ANIMAL’s feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their original “idea sketch” next to a finished piece. This week, artist Tristan Perich shows us the beginnings and production of Microtonal Wall, a piece currently on view at the MoMA “Soundings.” Made up of  1,500 tiny speakers, Microtonal Wall emits a texture of sound that changes as you walk along the installation.

Microtonal Wall came out of thinking about massively polyphonic sound. I’ve been slowly working on a huge composition for 50 violins and 50 speakers over the past few years, Drift Multiply, exploring musical ideas for a 100-part ensemble — the dense accumulation of harmony from individual voices, and also the combination of tones to create white noise –and Microtonal Wall grew from that direction of thinking.

Before that, the idea to work with tones and white noise actually came from my Machine Drawings, drawings executed by machine to explore the compositional intersection of randomness and order. I was a composer before I started working with visual media, and I had explored the “order” side of sound a lot through working with tone, either from traditional musical instruments or the pure tones of my 1-bit electronics.

So the white noise stuff came from thinking about randomness visually first, then musically.

Microtonal Wall was a conceptual treatment of these ideas, a formal exploration of tone and noise, and how they are two ends of a spectrum but are intimately related through the fact that white noise is the sum of all tones, an extension of harmony, and the piece is meant to make the mathematics behind the frequency spectrum into something physical.

The layout of the pitches in Microtonal Wall, a linear gradient from left to right in subtly increasing columns, was originally less explicit. I wanted to ‘compose’ the placement of the pitches.

They would be static, but placed individually by hand to create a palette of tones that could be explored more like a painting.

I’m still planning on doing this in a future piece, but for Microtonal Wall I wanted to do something more direct, less distracting.

In building, I did a series of smaller Interval Studies, treatments of smaller musical intervals, such as a small piece with 49 speakers dividing a half step into 49 microtonal pitches. A few of those will be at bitforms’ private project space soon.

Tristan Perich is working on several other projects – sound pieces, machine drawings, new music — and, in relation to his performance of “Parallels“ at MoMA last week, he’s working with Meehan/Perkins Duo to release a recording of it next year, as part of a new serial release of his composed music.

“Soundings: A Contemporary Score,” Group Exhibit, Aug 10 – Nov 3, MoMA

Artist’s Notebook selects:

Artist’s Notebook: LaTurbo Avedon
Artist’s Notebook: Emilie Gervais
Artist’s Notebook: Rick Silva
Artist’s Notebook: A. Bill Miller
Artist’s Notebook: Addie Wagenknecht
Artist’s Notebook: Yoshi Sodeoka
Artist’s Notebook: Anthony Antonellis
Artist’s Notebook: Evan Roth
Artist’s Notebook: William Powhida
Artist’s Notebook: ULTRAFUTURO
Artist’s Notebook: Molly Crabapple
Artist’s Notebook: Mark Kostabi
Artist’s Notebook: Rollin Leonard
Artist’s Notebook: Don Hertzfeldt