Ancient Lasers is the collected effort of Daniel Finfer and Daniel Anderson.
We also got to work with one of the internet’s most transcendent artists – Petra Cortright.
Petra Cortright is either very ahead of her time, or very behind. Or both. Her art pieces usually use some combination of Netscape-era GIF’s, glittery-cheesy-glitched-out-graphics and Myspace=ishASCII fonts. Her YouTube channel is a hot mess of post-human exhibition- complete with bizarre video plugins, presets, and maybe its imovie after effects. It’s kinda like one of those webcam girl pop-up-ads, if it was live-streaming from a bizarre, fucked-out future where America Online and the Super Nintendo are still the coolest dudes in the room:
As we were wrapping up the Ancient Lasers album, I started looking for images similar to her glitch-mountains, which had always fascinated me – since around 2007 – when most of the songs for this record were penned. Like a nature photographer hiking through the uncanny valley, pieces like the one below remind me of some dicked-up digital program.. trying to remember what real life was like way back when:
Somewhere deep inside Google Image Search and FFFFound, I realized that she’s probably not dead yet and that I could just have her create a new one. I decided to send her a picture of Mount Baker, in Bellingham, WA. Primarily because both myself, and Daniel Anderson spent the majority of our lives in the place; but also because I use to stare at this mountain from our farm growing up:
Underneath the gaze of this mountain, the chain of events that led me to discovering my musical ability at age 17 transpired. That’s right, folks! I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do with my life until one summer, when I was bored and downloaded Fruity Loops from Limewire. I had always been able to play songs on the radio by ear via keyboard, and had taken orchestra in elementary school (where I played violin and a hilariously giant upright bass), but had never thought about making music. After a few days, it kind of just clicked – pre-Music, I had wanted to be an author and wrote a lot of Sci-Fi stories – and was usually the best in my art class (no offense, Ferndale, but there wasn’t much competition).
I had just transferred to a “hippy high school”:
So my brother had given me a copy of The Downward Spiral to take on the trip. Now, this was destined to be a pretty terrible trip. Something about all my teachers being permanently happy was cool, fine, alright im learning about nanotechnology and resource-based economies; and the combination of listening to lyrics like “God is dead, no one cares; if there is a hell, I’ll see you there” while sitting in a circle of kids burning sage and banging on guitars/djimbe’s was pretty fucking rad.
Anyways, I’m in a shitty tent, alone in a new, weird school, and godam im tired, maybe ill pull out this huge blue sony discman n listen to nin cuz mike said it’s be coool…..
What thaua fuaaak? Music made by machines? A concept album about a lonely human fighting against it? Battling with the inherent lack of meaning that is OUR reality? Thanks, Trent.
Yet it wasn’t until I happened to look at the album liner notes (back when they were paper) and seeing “Pretty Much Everything By Trent Reznor” all over the place that I realized that with a computer, you don’t need to have a band.
You can just be the band.
Once I got home after somehow not killing myself, I heard about The Postal Service – mainly because one of the dudes was Ben Gibbard, who was a Bellingham local. It was a snow day at Whatcom Community College, and we were shoe-sledding down an icy hill on Indian St. because that’s what you do in Bellingham in September of 2003. My friend knew some guy that lived nearby, so we all went to warm up. Keep in mind, this was probably 6 months before Give Up had been released nationally.
The moment I heard The Postal Service in that kid’s house, I realized that not only was electronic music becoming popular with kids that used to talk shit about me listening to Daft Punk’s Discovery in high school (because this weird video game music will never be cool); but that someone from Bellingham, Washington, had made an album that was suddenly gaining mainstream attention. I was there, folks, and it was weird watching The Postal Service go from local heroes to being the band I turn off in the car because I’ve heard Such Great Heights 749,999 times this week on 107.7 The End.
Which brings it all back circle.
One day two kids from Bellingham named, quite eerily, Michael Harris and Daniel Anderson (My brother’s name is Michael and my middle name is Harris), won the EMP SoundOff! competition and were being played on 107.7. My sister heard Idiot Pilot – To Buy A Gun – Strange We Should Meet Here and came home yabbing about it to me, saying “its like gonna be ur fav band cuz NIN and Postal Service”.
I listened to “Strange We Should Meet Here” a few times through, and then read somewhere on Myspace that the album was made on Fruity Loops.
*Queue the sound of something clicking at 450 bpm*
See you later, Chihuahua’s Mexican Restaurant (their actual website).
That very month, I moved to Los Angeles to work on music (in between a few expensive and extremely inconvenient trips to Santa Clara University for some weird networking thing called “college”).
Idiot Pilot had just released Tail Of A Jet Black Swan. I saw a post from Daniel Anderson one day asking if anyone wanted a remix done. Coincidentally, I had just finished an album I am still proud of, Post Human Era – To Build A Fire, with my producing mentor Brian Delizza. I had taken a few guitar lessons from Daniel in Bellingham the summer before, and decided to not be a bitch and send him a few songs. He sent me back a remix of Building The Machine:
Needless to say, I was pretty stoked; and asked him if he wanted to do, like, 13 more, start a new band, and oh yeah here’s Petra’s album cover:
Who are we, where did we come from, and where are we going?
It’s a complex, three part question that we may never be able to fully answer. We do, however, get closer every day. We build things. We revise them, and build them better. We make art to express ourselves, and wage war to defend ourselves. The world today is growing radically different than the world of the ancients – and even the world of our American pioneers. If one were to look at the charts and graphs scientists have developed to demonstrate our ever increasing technological prowess, they may find themselves startled and afraid. The charts are climbing through the roof, shifting towards an exponential trend of growth. Some argue that the Darwinian mode of genetic evolution is being replaced by a new form of evolution dubbed Memetic Evolution. Memes are human habits -art, music, literature, and all other facets of our culture. And our memes, it seems, are copying themselves at an alarming rate.
The time it takes to communicate a thought from one human being to another is shrinking exponentially. The activities of writing letters and sending telegrams have been replaced by the newer, faster methods of email and text messaging. What took a matter of weeks if not months a hundred years ago now takes a matter of minutes if not seconds. If one were to extrapolate that trend of growth into the future, surely in the next hundred years it seems that we may become able to communicate instantaneously, even telepathically.
Yet, in this human frenzy of growth and exploration, we have to occasionally stop and smell the roses. How did we get here in the first place? Why were humans blessed with the gift of knowledge, and the poor chimpanzee left to poke around in the dirt?
Our ancestors first began making music and art some 40,000 years ago. Was this a result of some divine entity imparting its wisdom into our souls? Probably not. Most researchers have come to agree that such a change took place over thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years worth of genetic mutations. Was it the fact that our brains grew to be much larger than our predecessors? That was also not the case. Neanderthals had a similar sized brain as the Cro Magnon man, yet displayed very little culture. The Cro Magnon man performed many rituals when one of their loved ones died. They places thousands of beads into the grave, and spent a large amount of time preparing the ceremony. Neanderthals, on the other hand, simply chucked the dead body into a pit. It seems that they had much less regard and understanding of life in this regard. They did not exhibit any signs of art, music, or any culture for that matter compared to the Cro Magnon man.
So then, what was it that set us apart? Why did we ascend to a higher state of existence compared to our animal neighbors? Perhaps it was not the actual size of our brains, but the wiring that gave us knowledge. Hunting was probably the primary reason we invented tools and communication. We designed, built, and redesigned stone tools until they gave us effective results. Then, we used methods of communication to impart this knowledge to our descendants. Then, while hunting, we developed signals and signs to aid in the kill. Thus, we began to devise hunting plans, and tactics. We began to work together. This would have eventually become language as we know it, when our first vocalizations could be heard echoing throughout the ancient landscape. A verbal language would have greatly sped up the communication process. That would have in turn allowed for more efficient hunting and gathering practices, as more knowledge would have been conveyed in a shorter amount of time. This would have resulted in more free time, which would have allowed hobbies like bead making and art to become commonplace.
Thus, the birth of culture. Bead making could have led to a value system, where beads were traded for goods and services. As time went on, our ancestors may have found gold and silver, and traded those. Money is born. The more money an individual had, the more power was associated with that person. Now we start getting into wars to gain more power, more control over land and hunting areas. People start to make more and more art and music so that they can forget about the wars, and the pain of lost loved ones. They may have found that while they were making music or art that time seemed to slow down, and they were able to connect with some hidden force that felt eternal, and more real than reality itself. For in those fleeting moments of creativity, they were becoming eternal by creating something that would live on long after they were gone. These ancestors of ours could connect with one another in ways the physical world could not have allowed them to in the past. Unbeknownst to them, they were building the framework of what would someday become society itself – a network of thought and culture.
Fast forward to now.
Today, this network is more present than ever, and growing rapidly. Even though biologically we may be the same as we were some 50,000 years ago, our minds have expanded out into the universe, and deep into our own souls.
Memes convey seemingly infinite meaning, as the groups that weld them impart more and more ‘inside jokes’ into their digital fabric. For now, memes are mostly internet jokes that other people build upon. Memes are also merging with each other, giving birth to new memes. It only takes a quick glance at a site like https://www.reddit.com to understand how fast this evolutionary system is advancing.
One could suppose that soon, memes will eclipse entire industries, especially marketing. I am sure corporate memes, run as ads on social media sites, are not far off. We could also assume then the use of memes by entertainment celebrities and politicians, even entire ideologies.
As a race, we have become aware of our own limitations – time, space, and ourselves. And as we tirelessly work to break through these boundaries, we may not realize how similar the act of building a space shuttle is to building a stone axe. They are both tools we use to advance ourselves, and now more than ever, it feels as though we are on the verge of another mental big bang. Just as our ancestors broke through the barrier separating action from speech, we may be on the verge of breaking through the barrier that separated our bodies from our souls. For someday soon, we may truly get the chance to meet our true selves and shake our own hands. Someday soon, we may decide not to be human, or anything, at all.
Codenamed “Jellypuss” and designed by Michael Clive of Mojave Makers, this aquatic LED lighting system is midi-controlled to be synced with any audio source – even the accelerometer of a tablet. Jellypuss made its debut this year at Ephemerisle 2012 with Ancient Lasers providing the music for the event.
I got the chance to ask Aubrey de Grey of SENS Foundation the questions for his Reddit AMA – we got some excellent answers coming you way very soon!