The Frank Lloyd Wright Weltzheimer/Johnson House, Oberlin’s modernist architectural gem located on Morgan Street, played host to a multi-sensory artistic spectacle on April 29 with an exhibition of the works of Tristan Perich, a New York-based artist and composer. While his compositions, duets written for acoustic instruments and 1-bit electronic microchips, were performed both inside and outside the house, guests were also able to peruse Perich’s original ink drawings, which hung in the narrow hallways.
The pieces, uniformly onyx ink on small cream-colored rectangles, consisted of hand-drawn geometric forms, as well as large framed drawings produced by mechanized pens. Perich set these pens to different algorithms and let them free onto the paper, creating rhythmic, organic shapes and patterns on the stark backdrops. The shapes rendered by the algorithms ranged from small, concentrated clusters of loops in the center of the paper to what resembled a burst of sparks, a flare shooting up into the sky.
Because Perich’s computer-programmed artistic techniques are marvelously compelling, the lack of variety in the work on display was somewhat frustrating. Larger palettes could allow for more repetition and therefore more evolution of algorithmic patterns, but given the warmly domestic atmosphere in which his pieces were displayed, the small scale made these works optimal to show off in relation to Frank Lloyd Wright’s design.
Though many of the images had a chaotic quality in their far-flung twisting lines and splattered ink, their small size and repetitive visual texture helped to aesthetically contain them. Each image arose from a unique “language of code” dictated by the mechanized pens; the result is a collection made cohesive through the rhythmic process of ink making its way from pen to paper, be it via hand or digitized programming.
Similarly minimalist at its core, Perich’s 1-Bit Music was equally powerful, containing its own primitive rhythms by layering oscillations between electronic and acoustic sounds over distinct lines of pulsations and tones that transfixed the listener. Perich’s work returned to the origins of electronic music by incorporating square sound waves that interplayed between electrical states 1 and 0. Applying the philosophies of mathematicians Kurt Godel and Werner Heisenberg, Perich’s compositions revolve around the idea that if something is consistent, it is never complete, delivering a fantastic display of cyclical motion.
This effect was most powerful in Perich’s first piece, titled Observations for two sets of crotales, three-channel 1-bit music (2008). The piece featured the interaction between acoustic sounds made by the crotales (played by Conservatory seniors Austin Vaughn and Ryan Packard) and the electronic noises. Each voice, electronic or acoustic, stopped completely to allow each other to shine at explicit landmarks throughout the composition. The piece perfectly exemplified the consistency and drive that characterized Perich’s bewitching presentation.
Perich’s ideals of circularity, natural rhythm and the interaction between technology and nature were also made apparent through his Dual Synthesis for harpsichord and four-channel 1-bit electronics(2009), a 30-minute, grandiose polyphony of harpsichord and four-channel, one-bit electronics. Double-degree senior Danny Walden illustrated the circular motion of the piece with tireless vigor on harpsichord, at certain points convening with the electronics in unison to produce mesmerizing results.
According to College junior Georgia Horn, who curated the artwork in Perich’s Weltzheimer/Johnson show, the ideas that fuel his musical composition and visual art are analogous. As juxtapositions of organic human craftsmanship and mechanization, his artwork serves as a visual accompaniment to his music, and vice versa. “On the finished product, we are confronted by a vision of organized entropy, an image composed of varied, but internally related, geometric forms,” Horn said of Perich’s artwork. Just as Perich coaxes beautiful melodies out of the simplest, most distilled form of electronic sound, his artwork provides a visual reference point for “the intersection of randomness, order and composition” that Perich uses to describe the goal of his work.
The enchanting atmosphere of Weltzheimer/Johnson House provided the perfect backdrop to Perich’s exhibition. During setup for the event, Horn, Packard and Walden, who also organized the show, strove to maintain the original setup of the house, which allowed guests to maintain free movement throughout the house as they listened to Perich’s music and viewed his artwork. “Overall, we wanted an experience of Tristan’s work that was specific to the Frank Lloyd Wright House, and that’s why we had performances both outside and in, and also why we placed pieces of his art in as many rooms as we could: to really try to utilize the entire space,” Horn explained, adding that the primary aim of the event was to “integrate Tristan’s [aesthetic] with the predefined spaces of the house to complement them, not overpower them.”
Horn, Packard and Walden would specifically like to thank Jason Trimmer, Conservatory senior Austin Vaughn, College sophomore Thomas Huston, and College seniors Jimmy Hagan, Alex La Ferla and Veronica Fusco for their help organizing and collaborating on the show.