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Tristan Perich

Open Symmetry

Open Symmetry: Section 1 06:45
Open Symmetry: Section 2 07:42
Open Symmetry: Section 3 04:12
Open Symmetry: Section 4 06:28
Open Symmetry: Section 5 07:44
Open Symmetry: Section 6 07:40
Open Symmetry: Section 7 09:44
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Open Symmetry is New York-based composer Tristan Perich’s first release on Erased Tapes Records. The 50-minute work for 3 vibraphones and 20-channel 1-bit electronics is performed by the dynamic French group, Ensemble 0, who return to Erased Tapes following their 2023 collaboration with Peter Broderick.

Perich’s music spans the electronic/classical divide, with explorations that pair string instruments, piano, organ, and other acoustic instrumentation with custom-built 1-bit electronics, including his recent Drift Multiply, for 50 violins and 50 speakers. This newest release, Open Symmetry, pares the ensemble down to just 3 musicians playing the resonant metal bars of 3 vibraphones in concert with a glistening ensemble of 20 speakers, each playing their own separate musical part of the composition.

1-bit sound is Perich’s core musical language, creating an aural and conceptual consistency across his major works. His 2004 release, 1-Bit Music, was the first album released as a microchip, which played its music through a headphone jack in the side of the CD case that housed an electronic circuit. With 1-bit sound, the audio waveform is built from 1s and 0s, the binary language of information, in contrast to the perpetual stride towards higher fidelity with 16- or 24-bit audio, and most recently 32-bit. When stripping away all those bits, the result is a primitive, square-shaped tone, which Perich either presents on its own (as in his circuit albums or solo shows), or blends it with classical instrumentation, each composition an experiment in sonic color, shape, and form.

Open Symmetry was born out of an artistic connection between Perich and ensemble 0, in particular one of its members, Stéphane Garin, whom Perich first met in New York in 2014 when Garin was touring with Ryoji Ikeda. Garin was already playing Perich’s music live, but it was at this point that he decided to commission a piece by him, which eventually became Open Symmetry. From their first conversations, they knew it would be a large project, which Perich ultimately scored for 3 vibraphones and his 1-bit electronics. ensemble 0 premiered the piece in 2019 at Le Lieu Unique’s Variations Festival in Nantes, and after touring it for a few years, they recorded it for an album release.

If Perich’s project with 50 violins was about blurring and blending, Open Symmetry is about precision and energy. Vibraphones, typically played with percussion mallets, have a sharp attack and a long, clean resonance, which can be controlled by foot pedal. The opening section of the recording is a rapid and stereophonic hocket of a single pitch passed between the three percussionists of ensemble 0: Stéphane Garin, Julien Garin, and Alexandre Babel. Perich gradually introduces the elements of the musical composition, later bringing in electronic tones, then slowly adding extra pitches until the musical contours start shifting, marking the arrival of Section 2. As the musical fragments get longer, harmonies emerge and overlap, washing over like soothing waves.

The vibraphone interests Perich due to its purity of sound, which blends seamlessly with the 1-bit tones. As the piece progresses and becomes more complex, the layers of 1-bit electronic sound and percussion become less distinctive, getting lost in a beautiful accumulative effect. This comes into focus in Section 3, a jubilant moment in the piece where percussion and electronics become indistinguishable and the listener is awash in tone.

But Perich is not all concept, and the quieter Section 4 allows some of his lyricism to float to the surface. The core elements of asymmetry are still there, but more tangible, a breath of calm in the frenzy. Eventually it’s swept away into the downward cascades of Section 5, with the vibraphone pedal fully open, allowing what Perich calls a “beautiful blurry cloud of sound.” Section 6 arrives with a small but profound change: the simple changing of mallets from yarn to hard plastic. This completely changes the colour of the music, turning the vibraphones into crystalline chimes, playing asymmetrical polyrhythms that build into an ecstatic moment, the climax of the piece in Section 7.

Perich finds a very austere and clear poetry to the early minimalist compositions which have fascinated him since he first started playing the piano. Open Symmetry is a kind of minimalism, but one created by someone who grew up with the sounds of early video games and the synthesizers of electronic music. For Perich, there’s a philosophical emotionality in minimalist music, which first inspired him to compose when he was younger. He compares this emotionality to finding beauty in the laws of physics: “If you understand the basic laws of gravity, you can watch something simple like a leaf fall off a tree, and find beauty in its descent. That feeling comes from understanding the science behind it.” Perich believes it’s hard to disconnect the emotional quality of music from the mathematics behind it; perhaps you could envision these as two sides of the same coin – a kind of duality, not dissimilar to the wave/particle duality at the core of quantum physics.

Perich also uses his background in math in the title of the project. The “open” in Open Symmetry gestures towards an abstract, mathematical idea of “an open set, or an open figure”, he explains. It’s a shape, perhaps with one side missing, suggesting “something larger than what it is.” The “symmetry” reflects the structural nature of Perich’s music, perhaps also the symmetry of the stage setup. But it’s not a perfect symmetry: there’s always something off-balance – “things don’t line up perfectly, so they constantly have to shift. And this creates a musical momentum.”

In its live setting, the layout of the stage itself becomes part of the performance of Open Symmetry. “The electronics are part of the ensemble,” says Perich. Each speaker is its own voice, on equal footing with the vibraphones. Perich uses the positioning of speakers on the stage to communicate that electronic sound isn’t something which is merely abstract, without location or origin. As he explains: “When we listen to music on headphones, the speakers are so close to our ears that we think purely stereophonically, and that informs so much of our appreciation of music these days. But all speakers emit sound from a particular location in space. Put those speakers out on stage – suddenly you get the sound of the space – reflections in the room. It’s this multiplicity of sounds in space – some of which are electronic, some of which are vibraphones, that create the sound world of Open Symmetry”.

Tristan Perich received a New York Foundation for Arts Fellowship in 2011, and received an Award of Distinction for his composition Active Field by Austria’s Prix Ars Electronica. He has also taught workshops around the world, with his background in math, music, and computer science, which he studied at Columbia University, as well as art, music, and electronics at Interactive Telecommunications Program at Tisch School of the Arts, NYU.