If you want to listen to sound artist and composer Tristan Perich’s latest album, Noise Patterns, you’ll have to order a physical copy.
But it’s not an album in the sense you’d expect. Instead, Noise Patterns is simply a circuit board with an “on” switch, embedded with a watch battery and listenable through a headphone jack on the side. The music you will hear is made from one-bit noise, created by the circuit board’s single chip. As the music site Disquiet explains, it’s the same chip you might find in your microwave or home oven.
Noise Patterns is a follow-up to Perich’s 2010 1-bit Symphony, which featured compositions of one-bit audio tones played through a microchip. In Noise Patterns, Perich’s medium is a stream of white noise–think something like TV static–that he manipulates with a programming language into a pulsing electronic beat. In an in-depth interview with Disquiet Perich delves into his creative process and the type of programming involved, explaining that the microchip he used for both circuit-board albums could be found in anyone’s house, just by taking apart your everyday appliances:
Perich: They would be in something like your microwave or your oven. Well, those are similar. Maybe in your car, to control some aspect of the door-locking system. Anything that has a little bit of intelligence in it, but isn’t super smart. We’re not talking about necessarily Internet-connected appliances. Any appliance that has a little bit of intelligence to it would have some chip like this inside of it, because they have to program some software to allow you to dial in the amount of time you want to microwave your food for, and then have that count down when you hit start….But something I really love about them is that they’re not made for audio. They’re just little computers. They’re not really designed for any particular application. They’re blank slates, and in order to make them do something, you have to physically solder their output to something like a speaker or a motor or a light or whatever.
To make the music, Perich uses a programmer to overwrite whatever is on the chip with his own code. Since the chip only stores so many megabytes, Perich has to do a bit of trail and error: transferring the code to the chip, then whittling it down until it’s exactly the right size.
Perich is both a sound artist and a visual artist, and often marries the two to create a stripped down yet immersive experience. His piece Microtonal Wall, featured in MoMA’s 2013 Soundings: A Contemporary Score exhibit, was made up of one-bit speakers tuned to various pitches that created a 25-foot wall of sound.
In the Disquiet interview, he talks about how a taste for minimalist music, such as Philip Glass’s early piano pieces, influenced the way he thinks about clean code. It even carries over into the design of the circuit-board itself: “With Noise Patterns, I kept the circuit layout exposed, I kept the source printout, I didn’t even change that aesthetic at all,” he tells Disquiet‘s Marc Weidenbaum, adding that he was pleased with the simplicity of the black-matte board. “It connects to what I think is the character of the music.”