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 Mega-Box-Set Post

Recently, while exploring the early Miles Davis recordings, I discovered the Miles Davis Quintet LPs released on the Prestige label in the years before his signing with Columbia.
For the past several months I’ve been enjoying the 72-disc Complete Columbia Recordings Collection so I picked up a digital archive of the Miles Davis Quintet albums and enjoyed the sessions very much.

Their final four albums released on the Prestige label were Cookin’… (57), Relaxin’… (’58), Workin’… (1959), and Steamin… (’61) …with the Miles Davis Quintet.

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A quick scan of discogs.com made it clear that original pressings were out of my budget, but that remasters were pressed throughout the 80s and early 90s and readily available, still sealed, for around $20 apiece.  The total with shipping would be $86 for the remasters, so I spent a few extra days investigating a cheaper option.

The following Saturday I found my answer!  In 1972 and 1974, Prestige released two double-LPs with matching artwork and typography remastering all four of the albums I was after.  Better still, I acquired both sets in VG+ for a total of $21.

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Proud additions to my Miles Davis collection!

Next I jumped at the opportunity to order a copy of Moondog’s second self-titled LP from 1969.  It was my first exposure to the legendary blind avant-garde classical street performer and Odin-impersonator, and I knew I had to have it for my library.  The LP was reissued in 2003 but I secured a clean original pressing for $50, so I was happy.

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Later, while discussing early German avant garde-music with a coworker, he mentioned The Second Viennese School, which I investigated as soon as I was home from work.  There is a digital Collection available which includes Webern: The Complete Works (a 6-disc set), Schoenberg: The Piano Music, and the 1909-1935 Berg Collector’s Edition, (an 8-disc set).  I will be exploring these recordings while reading about the composers more in the coming weeks.

Out of curiosity I searched for the term “avant-garde” in the digital marketplace and found a wonderful set to further my education.  The Progressive/Kraut/Avant Garde/Psych Collection contains 753 albums totaling over 517 hours of material, most of which are out of print on vinyl.  Resources like these are excellent starting points for those taking their first steps into progressive rock and who learn best by actually listening to these rare recordings before ordering the original pressings.

Also on the subject of volumous box sets, there is a magnificent 8-DVD collection which I can’t recommend enough for listeners looking to explore the psybient genre I featured in my previous post.  The discs are expertly organized – the first disc compiling the works of Simon Posford (Celtic Cross, Dub Trees, Hallucinogen, Shpongle, The Infinity Project, etc.)

And DVD #6 is a compilation of fourty official psybient various-artists collections.

In all, the set contains over 329 hours of psychill albums and is an essential collectable for archivists or for anyone in need of some meditative chill-out music to spin while they’re working.

And the final multi-disc set of the week is the limited-edition Klaus Schulze: Ultimate Edition which compiles 50 CDs of previously unreleased or limited-release recordings into one massive set of ambient bliss.

I’ll be playing each of the collections highlighted above at the office for certain.

And to celebrate my new career (and having my own office for the first time in my life), my girlfriend presented me with a 24×36 framed print of a young Miles Davis to hang behind my desk.

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I added a framed original pressing of Birth of the Cool to the adjacent wall and picked up a new pair of speakers for my desk.

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I’m going to like it there.