What Does Your Soul Look Like?

DJ Shadow - What Does Your Soul Look Like EP.JPG

It was by the most serendipitous circumstances that I happened upon this magical musical discovery. It would be more accurate to state that the piece found me when I was ready to receive it. I’d recently revisited DJ Shadow’s complex turntablist opus, Endtroducing and found one particular track title resurfacing in my mind again and again after I’d put the record away. The track appears in two parts on the album – the classic, “What Does Your Soul Look Like?”

Perhaps it was the existential considerations which had been present in my mind of late, but at one fateful moment I felt curious enough to research the title and quickly discovered that the two segments from the LP are edits from a four-part extended work released as an EP fully-exploring the nocturnal and reflective territory hinted at by the selections on Endtroducing. I quickly secured a copy of the EP and cued it up.

It was instantly apparent that this was going to be an exceptional recording. Much in the spirit of Moondog’s microcosmic symphonies, What Does Your Soul Look Like Pts I-IV is effectively DJ Shadow’s own symphonique. There are even sonic similarities to what Moondog dubbed, “snaketime” in the way the focus and rhythm shifts constantly and fluidly throughout the four movements.

Before the session completed, I really felt it was a piece I’d like to have in an original pressing to enjoy spinning again and again. There was only one copy listed for sale in the States, belonging to DJ Tom Thump. Tom has played at shows or opened for Gilles Peterson, Kruder and Dorfmeister, Thievery Corporation, Bonobo (5 times), Morrissey, Jamiroquai, Femi Kuti, Tricky, Morcheeba, The Original Meters, Gang of Four, George Clinton, Bonobo, and many others. I trusted that this would be a disc handled with care.

I dialed it up, loud, and extinguished all lamps until the sound engulfed the room. What follows is the play-by-play of my experience.

Pt II:

A brief horn instrumental innocently opens the disc, followed by a haunting voice singing lonely with interspersed bass-drenched speech:

“We are standing here at the edge of time…”

(Cold…)

“Our road was paved to the edge of time…”

(Steel… Sparks…)

“Come with me now to the edge of time…”

(Does anyone remember who I am?)

And then silence. And a narrator, (sampled from the 1983 film, Brainstorm), tells the listener that this is their last chance to turn back with a cautionary warning:

“In a few moments, you will have an experience which will seem completely real…

It will be the result of your subconscious fears, transformed to your conscious awareness…

You have 5 seconds to terminate this tape…

5, 4, 3, 2, 1.”

And on the “one” a steady, persistent guitar loop ushers the listener in and a swirl of sustained strings, snippets of soulful vocals, DJ scratching, jazz licks, and funky percussion gradually transport you into the dark, contemplative world Shadow has built on this EP.

The guitar and drums carry on for more than ten minutes while a vast array of samples weave their way in and out of the piece. There are glimpses of Richard Harris, a reflective soliloquy from the 1973 film, Johnny Got His Gun, Willie Bobo and company’s “Shelley’s Blues”, and several others before the instrumentation finally relents, leaving the listener with the eerily emotionless android voice from George Lucas’ THX-1138 speaking:

“Can you feel this? … What is that buzzing? … Are you now, or have you ever been? … Move slowly.”

Shadow brilliantly evokes a disquieting sense of unease while simultaneously creating a cerebral space that is endlessly intriguing and the listener eagerly presses on.

Pt III:

A rise of bubbling and echo-laden spoken word fragments, chimes, flute, and minimal piano create a mesmerizing atmosphere for the opening of the second movement.  The speech is from the 1980 sci-fi film, Altered States.

“…I’m asking you to make a small quantum jump with me, to accept one deviant concept – that our other states of consciousness are as real as our waking state and that reality can be externalized!…

…We’re beyond mass and matter here, beyond even energy. What we’re back to is the first thought!”

And suddenly, a bass drum and hi-hat kick in full force front and center of the soundstage. Flute and piano are sprinkled in jazzlike hits accompanied by scratching and high-frequency tones from an indiscernible instrument. There is a momentary release from the percussion and the jazzy traces hang in the air before its energetic return to close the track. And not a drop of this sounds artificial or electronically-contrived. There is a brilliant fluidity and ever-present organic quality about this entire record, which keeps the sound fresh and timeless despite the nearly twenty-five years that have passed since its composition.

Pt IV:

A smattering of dystopian dialog (lifted from the movie Dead Calm), humming machinery, and ominous indistinguishable noises return the listener to the dark, melancholic environ that so much of this record occupies. And swiftly, a fleeting rest signals the introduction of the classic, “WDYSLL? (Pt IV)” we all know and love from Endtroducing. The track is an intimate, cerebral, and undeniably classy foray into minimal, soulful jazz turntablism. The vocal elements are restrained, subtle, and perplexingly elusive. This selection expertly captures the lonely, somber, and introspective space that DJ Shadow explored over the course of his universally-lauded epic debut LP.

Pt I:

A booming low-register voice utters the word, “…ONE…” followed by a single bell chime and an array of jazzy components for the briefest introductory moment before the percussion manifests and seizes your full attention. Fantastically sparse horns and traces of a choir appear… (or is it my imagination?) And a mournful voice (evidently sampled from Shawn Phillips’ “All Our Love”) sings words which drift into and out of comprehensibility:

“And why should we want to go back where we were, how many years… (could that have been?)”

“And why should we want to live a life that’s past and nevermore… (will ever be?)”

Which is followed by crooning in Italian – the voice of Gianni Nazzaro singing, “C’era Già” which, I believe, translates thusly:

“…and there was already this love that we live long ago, there was already a rose I gave you… the songs I sang, the sadness in joy…”

There is a beautiful sorrow and sophistication from start to finish on this record, and it really works to create a world the listener can disappear into. The final “Pt 1” movement has seven distinct known samples, including “Nucleus” by The Alan Parsons Project, “Voice of the Saxophone” by The Heath Brothers, the aforementioned lyrical excerpt from “All Our Love” by Shawn Phillips, percussion from David Young’s “Joe Splivingates”, the legendary “This is not a dream” pirate broadcast from John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, and finally, “…It is happening again…” from the episode “Lonely Souls” of the TV series Twin Peaks. These elements coalesce seamlessly into one cohesive lucid dream of an album.

After a single breath, the female voice from the opening of the disc warmly repeats the now-familiar phrase, “here we are at the edge of time…”

And then, with tranquil grace and incalculable ease, the instrumentation trails off leaving silence, depositing the listener back to this mortal world. Enter the final, seventh sample for the closing movement – a dialog between two characters from Westworld saying,

“Don’t you want to listen?”

“Nah, I heard it the last time.”

And the needle raises and returns, leaving the listener awed and transformed.

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

Avant-Pop… and Space Ghost

I took a trip out to my city’s antique mall this afternoon for the first time this year. When I arrived I was surprised to find two They Might Be Giants singles featuring exclusive tracks which were only otherwise available on the 1997 oddities compilation, THEN: The Earlier Years. (The set is fantastic – an absolute essential tour of the duo’s earliest recordings.)

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But the greatest value of my trip was, as always, my conversation with my favorite vendor, Bob the Record Guy. He always knows what titles to pull for me. I chatted him up for his knowledge about the music scene between 1976 and 1984, particularly the better parts of new wave, essentials of no wave, post-punk, avant/art-pop, and gothic/ethereal wave classics. He was happy to make a number of recommendations and sent me home with a few albums to get me started.

I confess that many of the artists and albums listeners take it as read that I would know are entirely new to me at present. Born in ’81, I was a touch too young for it all the first go-round and by the time I hit the age of history-combing musical discovery in college, the all-consuming craze was experimental electronic, ambient, and post-rock music. So while I’m well-versed in late-60s/early-70s synth music and 90s indie pop, my knowledge of that seminally developmental decade in between is limited to my memories of MTV flashback syndication and of dollar bin comp cassettes of 80s radio pop. (And damn it, I’m sick and tired of “Always Something There to Remind Me.“)

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Terrible cassette I purchased at a Lechmere department store in 1992.
From what Bob had immediately available, he sent me home with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s 1984 LP, Junk Culture, (with a startlingly-clearly labeled one-sided 7″ single). While the band’s first four LPs showcase OMD at the best, I was happy to pick up anything for starters.

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But it was the next record I was given which became my favorite discovery of the day. While discussing no wave and other manic, atonal music of the 80s, Bob pulled out a copy of Lounge Lizards’ Big Heart – Live in Tokyo (1986). He explained that, while the album is certainly a far cry from the aggressive dissonance of albums like No New York, that it might serve as a fitting introduction to 80s exercises in what Ornette Coleman termed, harmolodics.

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For those unfamiliar, wiki says, “Harmolodics may loosely be defined as an expression of music in which harmony, movement of sound, and melody all share the same value…” resulting in music which “…achieves an immediately open expression, without being constrained by tonal limitations, rhythmic pre-determination, or harmonic rules.” While I am well-acquainted with standards of free/avant-garde jazz, (I have many of the essentials in my record library), what I didn’t realize was how this philosophy had been embraced by Sonny Sharrock and utilized in his composition of the theme to Adult Swim’s Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Bob brought up the track as an example of harmolodics and spun several tracks from Big Heart which sounded quite similar to the theme. While the first two selections from Big Heart fall a bit flat, those patient enough to go deeper into the record will find that it is arguably the best effort of their catalog.

Home from our outing, I’m surveying my finds of the day and looking forward to more discoveries of albums I should have listened to ages ago. Bob also recommended that I explore the cassette-only label, ROIR (Reachout International Records) founded in 1981 for more great music. Thanks, Bob!

The Innerspace Labs Top 100 Albums

Recently a vinyl community I frequent held a month-long event where members shared their Top 30 LPs. I had a wonderful time coming up with my list and writing small reviews for each title. Unfortunately, I had a terrible time limiting my list to just 30, and it quickly grew to a Top 100. (And even then, I’ve cheated here and there with multi-disc box sets and discographies.)

But it all seemed too good not to share here at Innerspace so please enjoy a gallery of 100 of my favorite albums. Mouse over any thumbnail for artist and title info and click any image to expand and view the full-resolution photograph. All albums are presented alphabetically by artist.

Have I made any glaring omissions? Any indisputable electronic classics? Let me know! Perhaps we’ll have to push it to 200…

Enjoy!

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.

Revolution Starter Kit

I’ve just returned from antiquing escapades with my lady friends and brought home several groovy treasures!

I picked up my first-ever Pharoah Sanders record – a mint first press of the legendary Karma LP featuring “The Creator Has a Master Plan.”

I also snagged original copies of Jimmy McGriff’s deeply-funky Soul Sugar LP and a newly traded in first press of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s noise pop debut, Psychocandy from 1985.

Before I left I also grabbed a clean copy of The Trouser Press Guide to 90s Rock – a mammoth oversize reference text of 2300 of the greatest punk, grunge, indie-pop, techno, noise, avant-garde, ska, hip-hop, new country, metal, roots, rock, folk, modern dance, and world music recordings from the decade of my high school years.

It’s the first time I’ve considered buying a critical text on rock music (I usually prefer 20th century classical and jazz), but this seemed an excellent starting point.

AND as a nifty bonus, from the Devil’s Library section of the antique mall I picked up a (R)evolution: A Journal of 21st Century Thought zine from The Anarchists of Chicago in the early 1980s which features a piece by Aleister Crowley.

‪#‎sh*tyoucantbuyatthemall‬

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St Germain is BACK with a refreshingly creative project!

Ludovic Navarre, aka St Germain’s first album in 15 years is an exciting interweaving of downtempo electronic and deep house, jazz, folk, African, world, & country music.

St Germain is perhaps best-known for his downtempo singles, “So Flute” and “Rose Rouge” from his Tourist LP from 2000.  I confess, when I read that the artist was releasing his first album in over a decade I was skeptical whether or not his best years were behind him. Thankfully, Navarre quickly dispelled my doubts as soon as I tuned in to the opening track.

Here are “So Flute…”

…and “Rose Rouge.”

For the album’s promotion, St Germain commissioned Urban Art creator Gregos, known for his smiling and frowning faces stuck on walls throughout Paris and Europe, to create a series of masks painted with the flags of the nations of the world. Navarre then traveled the globe covertly installing the masks in public spaces. His website features a map with mask markers indicating in which countries they have been found. Sending his listeners on a global treasure hunt, those who find the mask for their country receive the double LP for free.

Artists take note – This brilliant, heady music and the creator’s unique promotional project are precisely the stuff that will make an album successful in the digital age.

Check out video for the first single which includes footage of the mask installations below.

UPDATE: Delighted to find that my local indie record shop had a copy in stock!

Published in: on October 25, 2015 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Challenge: Best Strategies for Navigating the Waters of a Large Media Library

In recent weeks I’ve found my listening habits growing stagnant as my artist and label discographies are slowly exhausted.  The challenge for users with large media libraries is the task of finding yet-unexplored territories and developing strategies to facilitate the charting of those new waters.

One of the caveats of my otherwise-stellar media server software is that there is no way to browse by genre.  I realized this evening that queuing a chronology of albums from a given genre would be a wonderful way to explore new sounds within my library so I went to work straight away and by nightfall the project was a success.

A few initial discoveries – classics of soul jazz

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Using the genre text cloud feature in gmusicbrowser I constructed .m3u playlists of several intriguing but unfamiliar genres within my collection.  Each list  contained 10,000 to 17,000 of the tracks best-representative of the genre based upon RYM data and discographic libraries from the genre’s most prominent artists and composers.

I ended up splitting the Jazz list into two subsets – early jazz recordings from 1924-1958 and modern jazz recordings from 1959-1979.  This will help make the listening experience more uniform and will be an easier load on my mobile devices when spooling the lists.

With the task completed, I’m now ready to queue up thousands of hours of quality content from an array of genres I’d only explored superficially when I first acquired the recordings.  I’m looking forward to new discoveries and to the wonderful soundtrack it will provide for my days at the office!

The first batch of playlists are as follows:

  • Hot on the One – A Funk Odyssey
  • Ambient Worlds
  • Anatomy of a Murder: Film Noir Soundtracks
  • Beatless Space – Pure Drone
  • Beautiful Noise – 90s Dream Pop
  • Friday Nights – Intelligent Drum & Bass
  • 30 Years of Music from the Hearts of Space
  • Ninja Tune – The First 150 Albums
  • Psybient Dreams
  • Cinematic Soundscapes – Music for Films
  • The Chill Out Room – Downtempo Classics
  • The Imaginarium – Early Gypsy Jazz
  • The World of Jazz (1924-1958)
  • The World of Jazz (1959-1979)

Time to start listening!

Published in: on August 20, 2015 at 9:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Transformative Soundscapes – The Latest from Innerspace Labs

This week arrived two absolutely astounding additions to our library.  Each is a milestone in its own right so I’ll waste no time getting right to them.

The first is a modern classic from the legendary NinjaTune label.  Originally released in 2004, Skalpel’s self-titled double LP was repressed through beatdelete in 2013. The DJs behind Skalpel, Marcin Cichy and Igor Pudło were dissatisfied with the humdrum music of their native Poland.

Skalpel Polish Jazz

“The Polish music scene is very poor at the moment. Nothing really interesting happens. The majority of music on TV and radio is kind of ‘World Idol’. Very little individuality – just copies of American music.” (interview, R4NT.com)

Their response was to create their own sound – “resurrecting the dusty & smokey spirit of polish jazz of 60s and 70s, re-imagined for 21st century audiophiles.” (NinjaTune.net)

I’d nearly pre-ordered the 2013 180g 2LP beatdelete reissue when it was announced, but had let the opportunity pass.  Thankfully, a member of one of the vinyl communities I frequent recently posted a shot of the album which inspired me to give it a second listen.  I was camping at the time, but came prepared with my Sennheiser circumaural studio monitors.  Around 11pm I laid back, closed my eyes, and lost myself to the album.  The 5-wheel camper and fold-out mattress was instantly transformed into something more like this:

Dimly-Lit NightClub

By the middle of the third selection, I’d already tracked down a sealed copy and processed my payment – certain that this was an essential for my library.

Mr Tim G – my sincere thanks for re-opening my ears to this album!

Skalpel - Skalpel

 

 The second (and equally-outstanding) recording is a selection from minimalist composer, Terry Riley’s catalog.  I already have A Rainbow in Curved Air, The Church of Anthrax (with John Cale), The Ten Voices of the Two Prophets, and know very well that I need his most-celebrated work – In C.

But this particular record – Persian Surgery Dervishes, had escaped my radar.  It was only after I saw numerous copies surface among members of a social network that I decided this was something I needed to hear.

Terry Riley

At first listen, I was completely enveloped in a wash of pulsing electric organ loops.  Each side-long track sounds as if it were an exercise in the tape loop technique developed by Riley and Pauline Oliveros (later popularized by Fripp and Eno).  However, the rapid, cyclic melodies heard on each side of the album are in reality two LIVE solo performances of Riley in LA and in Paris performing on a just-intoned Yamaha organ.  Even more astounding is that the second performance sounds far different from the first, but is simply Riley demonstrating the importance of improvisation.  The two recordings are each of the same composition.

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Dervishes is beautifully meditative and is really an album you can loose yourself in.  Like most great minimalist compositions, the listener loses their sense of time and the piece becomes the atmosphere of the room.

Special thanks to all of the users who posted their copies of this exceptional record – Andrew G, Tintin E, Andrew T, Luke B, Chris A, and likely many others!

Now get lost.

Miles has arrived, and he is LIVE.

The Miles Davis official website and Facebook page have been brimming with news about the March 25th release of MILES AT THE FILLMORE Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3.  I’ve really enjoyed discovering Miles’ work for this period, and the notion of new live material certainly caught my attention.

Sadly, these recordings are set for release exclusively on CD, with no option for vinyl or digital download that I could see.  The official site does make mention that many of Davis’ recordings are currently being “remastered for iTunes…” (and I will bite my tongue here.)

Not to have my excitement shattered, I hurried over to discogs.com.  The official site stated that these recordings had for the most part only been available as bootlegs before this new release.  A few minutes of digging and I learned that a sampling of both shows were issued on an official compilation double LP on the Columbia label in 1970.  I instantly dismissed this option and pressed onward.  Surely, I could secure a copy of at least one of these legendary performances complete and in a vinyl format.

While on the hunt I found that these two performances are said to have been a pivotal moment for Davis – introducing the deadheads and other rock and roll cultures of the Fillmore scene to fusion and Davis’ own brand of new jazz.  Furthermore it is said that these performances are what secured Miles Davis’ induction as the first instrumentalist in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

And that’s when I found it.  Apparently, the Fillmore West performance was released in its entirety as a double LP in 1973, exclusively in Japan.  But before I scrambled for the discogs marketplace, I acted instead, on a hunch.

I phoned the Bop Shop in my old home town of Rochester, NY.  Tom at the Bop Shop has been the core of the jazz scene in the city for over 30 years.  He’s brought countless jazz acts to the city, and his shop is a must-visit for any discerning music fan.

I told him what I was looking for, and he breathed deep.  “Jeez, I’ve never come across that record,” he confessed.  But before ending the call, he asked me to hold on while he dug around in his back stock just in case.

30 seconds later, he returned to the line.  “Here it is!  Black Beauty, 1973!”

This evening it was waiting on my doorstep.  There’s nothing better than finding great music you never knew you wanted.

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And here’s a 30 minute sample from the performance.