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:
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
I have had the privilege of watching the Hyro Da Hero project develop from its inception, since I was working with Daniel Anderson on Ancient Lasers at the time. Ross Robinson has certainly put together an amazingly talented group of musicians for the live incarnation of Birth School Work Death. The album feels like a combination of Saul Williams, At The Drive In, and Rage Against The Machine. Sprinkle in frontman Hyro’s terrifyingly powerful vocal delivery and stage presence, and you know what I’m talking about.