Curved Light is Peter Tran, the vehicle through which he releases music and visual work. Having found homes within the anti-establishment punk scene of DC, the heady experimentalist scene of Baltimore, and the unapologetic synth scene of Austin, Tran’s music takes form via disparate confluences. His compositions flow seamlessly from serene minimalism that echo forebears Terry Riley and Laurie Spiegel, to the raw intensity of Merzbow and Throbbing Gristle, to the calculated conceptualism of Oneohtrix Point Never and Kara-Lis Coverdale. Not easily definable and an unwillingness to be pigeonholed, Tran’s work carries the constant of his voice shining through.
Like many records being released right now, A User’s Guide to Existence was created during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. It was born of a commitment to a daily practice, regaining a foothold in the strange world that emerged from this novel event.
When the pandemic began to take hold, Peter Tran, who releases music under the name Curved Light, was four weeks deep into a national tour with the Baltimore indie pop outfit Lower Dens. “We had just played in Toronto and were on our way to Montreal when the executive decision was made to turn around and head back to the border,” remembers Peter. “It all felt very surreal. I stayed a couple days in Baltimore before flying back to Austin, definitely nervous that I might get stuck in purgatory as the news continued becoming graver.”
In some ways, he got what he wished. “Even before the tour started, I had wanted to come home and just work on a lot of projects for which I hadn’t the time.” However, the anxiety of a perpetual isolation and the loss of normality we took for granted - work, money, a general sense of feeling okay, took its toll. “There were many days when it felt extremely difficult for me to want to do anything, much less create, when the future felt so hopeless, bleak, and dark.”
“But I knew I couldn’t just sit there, cross my fingers, and hope for things to change.” So soon, day by day, Peter would persevere and enter his studio, and create the music that would become A User’s Guide.
Inspired in equal parts by classic sound libraries KPM and Bruton Music and schools of rational thought, A User’s Guide is a meditation on what it means to truly exist versus just being alive. From the seemingly disjointed sequences that finally converge on “All That Falls” to the sparse and flowing washes of “Waves of Apathy,” Tran’s message is clear: it’s okay to feel a little lost. In fact, we all feel more that way than we may lead on.
Tracks “Direction of Mind” and “Archives of Forgotten Images” carry momentum and push us forward, while “Within Abstraction,” “_____ Rendered Textures,” and “Searching for Truth” remind us that it’s okay to sit, be still, and reflect. “I Doubt Therefore I Am” ends the record with hope that things can change for the better.
The big standout here is “Endless Waltz.” Stripped down and bare, the song begins with a slow burn towards a wistful voice in refrain, soon to be joined by another in duet. It’s easy to imagine the two voices as lovers slowly dancing in tandem, yet never quite being able to fully embrace. Perhaps it’s a yearning for a past time, or finally coming to peace with irrevocable change.
“I love the intention of stock music, where people create feelings and motion for moments that don’t yet exist. There’s a false sense of nostalgia, and we trick ourselves into genuine emotion when just the right pieces come together.” Like library music, the tones of A User’s Guide to Existence are malleable and fit into many contexts, but its feelings and emotions are real and meet us where we are.
supported by 56 fans who also own “A User's Guide To Existence”
Every track on this compilation is excellent. They all have an overarching "meditative progressive synthesizer landscape" vibe, but it's very stylistically diverse. It's exceptional for deep concentration. Highly recommended. Nick Suda
supported by 46 fans who also own “A User's Guide To Existence”
I love this record A LOT. Every track. I have different favourites for different activities/times of day, and I listen to the whole album while running: it’s my new favourite soundtrack. If I have to choose just one fave, it’s the Bluetech remix of Steve Moore’s Gutter Talk, it’s an absolute belter. But honestly the whole thing is sublime. Cheers folks! emmaseymour