The Coolest CD Ever, and Less Than Two Bits!

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Hey, look what arrived in the mail!

Look closely: This isn’t a CD. It’s actual circuitry embedded in a jewel case. Awesome! If you’re a musical artist struggling to grab the notice of busy reviewers, here’s one way to do it—so long as the postal authorities don’t mistake your thing for a bomb.

Now I must admit to having a small issue—literally—with the actual music. There are severe limitations when you’re composing 1-bit ditties. By necessity, it’s pretty cold, spare stuff: nitrous music for robot videos. (What’s nitrous music? It’s what I call stuff like this.)

Sure, 1-bit is kinda neat—even nostalgic for those of us who once ran out and bought the 8-bit Casiotone-VL1. (Here’s a blurry 15-year-old me holding one—wish I still had it.) But despite the brief success of German band Trio, even 8-bit doesn’t encourage repeat listening—and 1-bit can be downright harsh. Just compare Fischerspooner’s original “Just Let Go” with Tristan Perich’s 1-bit rendition. (You might want to lower the volume just a tad.)

I do love the concept, though. Perich has been experimenting with the form for a number of years now. This particular—uh, what to call it?—circuit is billed “1-bit Symphony.” It will be offered in August by Cantaloupe Music, a New York label that puts out what was once called “experimental” and has been rebranded “new music”: acts like Matmos, which plays on found objects including—wow—cow uteruses. (Where does one even find a cow uterus?)

Alas, the only noise the above circuit made when I plugged in my headphones, threw the switch, turned up the volume, and pushed the black button was a faraway skittering sound—perhaps the battery was bad, because I don’t think even new musicians would release a faraway skittering sound and call it art. (Well, on the other hand…) In any case, you’ll find some fun stuff on Perich’s main website and also here, including 1-bit ensemble tracks like “Between the Silences” (9-piece strings), “Telescope” (clarinets and saxes), and “Interface” (string quartet).

Like most electronic music, it’s rather repetitive, but if you’re a fan of the genre then you’re probably cool with that. Just avoid “A/B/C/D,” a solo piccolo 1-bitter that for the entire first minute sounds uncannily like my home fire alarm. “Lit,” with its three soprano voices and piano, is actually quite pleasant. The only problem: “Lit” isn’t a 1-bit creation. But maybe that isn’t a problem. After all, there’s a reason that we moved out of our caves, invented the wheel, and developed sophisticated electronic instruments—leaving 1-bit tones for the greeting-card industry to exploit: It made us feel better.

When I crave nostalgia, I turn to my vinyl edition of Computerwelt.

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And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

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