Photos provided by Doug Dulgarian
“What do memories sound like?” asks Our Hologram Mother. “What have we forgotten and why can’t we concentrate long enough to remember?”
The visual album, built between Doug Dulgarian (Jouska, they are gutting a body of water), Dan Paoletti (Apostrophe S, Confusician) and Ben Opatut (formerly No Friends, Pinesheets, and most recently David Attias) was built in roughly four months, consisting of 33 original tracks narrating a compilation of video samples from seven films that clocks in at about two hours.
“We ripped Silent Running, Andromeda Strain, THX 1138, Logan’s Run, Fantastic Planet, Solaris, The Quiet Earth and a few random space tapes,” Dulgarian said.
On Feb. 21, the local artists will present Our Hologram Mother, a dystopian sci-fi visual album that tends to raise more questions than answers about technology, society and where it is aiming–or plummeting–toward.
“The way the project came together was impulsive and irresponsible,” Dulgarian said. On one fateful evening in Philadelphia–inspired by the recent release of Bladerunner 2049, music influences like the experimental electronica of Boards of Canada and an extensive collection of sci-fi and dystopian VHS–he began to make some “future music” while playing around with his recently acquired sampler. He shared the video online and Paoletti snapped to attention.
“It started with a Facebook comment in late November–probably sooner than any reasonable person would think,” Paoletti said. “It’s been a wild process. Doug’s really been steering the ship, which is impressive because he’s steering several ships.”
In addition to organizing this project, Dulgarian is gearing up for Jouska’s upcoming 40-day tour to SXSW, the release of their From Elson to Emmett EP, as well as the expansion of his solo project, they are gutting a body of water (tagabow), to a full band which includes recording sessions for their upcoming full length album.
But Paoletti’s one to talk. In addition to working on this album, the artist released y3early, an 18-track Apostrophe S album on New Year’s Day, is a music student at St. Rose and recently scored The Toad of Buckingham Lake–a short film by screenwriter Martin Pohl, with whom he runs Bee Sides Cassettes.
The collaborative work of Our Hologram Mother is the brainchild of artists who are constantly hungry for new projects and challenges. They’re changing styles and instruments and seeking out new messages to expand their form.
“The objective at first for both of us was to make something fun and different. For me, to break out of the lyric and guitar doldrums and make good use of my MPC 2000xl and my tascam. For Dan, maybe keep his mind moving forward in a creative and positive way. He’s a machine,” Dulgarian said.
The DIY aficionados have been running in the same circles for years, as one in Albany does, and a collaboration between the two had been discussed several times over, but never manifested–as is often the case with projects in the DIY scene.
“I’ve always always loved his music, he’s truly a visionary and incredibly musical minded. It always blows me away. So it was a no-brainer,” Dulgarian adds. “All the talk we always threw around [about] making a split together finally made sense now that we had a purpose, and we decided to act on it.”
The lo-fi, ambient electronic tracks of the visual album are split between Dulgarian and Paoletti, reflective of their work in tagabow and Apostrophe S, respectively. Production involved Dulgarian recording tracks to five separate cassettes and snail mailing them, one at a time, to Paoletti in Albany. The tapes sat on his desk at home, “like relics,” he says. He then digitized them along with his half of the album and turned them over to Scoops Dardaris to master back in Philly.
“We pushed each other. We were just so stoked about it from track to track that we kept it going. I think there was a sort of marked evolution,” Paoletti said. “Doug was doing stuff computerless. He was sampling some stuff with keyboards and going right to a tape deck. Then he would send me the tapes in the mail, which is another layer of precocious hilariousness. He had this very lo-fi sound…He ended up playing a lot, somebody gave him a microkorg and he just went to town. I think he had ‘the sound’ down really well and I was constantly trying to match that in my stuff. And we were both buying equipment at varying prices to add to it, it was crazy–we were both in this manic state.”
The project had landed with a central theme of a warped dystopian reality–the hostile environment of our present age. The mastered tracks were used to drive the video compilation, crafted between Dulgarian and Opatut. The box art and duplication of the final VHS was done by Retro Release Video, a product release service known for its retro nostalgia cover art from new and old movies.
“We were sending music back and forth that encapsulates the feeling of the modern world,” Dulgarian said.
“It just seems super relevant. I know there’s this whole sci-fi tilt to it, but it seems more like the current state of things than anything else,” Paoletti agreed. “We wanted to grapple more specifically with what seems tangible. Order in the US seems to be rapidly crumbing and it’s just violence and terror and political disruption and oppression that’s very obviously happening and we can access it through social media that broadcasts things in a different way than it has historically.”
“There’s a distance that’s created in terms of [current] technology, even through it’s created ever increasing levels of intimacy with the actual thing, there’s not enough time to absorb it, culturally and individually. The pace of change has outpaced our ability to synthesize it. In terms of the individual–how much time and emotional real estate we have to absorb those things–it’s shrunk. It’s bizarre and frustrating.”
In its critical lens, the visual album represents the common socio-political warning themes of technology and apathy from well-known science fiction and dystopian writers that have influence the work, such as Aldous Huxley, Philip K. Dick or George Orwell.
“The themes and warning are more of a reality now than they ever were before. We stare at our cell phones and take Ubers. We don’t talk on deep levels. The world is overpopulated and polluted and hostile. The visuals for the tape just started falling in line with the overall feeling of our instrumentals,” Dulgarian said.
Recorded to VHS tape, the modern electronic tracks become a soundtrack to what the artist calls “our declining modern tech-savvy civilization.” The album is locked into a medium that has been cast away and forgotten by most.
In the grand scheme of our history, devices that have seemed like a breakthrough become irrelevant in the span of a few decades. Like the cassette, film camera, and even the iPod, VHS has become archaic–evidence of a technological advancement that has moved along at a dizzying, unstoppable pace. But these artists are still its biggest fans.
“I’ve always loved the aesthetic of VHS,” Dulgarian, an avid collector of the medium, said. “It’s been a dream to create one for a long time.“
“There’s a very palpable, emotional connection to that format for me that goes beyond nostalgia,” Paoletti added. “It’s still evocative of something, the mystery of being very small and knowing how everything works is contained in that.”
“There’s this whole VHS subculture, with tape trading, and you can find all sorts of cool stuff because some people just got rid of everything. It’s this underground thing where you have to go to a Goodwill to find one and then just hope it works.”
There’s a whole vaporwave aesthetic in the project as well, evident in the cutting sci-fi imagery and contrasting muted and neon color schemes. It’s an intermingling of eras and technologies locked into a form of nostalgia. It harkens on that age old dilemma of creating a utopia of our past and put off by our present time–and even our future. At the end of the day, our generation is left feeling dejected and hopeless.
“We feel permanently overwhelmed. Is that because of our circumstances or the way the media has accelerated? Tough call. But it’s interesting,” Paoletti said. “In high school history class they would always talk about how the Great Depression shaped people’s worldviews. ‘Anybody’s parents live through the ‘30s? Are they like, really thrifty?’ That was a teaching moment. That’s how I feel about being alive today. I feel like I’m going to be talked about in history class like, ‘Are your grandparents super paranoid and nihilistic?’”
“I don’t think there’s ever been as strong of a unified voice just centered around misery and irony. It’s the ‘in’ thing now. It’s not a weirdo, individualist thing. We’ve calculated our possibilities and this is what it feels appropriate.”
Our Hologram Mother VHS release screening and art show featuring Casual Decay and the world premiere of The Toad of Buckingham Lake. Wednesday, Feb. 21 at 9PM. Relief Theater, Albany