound Horizon series we delve into the world of Tristan Perich.

One Bit Symphony

An important predecessor to Surface Image is Perich’s 1-Bit Symphony:

“Tristan Perich's 1-Bit Symphony is an electronic composition in five movements on a single microchip. Though housed in a CD jewel case, 1-Bit Symphony is not a recording in the traditional sense; it literally ‘performs’ its music live when turned on. A complete electronic circuit—programmed by the artist and assembled by hand—plays the music through a headphone jack mounted into the case itself.” 
“I don’t really think of it as a limitation. I have a beef  with the idea of limiting your options and exploring that. I think of it more as writing for simple voices. As you go down the sampling bit rate, when you get down to one bit, every value is zero or one. There is no volume control, there’s no timbral adjustment, it’s a really raw, beautiful electronic tone.” - Tristan in The Wire Magazine

If the sounds in 1-Bit Symphony and Surface Image sound faintly familiar, you might recognize traces of “chiptune” or early video game music. The technology at that time meant that the game soundtracks had to take up as little space as possible. Video game composers stretched the limits of this limited digital space to make some of the most iconic sounds of their time. Tristan has repurposed these sounds and elaborated on their potential in incredible ways throughout his career. 

Check out Koji Kondo or Yoshihiro Sakaguchi (nostalgia warning) for some early examples of chiptune.


Oval is arguably the origin of glitch music—a genre oriented around the idea of “aesthetic failure”; pushing digital devices to their physical limits and recording/sampling the audio artifacts. While that sounds like a very abrasive/violent process, the sounds that Oval arrives at are actually quite warm and ambient—somehow finding the humanness in the inaccessible insides of our devices—all in 1995! Oval and Surface Image test the limits of digital sound and both end up creating entirely visceral and immersive worlds with their incredibly restricted mediums.

Ryoji Ikeda

Japanese sound/digital artist Ryoji Ikeda uses comparably “raw” digital sounds to Perich, that similarly create a very distinct feeling of digital space.

Like Ryoji, Perich also works in a visual realm. Check out Perich's entrancing “wall drawings”:


Lesley Flanigan

"Lesley Flanigan is an experimental electronic musician living in New York City. Inspired by the physicality of sound, she builds her own instruments using minimal electronics, microphones and speakers. Performing these instruments alongside traditional instrumentation that often includes her own voice, she creates a kind of physical electronic music that embraces both the transparency and residue of process — sculpting sound from a palette of noise and subtle imperfections.”

Here again in Lesley Flanigan’s music we find deep emotional content derived from electronic sound manipulation, in Leslie’s case paired incredibly effectively with the human voice. Leslie uses feedback, hand built speakers, and loop pedals to craft engulfing sonic spaces.

Philip Glass

Surface Image is not exactly “minimal” what with the 40 speakers and incredibly intricate machine coding processes, but one can pick up traces influences of the early minimalist in its dense aural landscape. The seemingly boundless kinetic energy of Surface Image can be similarly heard in Philip Glass’s frenetic “Spaceship” from Einstein on the Beach.


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Follow Tristan:
Twitter: @tristanperich

Follow Vicky Chow:
Twitter/Instagram: @vcpianos