Why Curved Light Uses Video to Enhance Its Psychedelic, Ambient Performances

Curved Light is a collaboration of electronic music artist Peter Tran and his partner, visual artist Deirdre Smith.
Curved Light is a collaboration of electronic music artist Peter Tran and his partner, visual artist Deirdre Smith.
Bryan Noll
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Curved Light is an electronic-music project that emerged in 2015 when Peter Tran moved with his partner, visual artist Deirdre Smith, to Austin. It is the product of Tran's life in music and his work with experimental rock bands Les Rhinocéros and Hume and Smith's work in video.

Following the dissolution of Hume, Tran dug into the realm of electronic music, forming the still-extant HD Sunrise with former Hume member Wilson Kemp. The two amassed twenty hardwire synthesizers that Tran had to sell before moving to Austin. Through those sales, Tran met Dylan Cameron, an electronic-music artist who does the mastering for most of the records released on his label, Holodeck Records. The latter is partly owned by Adam Jones, a member of SURVIVE, the band that did the score for Stranger Things. The next Curved Light release, Channelview, comes out on Holodeck in May.

We caught up with Tran ahead of his show tonight (Friday, March 10) at the Mercury Cafe.

Westword: There's a strong audiovisual component to your shows.

Peter Tran: My partner [and I] have analog-video synths. Whenever she can, she plays along with me. When she can't come with me on tour, we have a pre-recorded visual thing.

So with a human in control of the video to go along with the music, there is a collaborative aspect to the show as there would be when your creative partner is another musician.

Exactly. It's an interesting paradigm, because she's in the video realm and I'm doing audio, and we don't step on each other's toes. Being in a band can be a messy relationship.

Did you have a similar collaborative dynamic with your previous projects?

This is the first project for that. It was sort of the impetus for the name. Originally I wanted it to be Curved Air. But we found out it was taken by a ’70s prog band [that included Stewart Copeland, the drummer for the Police]. So Curved Light sounded good. I didn't have a video synth when I started the project, but I wanted the video aspect, because one thing I ran into with playing electronic music with HD Sunrise is that we would play shows and people would lay down and fall asleep, and I loved that. With this project, I wanted people to confront and interact with what's happening with what's in front of them. Instead of seeing two people on stage with electronics, there's something much more engaging, and you can't help but get sucked into it.

What do you like about this format of a musical project compared to that of your rock bands?

Touring is much more simple. Not just the scheduling, but also having less responsibility with other people. What I do miss is having another person to rely on. If you're on stage by yourself, anything that happens is all on you. You have no one to bounce ideas off of. Playing rock music is such a release, and you feel either really high or really low, but it's intense. With electronic music, you don't really get that. If the sound is bad, it's hard to feel like you're connecting. When you're playing through a different P.A. every night, it's like having a new bandmember at every show. Playing guitar, you feel those strings, and the feedback back and forth feels insane. With a great sound system, you can get that feeling with electronic music, but to me you have to zone out on everything to home in on what's happening between you and the electronics, whereas with a rock band, you can get that energy from elsewhere.

The word "psychedelic" is associated with your music. How is it so?

My music is ambient, but I don't necessarily want to play to the ambient crowd. I think it's really psychedelic in that I do a lot of processing, so you get all these out-of-this-world sounds. I love messing with the stereo field. This guy Jake Meginsky on NNA Tapes does these really minimal sets with sine waves. Feeding off each other is a way of taking simple things and making them psychedelic, and that's something I really want to approach and my new goal.

Curved Light with Paperbark + Entrancer, J Hamilton Isaacs, Victoria Lundy and Azaleas, Friday, March 10, 8 p.m., Mercury Cafe, 303-294-9281, $8, all ages.

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