An intersection of art, music and electronics shown at ISELF

Photo by Gustin Schumacher
“Machine Drawing” uses pen on paper or wall drawings created by a machine designed and built by Tristan Perich. Photo by Gustin Schumacher

Music, electronics and art were combined in a presentation given at the ISELF building Wednesday. Tristan Perich, New York composer and artist, premiered his “Machine Drawing” in the ISELF lobby, with a musical performance with Professor Terry Vermillion as well. As part of the School of the Arts’ Creative Arts Series, Perich’s “Machine Drawing” will run until May 15.

The installation starts out as a blank canvas, with a black pen hung and controlled by two motors. The motors are powered by a small circuit board with a microcontroller on it, which Perich referred to as a small computer. The circuit board has 20 megahertz, which means it gives 20 million instructions per second, controlling the motors. The drawing process in itself is occurring until May 15.

Perich said that the drawings themselves are programmed to explore the difference between randomness and order. Perich said computers can’t actually generate randomness, but they can do something that resembles randomness. The machine builds an image through using randomness to choose the direction the pen moves and it very slowly builds a pattern and fleshes out a visual composition that Perich programmed into the chip.

The size and visual compositions of Perich’s drawings vary. Perich said sometimes his drawings are more fleshed out and geometric, other times the drawings are smaller and more gestural. Other times Perich will use a pen with only a small amount of ink left, so that the drawing produces a light haze. Only one pen is used for his small drawings. Perich has set a timeline for the machine drawing in ISELF, and the pen will be changed every day.

“I’m really interested in this intersection between this abstract world of music, electronics, art and the physical, more tactile world,” Perich said.

Perich studied math, music and computer science at Columbia University, and received his masters degree from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at the Tisch School of the Arts, NYU. Perich started experimenting with 1-bit information and composing music on the piano. He then moved onto other acoustic instruments and stayed away from electronics initially. Perich said he was wary of the fact that electronics don’t have a physical quality, and he was more interested in acoustic and live music settings.

“The chip put me face to face with code, computers, and the thing I’m connecting to,” Perich said. For using the microchip, Perich uses 1-bit information, sending ones and zeros from the microchip to a speaker. The information has a physical manifestation as voltage, for instance, powering a speaker for music, or a motor for his drawings. His fears of electronics changed when he started working with microchips.

Assistant Professor Kristian Twombly organized the event and installation, as well as a concert of Perich’s music that was performed last fall. Twombly said the planning of this installation started two years ago, and he said he was “really drawn” to Perich’s work.

Perich was unable to attend the performance in September because he had just had a baby.

Electrical Engineering major Jose Galarza Wandemberg attended the presentation Wednesday night. Galarza Wandemberg said he had heard about the event through an email, thinking it sounded cool, and was interested in how the drawing can create variations with the microprocessor, but that the code has parameters as well.

Perich spoke about how he was interested in the combination of randomness and order in the drawings, and he said the code that is sent to the motors is precise, but the motors aren’t. The surface of the canvas is also uneven which can cause variations in the drawing as well.

“What I’m interested in is how these computers can talk to the world, trying to make that communication matter in some way,” Perich said.

The machine drawing can be seen in the ISELF lobby. There is a live webcam stream of the drawing that you can view on the SCSU School of the Arts SotA facebook page, and is on display in the Miller Center.

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