This is honestly one of the best sounding, “homemade” albums I’ve ever heard. While some of the mixing could be tweaked, the sensibilities of the production and arrangement display a true understanding of structure, pacing, and aesthetics. The Terrence McKenna sample is a nice touch as well, fittingly surrounded by a chorus of machine-elves. Friend of the Monster EP is available for free download over at Bandcamp. 9.7/10
Lead vocalist Jeffrey Trainor could experiment with some more interesting vocal ideas, but for now — like the rest of the tracks — remains comfortably strapped into the sonic palette he has painted in the foggy landscape Western Jaguar was born out of. Western Jaguar’s Glacia is available at https://westernjaguar.bandcamp.com/ for $6. 7.8/10.
Have you ever done absolutely nothing for an entire hour?
I mean nothing.
On March 25th, 2012, I did nothing for the first time in my life.
I was invited to the private residence of Edward Arroyo in the hills near Pasadena to experience something called an Isolation Tank. I had known Edward since the Transcendent Man screening party, but I never had a chance to check it out until now. I recently saw him at an Ancient Lasers show, and I realized that, Holy Shit, I still need to do this.
It was a cold, rainy Los Angeles day — which set the perfect mood for introspection. Four of us arrived at his residence, where we were greeted by sandwiches and refreshments. He showed us many artifacts he has collected from around the world, most notably, something called Noah’s Ark — a black, obsidian, boat shaped rock. It only spins clockwise — that is, if you try to spin it the other direction, it vibrates, stops, and corrects itself.
The final stop on the tour was in the back building, where the isolation tank resides. It is basically a large metal chamber, with the interior completely blacked out. There is about ten inches of extremely salty water, which is warmed to the exact same temperature as the human body. The air is also warm, giving the illusion that you are completely submerged in something.
Edward led us back inside the house, where we made final preparations. I was first, so I took a shower, dawned a bathrobe and slippers, and took out my contact lenses (an act that in itself would be enough to render me deprived of all vision). Edward was to play sounds of the ocean and some kind of shamanic-sounding hum in the beginning and at the end, to let me know that one hour had elapsed. One hour is a good initial baseline for time, apparently. I followed Edward out through the rain to the Isolation Tank, and he handed me earplugs, and a couple towels. I think Drew, my drummer, was filming up to this point, but as I was about to get completely naked, they left me alone to take the plunge. I put in my earplugs, threw my robe on a chair, and climbed into the black abyss, closing the door behind me…
At first, it felt like you would expect — floating in the dark. But then I realized how buoyant the water was — it was like what I imagine zero gravity would feel like. If I didn’t know I was in a controlled, completely safe environment, that sensation would have been utterly terrifying. I mean, it was utterly terrifying for a few moments, but I knew what I was getting myself into. I am a sound guy, so I started to focus on the waves/hum noise, and realized how loud my breathing was as it started to fade away. Once it was completely silent, I kind of had a “now what?” feeling, but tried to focus on my breathing. At this point, my body had adjusted to the sensation, but I still felt tense in my neck and in my legs. That’s when I realized I was still actually holding myself up — to some capacity. I released every muscle in my body in one of the single-most refreshing instances I’ve ever had, and just really let go. Bingo. Now it’s time to fuckin’ FLOAT.
(From here on, it’s really hard to describe, but I will try.)
I first started thinking about all of human activities — like bills, my job, my band’s next direction, and things like that. This was probably about ten minutes in, from my estimate. When your brain doesn’t have anything else to do, you do a really good job thinking about things. Really fast, and with laser-sharp focus. It felt that in about five minutes, I had worked-through and addressed my now seemingly-mundane human ‘problems’ in my life. Well, now what do I think about, I thought to myself. I don’t know, why don’t you think about what you’re doing here? What do you want to do? What is all that stuff outside? Who are all those people? Do they matter? It feels like it. What are they? And what are you?
It felt like my eyes were moving deep into my body, like my vision was starting to come from my chest instead of my eyes. And right when I noticed myself slipping into that, I would jolt back awake. It was kind of like being on sleep deprivation at this point, but still remaining incredibly energetic. I started to hear foreign music and loud, thundering sounds — big bass notes and something like a trumpet in the distance. I decided to think about memories and friends from my past, and it was like walking through a party where I knew everyone. Every room was a different memory, and I could walk in and interact with it — bring it back to life. Then I really lost control.
It now felt like a DJ had showed up to the party and started remixing my brain. Memories, ideas, people, music, visual images…all started to get the mashup treatment, and I actually felt my brain using itself as its own sensory input. Like someone plugged a power strip into itself. I heard a voice say “He hasn’t started using his lungs yet”, which was pretty creepy (perhaps some kind of connection to being in the womb?). It felt like a bunch of people were above me, looking down, but there was no down, just out. I started to feel really guilty about things, but kind of ‘as everyone’. That as humans, we aren’t using all the tools we’ve been given properly, and that we are letting someone down. That there is some big thing we are supposed to do.
The ocean sound started to creep up and I started to sink back into myself. I was expecting to get that horrible sleep-paralysis feeling when I came back, but I had never actually gone to sleep…so I tried moving a finger. Moving one single finger a quarter of an inch after not having a body feels indescribable. I clenched my fist, one at first, then the other, and wiggled my toes. Yep, I’m in this body again. I slowly sat up in the tank, both exhausted and completely rejuvenated at the same time. I pushed open the door, and as my pupils shrank back into tiny black dots, I looked around for someone. Still alone. I blindly reached for a towel, and stumbled out into the real world again. Catching a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror on the way out had a certain completing-the-journey quality to it. After taking a shower to get the salt off, I sat around the outdoor firepit where everyone was. I tried my best not to talk about the experience as not to influence theirs, but I think that lasted about ten seconds.
After all four of us had gone in the isolation tank for one hour each, we all had completely different experiences and explanations — but we all agreed it was one of-if-not-the-single-most life-changing feelings we’d ever felt. And seriously, the way you physically feel afterwards is like getting a massage, doing a full workout, and getting 8 hours of sleep all at once.
Edward showed us the concept video for Floatspace, his next endeavor. He wants to set up isolation tanks for public and commercial use, and we talked about all the new possibilities that would arise. What if you could skype with other people while inside the chamber? What about virtual or augmented reality systems? If I could have, I would have invested a cool million right then and there.
With our journey complete, we thanked Edward I think about a hundred times before we climbed back into the car. The quality of sleep I had that night was unrivaled, and I was able to partially slip back into that floating feeling. This morning I woke up an hour before my alarm clock.
To sum it all up, go do this. I feel embarrassed that I haven’t done this before. Until you try it, you won’t understand what I’m talking about.
Why nothing really matters.
Written by Daniel Finfer of Ancient Lasers
BILder’s (as we like to call them) come from all around the world to share ideas, give talks, perform live music, teach classes, network, brainstorm ways to fix the world…whatever! That’s the beauty of BIL, what it is and what it will become is completely up to the BILders themselves — theres no concrete agenda. It is what you make it.
Last year was my first BIL experience, and I can honestly say it set the tone for the rest of my year in the most positive way possible. I met BIL co-founders Simone Syed and Reichart Von Wolfsheild when I hosted the after-party for the Los Angeles premiere of Transcendent Man — Ray Kurzweil’s feature documentary about the Technological Singularity. I was demoing Ancient Lasers tracks for the singularity folks that night and they asked me if I wanted to play at BIL.
Once there I met some of the most fascinating people I have ever been graced to know. I spend alot of time around people that don’t really share the same interests as me in my daily life, so it was so refreshing to hear phrases like “machine learning”, “brain hacking”, and “nanobot foglets” being thrown around in casual conversation. I got to meet Burning Man guru John Halcyon, Life extension author Aubrey De Grey, lifestyle blogger extraordinaire Judd Weiss, the folks from the Singularity University…The list goes on.
After BIL, we all kept in touch and I personally know more than a couple new startups and other projects that were born from the conference and the connections it facilitated. Its incredible to think about how much has happened since last year and how many new friends I made.
This year Ancient Lasers is performing with special guest Max Lugavere from Current TV Saturday, March 3rd at 8pm. Jimmy Delshad, the mayor of Beverly Hills, life extensionist author Aubrey de Grey, CEO of Virgin Galactic George Whitesides, XCOR co-founder Doug Jones, and many many more.
I highly recommend coming to check it out, I promise you wont leave empty-headed.
- Have good music
It may sound ridiculously obvious, but this is sometimes a major factor musicians overlook in the marketing process. Why spend money on a tour van or radio promotion if no one will even show your music to their Facebook friends first? You could literally spend $50,000 on marketing and have it go to waste if your music isn’t up to quality standards in terms of production, songwriting and mixing/mastering.
If you are just starting out and don’t have the ability to hire a producer or engineer at a professional studio, there are plenty of programs that will allow you to, after some trial and error, get close to professional quality sound. I use Logic Pro, some Pro Tools, and Ableton Live for production. A full tutorial on how to produce music with these programs is another article entirely, but I can tell you some key tips starting out.
First off, don’t use cheesy sounds. Like any rule in music, this one can be followed by “unless that’s what you’re going for”. But there was a reason why my painting teacher wouldn’t let me attempt surreal art until I could paint the naked guy standing in the front of the room. Start out by listening to sounds other good musicians use, and try to replicate those. Don’t put a ton of reverb on everything, and God dammit stop using that Phaser. Bass is very important, and if you can’t nod your head to the beat, something is wrong. Other things to avoid: synth choirs, Midi horns, Apple loops, dubstep wobbles. Unless, of course, that’s what you’re going for.
- Give it away for free on “the Internet”
If I have never heard of your band before, I am probably not going to buy your music. Especially if there isn’t even a free iTunes preview available. This is because there are plenty of bands that I already like giving away music for free, and in the age of Mediafire and Hype Machine, I can download any album I want in about 4 seconds. So if a potential fan shows up to your website, has to turn off your FLASH AUTOPLAY WEBSITE (caps because seriously everyone hates these sites), and then gets propositioned to enter their credit card information, odds are they aren’t going down to the car to get their wallet. And that is a catastrophic failure on your part. Give your music away for free, at least initially. Get people excited and interested in your sound and what you are doing. Think about the old adage “Fake it till you make it”, and how that relates to music — you will make significantly more money down the road using long-tail economics — so stop thinking linearly and start thinking exponentially. Consider this:
Chris Anderson wrote a very profound book called The Long Tail: Why The Future Of Business Is Selling Less Of More that explains how the internet changed the way we do business on a global scale. A good example is what happened to SEARS, the department store. It all started back before most farmers could afford an automobile, let alone the fuel to drive into town every day. Sears had the novel idea of passing out catalogs to each farmhouse, that not only sold things, but sold EVERYTHING. Wristwatches, thread, lightbulbs, kerosene lanterns, you name it, you could order it right out of the catalog. This is because Sears invested in the initial infrastructure of large warehouses and trucks to ship things from all over the world to Good Lord, Iowa. This was great for all parties involved, and gave the masses things from far away lands they previously only dreamed about.
Yet as time wore on, the farmers started showing up to Church with the same wristwatch from the same catalog. Consumers demanded product differentiation. They now wanted specialized, niche markets. Competitors and new nation-spanning highways gave people the freedom of choice and customization, which in turn led to Sears’ downfall, and subsequently, it is now market share leader in washing machines or something.
So, what does this have to do with music?
Back when there were only a few channels for wristwatch distribution, the same held true for music. There were only a few channels on the local radio, and only a certain number of CD’s could fit on the shelves in the record store. The major labels owned the only distribution infrastructure that could physically get your music to major metropolitan areas, and if you didn’t fit their style or genre, you were condemned to play coffee shops and Bar Mitzvahs for the rest of your career.
Along comes the Internet. Whoa, wasn’t there a record store here last week? The new paradigm of music distribution allows for infinitely reducible niche markets in music. Nowadays, the New Age Polka enthusiast can not only find their favorite artist’s music, but automatically and instantaneously receive recommendations of other New Age Polka artists they may like as well. As an old friend used to say, “there’s a seat for every ass in the house”. If you make good music, you will find fans, regardless of how obscure it may be.
- Get 1,000 true fans
I went to a music conference in 2011 that was basically a big waste of time, but I did come away with one new idea of what being a musician will be like in the coming years. Consider this article, written in 2000, about the then current state of the music industry.
In that year, Eminem, Britney Spears, and N Sync all helped paint a picture of a music industry that was still expanding — a record-breaking 312 million CD’s were sold — that’s an 8 % increase. The warning signs were there — as most of the article debates whether or not Napster will have a long-term effect on major labels. But statements like “People do like CD’s. They continue to buy about 900 million CD’s every year in this country. I don’t think people are going to change their behavior dramatically,” offers a glimpse into the prevalent shortsightedness that was going around at the time.
What happened next was a result of that faulty projection. Based on 2000’s growth increase, the industry’s infrastructure kept expanding while the actual sales started to dip. Labels started losing alot of money fast, and could no longer give out big advances. Thus, the days of the mega-stars like Britney Spears are now over.
Yet there is still a booming music industry out there, with billions of dollars in annual global revenue. So how will it be distributed in the coming years? We will start to see the expansion of the musical middle class. No, you probably won’t make $10 Million dollars per album like they did in the year 2000, but your chances of making an honorable $40,000 per year are very high - if you can attract at least 1,000 fans that will spend $40 on your brand per year. Think about it — that’s basically a T Shirt, a ticket sale, and a ringtone. The best way to attract fans is to be real with them, and to be honest. The idea of being a reclusive, mysterious musician that hides in the studio for weeks doesn’t really mesh well with the age of blogging and Youtube. Talk to people online. Share stories and information. Comment on people’s pictures. Post videos of your new song idea and ask for input. Make customized merch that only your most loyal fans can access, and even think about VIP concerts and events.
It may sound strange, but sometimes it feels like the internet has only increased the distance between people in real life. Be someone people can rely on as a digital friend, and I promise you, they will support your musical endeavors.
Ancient Lasers is the project of multi-instrumentalist producer and lead vocalist Daniel Finfer. In 2010, Finfer sought out Daniel Anderson (Glowbug, Idiot Pilot, Hyro Da Hero) to produce a full-length LP. Songs from the LP are featured on the debut, self-titled EP, including two remixes from 19 year old producer Stephen Coleman.
- The Wheel Of Time
- When Are We?
- The Last Americans
- Ancestors (Stephen Coleman Remix)
- Directions (Stephen Coleman Remix)
Ancient Lasers’ self-titled debut EP is now available at Bandcamp.