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…”


“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.


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.


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.





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.



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.


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.

Miles Prints sm

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.


I’m going to like it there.