Wednesday, November 17, 2021

[Video Premiere] Phong Tran: High Tech, High Emotion

On 2017's Initiate, Phong Tran imbued software with high drama and emotion, inspired by “the story in every story” theorized by Joseph Campbell in The Hero With A Thousand Faces. The album also announced an electronic musician with vision, work he has continued with MEDIAQUEER, his synth and violin duo with Darian Donovan Thomas. The duo has also collaborated on visual art, most notably the mind-bending video for Sō Percussion's online performance of Julius Eastman's Stay On It.

Now, comes the release of Tran's second full-length album, The Computer Room, out November 19th on New Amsterdam. Once again applying a thoughtful approach, Tran uses a variety of vintage synths and the occasional snippet of a YouTube clip about simulation theory to pay tribute to his youthful engagement with video games and the virtual spaces to which they gave him entry. It was there that he found the supportive community he needed, one that would only be replicated IRL when he moved to New York and found a group of simpatico fellow artists. 

While sometimes viewed with suspicion, for someone growing up in isolation games on the internet might give them their first sense of being valued for who they are. As Tran puts it, "The Computer Room is also a thank you to the internet community of my youth, the friends who pushed me to get better at something, even if it was playing computer games. Because if I didn’t push myself then, I wouldn’t be pushing myself now with my creative work.” There's also an eerie quality to some of The Computer Room, as Tran limns abandoned virtual spaces with sound, like electronic fireflies showing you the way through your childhood bedroom.

The result is a glorious series of electronic soundscapes, each one building a virtual space of their own and further proving the universal emotional impact of melodic sequences and rhythmic structures. Even if your experience with computer games is limited (as is mine - I was more of a Tetris freak), you will find your own place in these sounds. Unsurprisingly for a multi-threat talent like Tran, The Computer Room also has an equally strong visual component, with the peer2peer x Party Quest video below the perfect introduction to the project.

Opening with the doomy overture of peer2peer, the video shows some kind of technology emerging from the shadows, a sculptural piece of equipment that invites you to engage with it if you dare. Smash cut to Party Quest, the playful sounds illustrating an exploration of a 3D vector animation of a mountain range, the kind of environment you can imagine exploring with a hardy band of virtual companions as good seeks to conquer evil. There are fiery obstacles and random weapons appearing like power-ups, but all remains abstract. For the last minute, it seems the game is over for now, as the melodic material becomes full of the melancholy you feel when an absorbing, affirming activity comes to an end, with hopes to revisit it soon.

Watch peer2peer x Party Quest below and buy The Computer Room, or stream it everywhere, on 11/19. And if you're looking for a gift for a special person in your life - or for yourself - check out the Collector's Edition Box Set, which includes an art book of visuals for the album along with a physical CD and download code, all housed inside of a 2000's-era inspired software box. Edition of 25 so don't hesitate!

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