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.
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!
The Wheel Of Time is a song I wrote in 2009 while I was renting out a studio by LAX, underneath the flight path of landing 747’s. The studio was your standard 12×10 concrete cell that we outfitted with some tacky green carpet, a couch, and a makeshift desk for my recording gear. It was a great place to escape from everything, and sink into my music.
I soon fell into a very productive routine. I usually got to the studio around 8pm to jam with my band or chat with my friend GG for a bit. His brother is Drew Goddard, writer for Lost and Cabin In The Woods – so I usually nagged him about the ending of Lost most of the time. But GG is also an amazing producer and sound engineer with replicas of every piece of gear Pink Floyd used…ever. (He even once flew to Italy to buy the actual rotary delay David Gilmour used in Live at Pompeii). I learned alot from GG about mixing – which frequencies go where, how to make the perfect kick drum sound, why taking the 500Hz frequency out of a guitar magically makes it sound better, etc. I owe him big time for that.
After social time was over, I would get to work – often moving from instrument to instrument recording ideas. I usually started with a programmed beat and a chord progression and built from there. Once the music was done, I would walk through the vacant streets brainstorming lyrics, and would often record the entire song before sunrise – to avoid the thundering sound of landing aircraft. At around 10am I would lay down on the couch and drift off to sleep, listening to an entirely new song I had just created.
I should probably take a moment to explain something people have been asking me about regarding the name change from Post Human Era to Ancient Lasers. In April of 2010, I had just finished an entire album that was to be the second chapter of a trilogy by Post Human Era. The album was called Echo Corridor, and I was literally days away from releasing it. I had sent the single, Building The Machine, to Daniel Anderson of Idiot Pilot – one of my favorite bands of all time. He decided to remix it, and after I heard the possibilities of what we could both do as a team, I asked if he wanted to do an entire album. We used songs from both To Build A Fire and Echo Corridor as starting points, but ended up with a much more visceral sound. Together, we decided it was too different from Post Human Era to label it as such, and thus, Ancient Lasers was born. Post Human Era, however, is far from dead – I am currently working on something that takes it into very different terrain.
This song in particular, The Wheel Of Time, deals with the insanity of religion. I grew up with a mother that had started out with a Catholic family, but then converted to Judaism; and a Jewish father, so I went to both Church and Synagogue. I remember dreading wednesday night Hebrew school, where I practiced writing an ancient language that was both extremely confusing and downright hard to learn. Yet, there was something mystical about it. When I walked into Beth Israel Synagogue in Bellingham every Wednesday and Sunday, it felt like I was instantly transported to some sacred, distant past. My rabbi was both a Star Trek fan and paleontologist, which was pretty damn awesome to a 10 year old boy – but hilariously ridiculous if you think about it. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the early years I spent learning about Israel, having Seder for Passover, and lighting the candles for Hanukkah.
My mother’s side of the family was pretty faithful about getting together every Easter, Christmas (when we got the ‘good’ presents, as opposed to a book or something for Hannukah), and Thanksgiving (which I consider a Christian holiday). Those holidays, along with the Church experience, felt more commercialized – more ‘American’. They were alot of fun, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for the world.
Yet up until this point, I hadn’t really questioned either religion. Since I was learning about two separate schools of thought, I hadn’t fully submitted myself to one particular ideology. Everything was going as planned, until the moment arrived that would ultimately open my eyes to the world behind the world.
I was about to turn 13, and it was time for me to start practicing for my Bar Mitzvah. My father opened the study guide, which contained the Hebrew I would need to recite for the ceremony. We both sat down on the couch in the living room, and started to practice. After about twenty minutes, I remember looking up at him and asking why we were doing this. Why are we memorizing words that were written thousands of years ago to recite at a ceremony, just to prove that I was entering adulthood? And most importantly, what if I decided I simply didn’t want to?
In one life-changing sentence, he confessed: “We are doing this because my father wanted me to when I was your age.” We both realized that we were doing something simply because our ancestors before us had. Without questioning why; without deciding for ourselves if it was right – what we truly believed in our hearts. He let me decide for myself, and ultimately I decided that I didn’t believe in what we were doing. And I am eternally grateful for his decision.
The next sunday, instead of going to Synagogue, we went fishing together and experienced real life in nature, unfiltered by antiquated dogma and human ideologies. It was liberating for our entire family, and though we haven’t really talked about it since, I think they are thankful I spoke up – because everyone else was afraid to.
This is why we have Holy Wars, racism, and hate. People sometimes get scared to raise their hand in class when something doesn’t make sense. “Keep your head down. Do as you are told. Follow the leader. Memorize this. Don’t ask why.” When something doesn’t make sense, scream at the top of your lungs so everyone can hear you. We can’t change the world if we keep ourselves planted in the sands of the past. Refuse to believe what people tell you – until you know it to be true from your own personal experiences. No one knows anything more than you do, and that will never change.
The Wheel Of Time is about the continual habit of recursion we can’t seem to escape from. But I came here to throw a wrench in its gears. And every day thousands of people are waking up, as I did, from the peaceful sleep of herded sheep.
Ancient Lasers – The Wheel Of Time
The wheel of time repeats itself, it turns you into someone else
You’ll fight a war you’ll never win, you’ll make the same mistakes again
And now you finally see so many reasons behind the great confusion
You know the voices of the dead are really voices in your head
You wonder if you’ve lost your mind, you hope you get it back this time
They tell you what you want to hear, you wish they’d all just disappear
And now you finally see so many reasons behind the great confusion
You know the voices of the dead, are really voices in your head
Maybe we are doomed to repeat this, maybe we still haven’t found the way
But no matter what they say, the pattern’s here to stay
And every time you think you’ve reached the end, you watch it start itself again
Every time it repeats itself, it repeats itself, it repeats itself again
As the world transitions towards a completely digital, globalized network, one thing that has continued to be rather consistent has been currency. Many people don’t stop to question the current monetary system, or its relevance to such a rapidly changing landscape of business. Yet, a few people have been rethinking the role of currency as we transition towards a truly digital age. We don’t actually trade gold for scarce goods anymore, so why should we still trade dollars and coins? Aren’t those simply arbitrary placeholders for value? We are relying on physical goods less and less, and their scarcity is also decreasing.
Advancements in 3D printing technologies will completely redesign the business models for future societies and economies, forcing us to find value in non-physical, often intangible products. In Pandora’s Millions, by George O. Smith, a ‘matter duplicator’ creates an economic collapse and creates a new form of barter economy for the only scarce product left: skilled human labor. In this scenario, one would need to develop a new, digital currency.
Simone Syed is a futurist and consultant for Bitcoin.com, a new startup technology that could revolutionize the way we do business. I got to ask her a few questions about Bitcoin and find out why it might be a good idea to pay attention to this new form of currency.
- What is Bitcoin, and how does it work?
“Bitcoin is technology that makes it possible to transfer value across a normal Internet connection. This is much cheaper and more secure than using something like a credit card.
For example, every time you pay with a credit card, there’s a risk that the other person copies your card and starts spending your money. With Bitcoin, you’re never giving out the keys to your entire vault – you only transfer exactly the amount you want to pay. This virtually eliminates fraud and thus reduces fees. And with the additional revenue, merchants can lower prices and spend their profit on quality and service.”
- Why should people use it?
“This is really two questions; the first being: “why should merchants use it?” The obvious answer is lower fees, reduced setup cost and ease of use. With Bitcoin payments, the only thing required is a computer or mobile phone with an Internet connection. Additionally, the payments can’t be reversed, which is a major source of lost revenue for many businesses.
Second: “why should the customer use it?” It gives the user the ability to pay quickly without putting their account and identity at risk. When you pay with a credit card, check or other classical payment method, you are placing yourself at risk for identity theft and fraudulent charges.”
- Is it safe?
“Bitcoins are as safe as their storage medium. If you store your Bitcoins in a vault at a reputable Internet bank they can be very secure. On the other hand, if you keep your Bitcoin wallet unprotected, it’s possible that someone steals it from you or that you lose it. This is very similar to physical cash. The biggest risk right now is that Bitcoin is still very new and people are just starting to learn how to securely use and store them.”
- Why couldn’t another copycat come out and make Bitcoin obsolete?
“Bitcoin benefits from something called a network effect. Since a lot of people already use Bitcoin, it’s much more valuable to join and trade with those existing people, than to start a new system and have no one to trade with. Also setting up a network of Bitcoin’s size is expensive: Right now the network ensuring Bitcoin’s security has more computational power than that of the world’s top 500 supercomputer projects combined.”
- Do you think it will encourage criminal transactions, and make it harder for the government to trace illegal purchases (drugs, weapons, etc)?
“Bitcoin transactions are actually more traceable than cash transactions. There’s a public ledger where both participants of every Bitcoin transaction and the amounts sent are recorded. Also, Bitcoin is just a payment technology – all the bits need to be converted back into currency at some point, and all the exchanges are required to strictly comply with the same Anti-Money-Laundering and Know-Your-Customer regulations that banks and other businesses are subject to.”
- Why can’t the Bitcoin go down in value?
“Bitcoin can certainly go down in value. It’s actually been rather volatile lately. But since Bitcoin is mainly used as a transactional medium, the specific exchange rate doesn’t matter to most people. In the end, you are just sending bits across the Internet and at the other end you get the amount of Dollars or Euros that you intended to send.”
- Tell us about your mobile app.
“So far Bitcoins have been mainly used by payment experts and technologists, but we’d like to make Bitcoins useful not just for people who care about the cool tech, but the average person. Over the next few months we’ll roll out our whole suite of merchant and commerce tools on http://bitcoin.com/ and you’re more than welcome to sign up so you can be among the first to give it a spin.”
- Do you fear a crackdown by the Federal Reserve?
“Not at all. I think people are overly worried about such things. When people first started paying using plastic cards, that must have seemed like a crazy idea as well, but after a while people got used to it. It’s quaint that we still use paper checks while the rest of the world has moved on to digital banking, but with Bitcoin we have a chance to leapfrog and truly improve our country’s payment infrastructure, stimulate commerce and create new jobs.”
Whether you have seen the fascinating and often mind expanding videos posted online, or have been lucky enough to go in person, you probably know about TED. If you are like me (incredibly interested in technology but not really willing to spend thousands of dollars to go to a conference), check out TED’s cooler-yet-nerdier little brother BIL on the Queen Mary March 2-4th in Long Beach, CA.
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.