2014 TOP 10s & 20s
Dday One

Poppy Ackroyd
Nicholas Chase
Vicky Chow
Carlos Cipa
Dale Cooper + Witxes
Dday One
Federico Durand
English + Vitiello
Everyday Dust
Eyck and Tarnow
Faded Ranger
Robert Hood
Human Greed
The Invaderz
Thomas Köner
Akira Kosemura
Heiko Laux
Norberto Lobo
Andrew McIntosh
Aina Myrstener Cello
Michael Nyman
One World Symphony
Postma & Osby
David Pritchard
See Through Trio
Dirk Serries
Jakob Skøtt
Miguel Zenón

Hassell and Eno

Air Texture Volume IV
Emerging Organisms 5
Hyperdub 10.4

EPs / Singles
David Ahlen
Blu Mar Ten
Boston feat. Solis
DIFFER-Ent (By DJ Bone)
Gone Beyond
Matthias Grübel
Lami / Ratti
Lubomyr Melnyk
Ryo Murakami
Om Unit
Pursuit Grooves

Vicky Chow: Tristan Perich: Surface Image
New Amsterdam Records

Two things in particular help bring Tristan Perich's Surface Image into immediate focus: the “for solo piano and 40-channel 1-bit electronics” detail on the back cover and the panoramic inner photograph that shows Vicky Chow seated at a grand piano—a snake-like nest of cables and circuit boards on the floor beneath her—with forty loudspeakers hand-wired by Perich to serve as his “electric orchestra” arrayed on either side. Such scene-setting helps ease the listener into the hour-long, album-length composition, which was premiered in early 2013 in Brooklyn and is, in essence, a piano concerto for the digital age. On the one hand, Chow's playing ties the piece to the time-honoured piano concerto tradition—despite including passages that demand a technical ability bordering on the super-human (her playing at the nineteen-minute mark is especially dazzling); Perich's electronic dimension, on the other hand, connects the work to a future-oriented, digital-influenced tradition whose lines are, of course, still being drawn.

In the ambitious Surface Image, forty distinct 1-bit sounds accompany the piano playing. To clarify, a 1-bit electronics scenario means that the electronic sound involved can present a single piece of information only. But while such a low-tech scenario might seem like an overly restrictive handicap, Perich has composed works that push beyond whatever seeming limitations the 1-bit idea might impose, among them his 2004 work 1-Bit Music (issued as a CD-less jewel box containing a microchip) and 2010's 1-Bit Symphony.

For her part, Chow, a member of New York's renowned Bang on a Can All-Stars, gives a bravura reading of Perich's score. She not only rises to the monumental challenge posed by the material but like some high-wire artist sustains that incredibly high level for the full sixty-three minutes. Calling Chow's performance virtuosic hardly does it justice.

The interlocking cross-currents of her piano playing naturally suggest a pronounced Steve Reich influence, and an episode appears thirteen minutes along where the organ-like electronics cycle in a way that recalls early Glass. But while all that might be true, Surface Image is hardly a too-familiar minimalism exercise. The moment the electronics enter, whatever barriers there are between the human and non-human begin to dissolve, especially when the acoustic and electronic realms become chiming partners within a radiant, pulsating whole. As the layers accumulate and the rhythmic intensity increases, the music begins to take on the character of a blinding blizzard. At the twenty-seven-minute mark, the piece rises to a glorious climax, Chow scaling a remarkable mountain with the unrelenting thrum of the electronics at her side.

In the wake of such an exhausting ride, Perich is wise to ease the listener down with a concluding section that's slow and lyrical by comparison. At the fifty-minute mark, the frenetic pace of the work comes to a sudden end, and Chow's sparsely distributed chords thereafter intone against an electronic backdrop of insistent, insect-like bleating. For maximum impact, play the album at peak volume in order to be fully engulfed by this remarkable piece of music.

December 2014