Music in Snaketime

Moondog - Moondog 1969

“Machines were mice and men were lions once upon a time. But now that it’s the opposite it’s twice upon a time.”

Moondog is one of the most pivotal and iconic figures of the classical avant-garde. The man certainly commanded attention – a blind, long-bearded fellow often adorned with a cloak and Viking-style horned helmet living on the streets of New York, he quickly earned the moniker, The Viking of 6th Avenue. But his eccentricity was far from superficial, and Moondog (1969) serves an as exquisite specimen of his unique compositional style and his expertly-seamless fusion of classical and jazz musics. And how many individuals can claim to have ascended from street musicianship to conducting the Brooklyn Philharmonic in their lifetimes?

In the early ‘40s when Moondog moved to New York City, he met Leonard Bernstein, Charlie Parker, and Benny Goodman, the influence of which is certainly evident throughout his catalog, but particularly so on Moondog (1969). The upbeat tempos and often humorous compositional style of this LP are likely the result of these encounters.

The album’s opening selections, “Theme” and “Stamping Ground”, (aka “that song from Lebowski”), are instantly indicative of the sort of ride you’re in for with this record. The tracks are epic and theatrical, with a lush orchestral quality. But simultaneously, there is a humbling intimacy and a flare of smart minimalism at play all throughout the album, adding an understated intellectualism to the whimsical interplay of traditional and invented instrumentation. Tracks like “Symphonique #3 (Ode to Venus)” and the brief vocal interludes sprinkled throughout work brilliantly to counterpoint the captivating rhythmic energy of selections like “Symphonique #6 (Good for Goodie)” and “Lament I (Bird’s Lament).”

There’s a curious and mysterious mannerism to the music on this record, and its inspiration reveals the nature of its oddity. In an interview with Robert Scotto, who went on to publish his biography, Moondog described his music as being directly inspired from street sounds, characterized by what he called “snaketime”, described as “a slithery rhythm, in times that are not ordinary,” and saying, “I’m not gonna die in 4/4 time”. It is this snaketime that gives Moondog’s compositions their enchanting peculiarity. There’s an off-beat, quirky eccentricity and playfulness to every one of the songs here, and together they form a cohesive and rewarding listening experience unlike any other.

10/10

The Grand Unified Theory of innerspaceboy

I love a good challenge, and last night I presented myself with a most delightful dilemma. As of late, I’ve created a stockpile of obscuro musically-themed graphic tees to thoroughly confuse the unsuspecting public. And with the plethora of imagery available from avant-garde sound and cult cinema, I could go on forever printing these tees. But I’d never be able to wear them all.

And so I set myself the challenge – to conceive and implement the ultimate autobiographical tee – a single design which sums up all of my specializes interests. The Grand Unified Theory of innerspaceboy.

And then it came to me. What better way to showcase my academic pretension, my musico-cultural obsession, and my meta-hip snobbishness than with a custom tee emblazoned with a Fruchterman-Reingold graph depicting the web-like interrelationships between my 60 favorite sub and micro genres?

I quickly constructed a dataset of my favorite musical niches and formatted them as a CSV denoting each node and edge for the graphic. (For example: Post-Punk is an amalgam of elements from funk, dub, electronic, and experimental musics.)

I was pleased to discover that my favorite data visualization application, Gephi (previously employed in the creation of my 550 Favorite Artists of 2014) was supported by Linux and in a short time I produced this splendid graph. Behold, ladies and gentlemen: The Grand Unified Theory of innerspaceboy.

CLICK HERE for the hi-res!

Grand Unified Theory of HipI’m insane.

The New Headphone Stand Has Arrived!

Last week I started to think that I could do better than the $9 wire banana hanger I was using for my Sennheiser monitors.

Banana Headphone Stand 12-25-11

Then I had a wonderful idea.  It took about an hour of searching eBay to find one just the right size for the task, but in the end, it worked out beautifully.

Transitional classical-to-romantic elegance with a touch of bittersweet post-modern irony (given the figure I selected).  I couldn’t be happier with the result.

Beethoven Headphone Stand sm

Published in: on April 20, 2015 at 7:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Classical Deutsche Grammophon Endulgence

Another magnificent day for music!

In the waiting room at an appointment today, the radio was tuned to the classical station and I really enjoyed a piano sonata by Beethoven.  Admittedly a laymen when it comes to classical, I was bitten by the bug and decided to investigate further.  Given my limited knowledge of the genre, I set my sights on the tried-and-true Deutsche Grammophon label and popped into my local antique shop to see what I could find.

It was my lucky day!  Waiting for me on their shelves were 8 volumes of the Deutsche Grammophon Beethoven Bicentennial Collection!  Featuring the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, each volume is packaged in a sturdy box set slipcase – each containing five discs and a book packed with information that I will thoroughly enjoy drinking in!

Deutsche Grammophon Beethoven Bicentennial Collection

Each of the volumes was magnificently well cared-for – the discs shined and appeared barely-played.  And for $1 per disc I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

I followed up the purchase with a call to The Bop Shop in Rochester, NY which should be able to supply me with the remaining volumes.  And just my luck – November is planned to be a half-0ff sale on their massive classical library, so I’m planning another trip before Christmas!

 

 

Brilliant Box Sets and Other Classics

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to explore and enjoy The Complete Liszt Piano Music box set.  After a solid week of digesting the collection I found myself hungry for more classical listening material.

The Complete Liszt Piano Music

For a first-time listener the scope of classical music is daunting.  In which century should I begin?  Other than my Baroque 100-disc set (which is overwhelming both in content and in volume) I had little experience with Early Music, Romantic, and other pre-recording-industry-era musics.

I quickly scanned the classical subreddit, read the sidebar, and perused Rateyourmusic’s classical pages.  It didn’t take long to arrive at a decision – Deutsche Grammophon offers an expansive library of  well-recorded, expertly-pressed, and reasonably-priced compositions from a variety of respected conductors and performers.

As I was not nearly equipped to make individual purchasing selections from their catalog, I opted for the archival collection.  111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon is a two-volume collection of the finest albums in their library.  Each disc is housed in a sleeve featuring the release’s original artwork.

111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon Vol 1

111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon Vol 1

111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon Vol 2
111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon Vol 2
I am currently on my 8th day of listening, taking in 8 hours of content each day.  My favorite highlight thus far is Claudio Monteverdi’s Magnificat.

And by sheer coincidence, a fellow audiophile visited from out of town this weekend and provided me with another hauntingly beautiful choral recording.  Ondine Records released a Super Audio CD of The Latvian Radio Choir performing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s  Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

Latvian Radio Choir - The Liturgy

Latvian Radio Choir - The Liturgy SACD

And the great music just kept on coming.  Friday evening, after a month of waiting my copy of the new Miles at the Fillmore, Bootleg Series Vol 3 finally arrived at my local record shop from the Netherlands.

Miles at the Fillmore Bootleg Series Vol 3 Box Set

I had previously purchased the Japan-only issued Black Beauty album – a much abbreviated version of one of Davis’ four Fillmore concerts.  At the time it was the closest I could get to an official vinyl release capturing Mile’s live sound from that era.

When this set was announced, featuring all four performances complete and uncut, and mastered and pressed by Music On Vinyl, I didn’t hesitate for a moment.  This release is the PERFECT gift for the Miles Davis fan who has everything.

Before walking out of the shop, I heard that a stack of used jazz had also come in, and I snatched up a $10 early pressing of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme in superb condition.


John Coltrane - A Love Supreme 08-15-14 sm

And to finish off the week in style, I gave myself a challenge.  I decided to teach myself data visualization.  A friend recommended Gephi as a free visualization tool and I got to work building and importing a .CSV.

I chose to visually map my library’s top 550 artists by genre as a preliminary exercise in data visualization.  The result isn’t fantastic, (there is far too much information to represent in this method), but it was fun learning how to make it work.

Click to enlarge.

Innerspace Map of Our Top 550 Artists & Composers of 2014

Lisztomania!

Franz Liszt Fantasizing at the Piano  Painting by Josef Danhauser

Franz Liszt Fantasizing at the Piano
Painting by Josef Danhauser

Today’s featured box set is from 19th-century Hungarian composer and rock star, Franz Liszt. In line with my affinity for ze Germans, Liszt was one of the most prominent representatives of the “Neudeutsche Schule” (“New German School”). Liszt invented the symphonic poem, work closely with Wagner, popularized a wide array of music by transcribing it for piano, and was perhaps the biggest rock star of his era. (I’m not even kidding; the man had an illness named after him which swept through Europe – “Lisztomania.

At his performances, fans would swarm around him, clamoring for trophies ranging from his gloves to broken piano strings. In one account from Franz Liszt: The Virtuoso Years by Alan Walker:

Liszt once threw away an old cigar stump in the street under the watchful eyes of an infatuated lady-in-waiting, who reverently picked the offensive weed out of the gutter, had it encased in a locket and surrounded with the monogram “F.L.” in diamonds, and went about her courtly duties unaware of the sickly odour it gave forth.

Liszt was the Michael Jackson of his day.

Except… without the children.

Or… the monkey.

Lisztaffe_-_Cottontop_Tamarin_-_Saguinus_oedipus
Oh wait… there was a monkey.

The northwest Colombian cotton-top tamarin is readily identified by a long white sagittal crest extending from its forehead to its shoulders. In German-speaking areas, the cotton-top tamarin is commonly known as “Lisztaffe” (literally “Liszt monkey”) as the monkey’s crest is clearly-inspired by the great composer and is likely an expression of the primate’s fandom.

But oh yes… back to Liszt.

The Complete Liszt Piano Music 2

Hailed as a musical triumph; the greatest collection of the complete works of Franz Liszt is an impressive 99-disc box set containing the finest performances of Liszt’s music for solo piano, brilliantly performed by Leslie Howard between 1985 and 2009. All 99 discs were released as a handsome box set with accompanying book in 2010 by the Hyperion label. It took Howard 24 years to complete the monumental task, including every one of his compositions, tone poems and transcriptions as well as newly-discovered manuscripts to create one ultimate and unparalleled collection. Clocking in at 7,256 minutes (almost 121 hours) – this is every note that Ferenc (Franz) Liszt wrote and interpreted for the piano.

I didn’t waste a moment once I had the set, and spent the first day ripping the disc images to FLAC. After an evening of experimentation I arrived at the appropriate template –

“[%directoryname%\]
[‘(‘disc %discnumberandname%’)’]
\%artist% – %album%.cue”

This properly segmented the disc images and volumes into a nested series of subfolders to maintain the set’s original order. (Archival standards MUST be maintained at all times!)

Unfortunately, particularly with classical series, there was no uniformity to the tags for these discs, which were originally issued independently of one another. I tried retrieving data from both MusicBrainz and from FreeDB, but some discs credited the artist as “Leslie Howard (piano)” others as “Liszt Vol.XX” and others simply as “Franz Liszt.” The album titles were no better – some citing the volume number in the series, others only the disc number, and still others the title of the volume only.

And so 7 hours Friday evening were dedicated to manually configuring the tags to have a uniform structure as one commercial release. (If Howard can spend 24 YEARS performing these pieces, then 7 hours is a small price to pay to enjoy it.) Thankfully MP3tag and MediaMonkey both offer batch-tagging commands which facilitated the project, but I’m beginning to understand and appreciate the challenge that is tagging and storing classical recordings!

Franz Liszt, oil on canvas by Henri Lehmann, 1840

Franz Liszt, oil on canvas by Henri Lehmann, 1840

Other than the Top 100 Baroque LPs collage I picked up earlier in the year, and excepting a few Debussy LPs (namely Isao Tomita’s Snowflakes are Dancing and La Mer), I have never ventured far beyond the shores of classical music. My girlfriend swears by Liszt, proclaiming him the most influential composer of the 19th century, so it seemed an appropriate place to start.

With the ripping task complete, I’ve added the box set to the library on my server and will be enjoying them each day at work in the order they are presented in the collection.  By my calculations, this will take precisely 3 weeks to complete. I’m looking forward to it!

A brief summary of the collection:

Discs 1-6: Etudes and early works
Discs 7-19: Major original compositions
Discs 20-29: Dances, marches, & transcriptions of Liszt’s own works
Discs 30-36: Pieces on national themes
Discs 37-49: Operatic fantasies, transcriptions, and paraphrases
Discs 50-61: Concert transcriptions
Discs 62-69: The Beethoven transcriptions
Discs 70-79: The Schubert transcriptions
Discs 80-94: Rare works and new discoveries
Discs 95-99: Music for piano and orchestra

I do so love a proper archive.

 

The 100 Greatest Recordings of All Time

Last week I saw a post from redditor bsparks who found The Franklin Mint’s 100 Greatest Recordings of All Time at his local Half Price Books at a great price.  He evidently lugged home all 100 discs (nearly 150 pounds of wax) and spent the next year taking them in, one disc at a time.

Franklin Mint - 100 Greatest Recordings of All Time (Cover)

If there’s one thing at which The Mint excels, it is deluxe packaging.  bsparks kindly offers a gallery exploring the collection in great detail.

From the official text:

The 100 Greatest Recordings of all time from the Franklin Mint has been called the ultimate private library of fine recorded music. Every recording was selected by a distinguished panel of music authorities (Martin Bookspan, Schuyler G. Chapin, Franco Ferrara, Irving Kolodin, William Mann, R. Gallois Montbrun, Marcel Prawy, Andre Previn, William Schuman and H. H. Stuckenschmidt).

The library was first announced on the 100th anniversary of Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph. Each recorded treasure was pressed with a special vinyl formulation that enabled a clear, quiet playing surface on a more rigid LP disk. Every record was pressed in an atmosphere controlled “clean room.” There are 50 library cases. Each library case houses two proof-quality long playing records, with each record resting, fully protected, within its own dust free compartment. The record is firmly supported within the closed compartment in such a way that the grooved playing surface never touches any part of the case. Each library case includes a specially written and illustrated commentary, by a respected music expert. The composers and their works are discussed in detail, and background information is provided on the orchestras, conductors, ensembles, and featured soloists. This is a truly unsurpassed private library of recorded music.”

1920039_10152019020046185_898011793_n

As an archivist, I was instantly intrigued by this mammoth set, though the sheer volume of the beast gave me pause.

Thankfully, I found the next best thing on the Web.  Some wonderful, dedicated man or woman took the time to rip all 100 discs to FLAC.  Each of the discs were pre-cleaned with wood glue, played on an Empire 598 Turntable with an ADC XLM MKIII cartridge, powered by Bottlehead Seduction and Bottlehead Foreplay Tube Phono Preamps, and expertly ripped to 24 bit / 96 kHzFLAC using GoldWave.  The tracks were then ClickRepaired and separated, log files were generated, and the final cuts were meticulously organized and tagged into their respective volume folders.

1926719_10152019020756185_2138453487_n
But perhaps the above-and-beyond effort of the collection was the 672 professional photographs of every center label, every page of each book accompanying each of the 50 volumes, the cross-reference index, the pamphlet and the letter signed by Stanley Walker, Director of the Franklin Mint’s Music Dept.

A standing ovation – this is archival FLAC as it should be!

If you’re not quite up to downloading this 80GB library, there is also a 320VBR available, transcoded from the same source audio at the more manageable size of 17.1GB.

I am going to keep an eye out in the event that an affordable copy of the actual set surfaces within a reasonable distance from my home… because there is no way in hell I’m going pay shipping for this baby.