September 1, 2010

Review - "1-Bit Symphony" (Tristan Perich)

What is a 1-bit symphony? Tristan Perich answers this question with his music. Although every note you hear in this collection of five lengthy “movements” is, in fact, the lowest representation of digital audio, the artist manages to create something that is both unique and beautiful with these “primitive” tones. As you press play on your iPod or flip the switch of the electronic circuit, the symphony and Perich’s talent begin to shine.

The first movement, at five minutes, is also the shortest—though there are only five songs, collectively they add up to a little over forty-seven minutes. “Movement 1” is my personal favorite: it is an epic, symphonic, and solid introduction to the most unique chiptune album ever composed. Led by a racing melody and noteworthy bass line, Tristan somehow manages to form simple 1-bit notes together into something extraordinary, something epic, and something that no one else has ever accomplished.

“Movement 2” picks up where the first track left off, and the first half of the eight-minute song is, once again, epic and beautiful. However, once we hit the 4:00 mark, a change for the worse occurs, and what is possibly the worst moment in the album. It consists of a rough, off-key-sounding bass, though there are some pure harmonies to make things a bit more tolerable.

The third track, “Movement 3”, starts with a rather tense melody which races along like the first movement did, accompanied by a simple bass line which repeats itself occasionally. The tense atmosphere and noteworthy melodies combine for another solid track. Eventually, a pure sequence of harmonies is introduced, playing along with the other notes quite well. The 5:00 mark signifies a change, and at 6:38 there’s a nice sort of bass explosion which accompanies a long, held harmony. Perich strips down the song to its basic elements before closing it off.

Thus we are led to “Movement 4”, during which a lot of things happen. A sequence of note-fading staccato work eventually gives way to different layers of itself playing on a delay at the same time, growing steadily more complex. 2:00 signals a melodic change, and later on some high-octave melodic work is brought in as well. The 3:25 mark introduces a nice bass along with a melodic signal; but 3:47 is where things really heat up with the introduction of a great melody that eventually fades to bass. Later, the melody and main staccato are brought back, and the song is still beautiful even at 6:00. A classic, chiptune-module note-sequence comes in around 6:46, while at 7:11 it joins to the hanging note and strips down to a repeat-melody as the song ends.

“Movement 5” is the final song, and at almost fifteen minutes it is also the longest. As it begins, one note plays for other tones to play along with, which then cut off to give it due presence. A sort of melody is introduced, which grows more filled-in and fades back to the original at 2:10. At 3:40, pure hanging notes fade to a single, pure, long harmony; and by 4:30, harmonic tones are held with a repeating melody for a while longer. At 5:38, another strange moment in the album occurs, and it involves the final act: a single long harmony holds itself for almost the entire remaining nine minutes with a soft melody playing in the background, until the song finally cuts to complete silence at 14:24.

Overall, “1-Bit Symphony” is worth your time, provided you can tolerate more than the modern, noisy GameBoy music that plagues the chip music scene today. There are a few setbacks, but overall the music is extremely innovative and epic despite its limiting hardware. In a way, Perich’s album is a form of art: he takes simple, extremely lo-fi electronic notes and creates a type of symphonic performance. Merely describing the music, however, can’t quite do it justice—do yourself a favor and experience the “1-Bit Symphony” for yourself. You may just be surprised at what you hear in the next forty minutes.

SCORE: 8.5 out of 10 – “Great”

[Tristan Perich’s “1-Bit Symphony” can be downloaded from Cantaloupe Music (, iTunes, or Amazon (]