Raymond Scott Rewired

Raymond Scott RewiredSo, stop me if you’ve heard this one already: three remix producers walk into a bar, suddenly gain access to the complete recorded works of the late big-band-leader and electronic music pioneer Raymond Scott, and go back to their studios to do their own thing. Actually, it’s not certain if there was a bar involved, but that minor detail aside, that’s how you get this album.

And what a fun album it is! From a near-nonsensical mash-up of Scott’s electronic music and his extensive work in the realm of commercial jingles (“The Night & Day Household Greyhound”) to a career-spanning mash-up that somehow manages to encapsulate everything Raymond Scott was about (“A Bigger, More Important Sound”) to truly tuneful remixes that almost transcend their source material (“Cindy Byrdsong”, “Hey Ray”), every approach from very light remixing to almost rewriting the DNA of the original music is tried out here. Piling the output of Scott’s legendary homemade analog synthesizer/sequencer, the Electronium, on top of most conventional acoustic sounds does wonders (“Very Very Very Pretty Petticoat”), but that’s no less enjoyable than a cut-and-splice treatment of Scott’s narrated notes on a new piece of recording gear (“Love Song To A Dynamic Ribbon Cardioid”). At the end of the album, it’s all hands on deck as all three producers pay tribute to Scott’s most enduring creation (thanks to its heavy use in Carl Stalling’s cartoon music), “Powerhouse”.

4 out of 4I can’t help but think that Raymond Scott would have approved. The man devised and implemented a new instrument combining the functions of analog synths and sequencers in one massive box, in a near-total vacuum of information as to how one would create such a beast, because these ideas were new to everyone at the time. (No less a later electronic music pioneer than Bob Moog himself would go on to say that Scott was a huge influence on him.) A mind that could jump from big band stylings to otherworldly sounds for which there was no frame of reference…one can’t help but think that, had he been born a bit later, Raymond Scott himself would be doing some remixes of his own.

Order this CD

  1. A Bigger, More Important Sound by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (1:38)
  2. The Toy Penguin by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (3:12)
  3. Cindy Byrdsong by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (4:09)
  4. Ripples on an Evaporated Lake by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (4:10)
  5. Sleigh Ride To A Barn Dance in Sorrento by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (2:01)
  6. The Night & Day Household Greyhound by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (2:50)
  7. Love Song To A Dynamic Ribbon Cardioid by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (2:25)
  8. (Serenade On) Carribea Corner by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (4:08)
  9. In An 18th Century Discotheque by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (3:35)
  10. The Sleepwalking Tobacco Auctioneer by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (2:10)
  11. Very Very Very Pretty Petticoat by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (2:22)
  12. Hillbilly Hostess In Haunted Harlem by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (2:28)
  13. Good Duquesne Air by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (3:06)
  14. Hey Ray by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (2:54)
  15. Mountain High, Valley Higher by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (3:35)
  16. Siberian Tiger On An Ocean Liner by Raymond Scott & The Evolution Control Committee (2:35)
  17. Shirley’s Temple Bells by Raymond Scott & The Bran Flakes (2:12)
  18. Tick Tock Cuckoo On Planet Mars by Raymond Scott & Go Home Productions (1:56)
  19. Powerhouse by Various Artists (3:29)

Released by: Basta
Release date: January 14, 2014
Total running time: 54:55

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Raymond Scott – Manhattan Research, Inc.

Manhattan Research, Inc.Perhaps unfairly best known for having his music repurposed into the backing tracks for classic Warner Bros. cartoons, the late Raymond Scott has another claim to fame that often gets overlooked – he was one of the true pioneers of electronic music in America. In this area, Scott was a true renaissance man: not only did he pioneer the sound, but he built his own instruments and early devices that presaged sequencers, and he even did some of the first work on multi-track recording, at roughly the same time that Les Paul was experimenting with similar ideas. In the 1950s and 1960s (at roughly the same time as the ascendancy of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop), Scott was carving out his own path in an entire new genre of music.

Not only that, but Scott was trying his hardest to make his experiments pay for themselves: he marketed his unusual new sounds as music beds and jingles for commercials, with some success. The two-disc Manhattan Research, Inc. collection chronicles and archives that material, with a selection of Scott’s finished spots (both with and without announcers/singers) as well as demos and experiments that never made it to radio. The commercials range from obscurely local/regional campaigns (Baltimore Gas & Electric Company) to major national campaigns (IBM, Bufferin, Vicks, General Motors and a Sprite radio campaign that remains famous enough that it’s now become an ironic cover song). In a way, Scott achieved his aim by getting a new style of music into the ears of millions of listeners – but until now, not with any recognition.

While the commercials are a nostalgia trip that goes back even before the writer of this review was born, some of the purely instrumental pieces are startlingly ahead of their time: the “Night and Day” track on the first disc could’ve caught on in the 1980s had it been revived then. “Take Me To Your Violin Teacher” could easily be mistaken for modern chiptunes performed with 1980s video game hardware… and yet it was recorded in 1969. “Ripples (Montage)” anticipates abstract-but-tuneful electronic film scoring. “Cindy Electronium” sounds like late ’80s/early ’90s video game music.

There are a few throwbacks as well; Scott tries out completely electronic renditions of his existing compositions including “The Toy Trumpet” (which becomes almost unrecognizable) and “Twilight In Turkey”, both of which featured in their original, jazzier forms on Reckless Nights & Turkish Twilights. Some of his electronic music beds are also quite obviously very close cousins of the music from his Soothing Sounds For Baby albums. There’s also one very interesting guest star on a few tracks: the voice of none other than Jim Henson graces some tracks recorded in 1969, including “Limbo: The Organized Mind”, a free-form ramble set to Scott’s electronic sounds, and a couple of Bufferin commercials which seem to have sprung from “Limbo” both conceptually and musically.

A lot of this information, incidentally, is included in a book that clocks in at around 140 pages and covers Scott’s entire life and career, not just the material on these two CDs, in a wealth of detail.

3 out of 4Raymond Scott is still overdue for a reassessment of one of the electronic music pioneers in the United States, to say nothing of being a composer whose works influenced generations of children (by way of Warner Bros. cartoons). Manhattan Research, Inc. really isn’t a “general audience” listening experience, but it’s an invaluable archive for anyone interested in how electronic music gained a foothold in our national consciousness: in little snippets, 30 or so seconds at a time, behind commercial announcers and jingle singers.

Order this CD

    Disc One

  1. Manhattan Research, Inc. Copyright (0:11)
  2. Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. (Instrumental, Take 4) (1:14)
  3. Bendix 1: The Tomorrow People (1:06)
  4. Lightworks (1:52)
  5. The Bass-line Generator (3:10)
  6. Don’t Beat Your Wife Every Night! (1:44)
  7. B.C. 1675 (Gillette Conga Drum Jingle) (3:16)
  8. Vim (0:59)
  9. Auto-Lite: Sta-Ful (Instrumental) (0:47)
  10. Sprite: Melonball Bounce (Instrumental) (1963)
  11. Sprite: Melonball Bounce (1963)
  12. Wheels That Go (0:50)
  13. Limbo: The Organized Mind (4:33)
  14. Portofino 1 (2:13)
  15. County Fair (1:01)
  16. Lady Gaylord (1:02)
  17. Good Air (Take 7) (0:38)
  18. IBM MT/ST: The Paperwork Explosion (4:31)
  19. Domino (0:33)
  20. Super Cheer (0:34)
  21. Cheer: Revision 3 (New Backgrounds) (0:39)
  22. Twilight in Turkey (1:32)
  23. Raymond Scott Quote / Vicks: Medicated Cough Drops (1:34)
  24. Vicks: Formula 44 (0:46)
  25. Auto-Lite: Spark Plugs (1:00)
  26. Nescafe (1:06)
  27. Awake (0:35)
  28. Backwards Overload (6:04)
  29. Bufferin: Memories (Original) (0:59)
  30. Bandito the Bongo Artist (1:30)
  31. Night and Day (Cole Porter) (1:45)
  32. Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. (“395”) (1:07)
  33. K2r (0:19)
  34. IBM Probe (1:56)
  35. GMGM 1A (1:49)
  36. The Rhythm Modulator (3:37)
    Disc Two

  1. Ohio Plus (0:17)
  2. In the Hall of the Mountain Queen (0:49)
  3. General Motors: Futurama (1:04)
  4. Portofino 2 (2:14)
  5. The Wild Piece (a.k.a. String Piece) (4:07)
  6. Take Me to Your Violin Teacher (1:40)
  7. Ripples (Original Soundtrack) (0:59)
  8. Cyclic Bit (1:04)
  9. Ripples (Montage) (4:06)
  10. The Wing Thing (1:00)
  11. County Fair (Instrumental) (1:00)
  12. Cindy Electronium (1:59)
  13. Don’t Beat Your Wife Every Night! (Instrumental) (1:45)
  14. Hostess: Twinkies (0:32)
  15. Hostess: Twinkies (Instrumental) (0:32)
  16. Ohio Bell: Thermo Fax (0:24)
  17. Pygmy Taxi Corporation (7:11)
  18. Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. (Announce Copy, Take 1) (0:29)
  19. Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. (0:44)
  20. Lightworks (Slow) (1:40)
  21. The Paperwork Explosion (Instrumental) (3:30)
  22. Auto-Lite: Ford Family (1:03)
  23. Auto-Lite: Ford Family (Instrumental) (0:54)
  24. Raymond Scott Quote / Auto-Lite: Wheels (1:50)
  25. Bufferin: Memories (Demo) (0:44)
  26. Space Mystery (Montage) (5:11)
  27. The Toy Trumpet (2:15)
  28. Backwards Beeps (1:05)
  29. Raymond Scott Quote / Auto-Lite: Sta-Ful (1:36)
  30. Lightworks (Instrumental) (1:29)
  31. When Will It End? (3:14)
  32. Bendix 2: The Tomorrow People (1963)
  33. Electronic Audio Logos, Inc. (5:23)

Released by: Basta
Release date: 2000
Disc one total running time: 58:48
Disc two total running time: 63:11

Raymond Scott – Soothing Sounds For Baby, Volume 1

In the formative days of electronic music, one name stands out because it wasn’t associated only with that genre. Raymond Scott, whose unorthodox jazz pieces were less improvised than they were drilled to perfection (long before they were appropriated by Carl Stalling to serve as the soundtrack to the early Bugs Bunny cartoons), was a major American innovator in electronic music. Now, keep in mind, this is far enough back that “electronic music” meant generating and tweaking sounds electrically, and it often yielded results that tended more toward musical abstraction than precision or perfection. (Which is surprising considering Scott’s don’t-deviate-from-the-program jazz days.) Raymond Scott, however, saw the potential of the studio, and purely electrical devices, as instruments in their own right. (If you need evidence of Scott’s pedigree in electronic music, he once counted Robert Moog as an employee.)

Billed as “an infant’s friend in sound,” volume one of Soothing Sounds For Baby relies heavily on mesmerizing repetition – a sort of sonic highway hypnosis. To adult ears, it might seem tinny and grating, but after a while it’s quite relaxing. And with a one-month-old child to test it out on, I can offer an answer to a question that doesn’t come up often when doing music reviews – “Does it work?” – with a resounding yes. Though I’ve already introduced him to such things as the Moody Blues Days Of Future Passed and the Katamari Damacy soundtrack, Soothing Sounds helps to get my son to sleepyland in short order, even if he’s agitated by a loud noise elsewhere in the house or some other recent disturbance. Mr. Scott’s electronic music box gets him right back to sleep, and that’s why we call him the miracle worker.

Now, in some cases, I’m not quite sure how these miracles work – the last two tracks out of five drive me nuts. “Nursery Rhyme” sounds a bit like the alarm on an ’80s digital watch going off, while “Tic-Toc” is exactly as advertised – several minutes of a two-note “tick-tock” sound, which almost seems like it was played on the electronic equivalent of cowbells. But nothing knocks the kiddo out like “Tic-Toc”, so what do I know? Soothing Sounds For Baby seems to have gained new life as a historical curiosity and an 4 out of 4early footnote in ambient music, but let’s not forget that it does exactly what it says on the box. And for that reason, I’ve gotten very well acquainted with it indeed and can recommend it to anyone whose baby needs some tunes of their own.

Order this CD

  1. Lullaby (14:05)
  2. Sleepy Time (4:19)
  3. The Music Box (6:13)
  4. Nursery Rhyme (5:48)
  5. Tic-Toc (8:03)

Released by: Basta
Release date: 1962 (CD reissue in 1997)
Total running time: 38:28

Raymond Scott – Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights

Raymond Scott - Reckless Nights and Turkish TwilightsThis amazing album of vintage late-1930s recordings by American jazz composer Raymond Scott will sound quite familiar if you’ve ever spent any time watching Looney Tunes. Scott, who was considered mondo bizarro in his own day, and was heavily criticized by his session players for asking them to perform his uniquely whimsical jazz numbers as written instead of improvising, lives forever in the annals of American music simply because Warner Bros. cartoon composer extraordinaire Carl Stalling lifted many of his pieces to score the misadventures of Bugs Bunny and friends. Though Raymond Scott’s original recordings of such pieces as “Powerhouse” and “The Penguin” aren’t as raucous and don’t soung as “big” as they later became with Stalling’s help, they are distinctly recognizable and charming in their own right. As the liner notes point out, Scott was something of a technological prodigy as well, recording his works on metallic discs instead of acetate, which means that the music heard here is not only 60+ years old, but is heard exactly as it was recorded (allowing for some audio spectrum limitations of 4 out of 4that vintage studio equipment). I have a feeling that it’ll be a while – probably not even in my lifetime – before Raymond Scott takes his place alongside such American musical luminaries as Copland…but after hearing this very unique music, I can’t help but feel that he will eventually attain that status. After all, thanks to Bugs, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and the Road Runner, who among us hasn’t heard and loved his music?

Order this CD

  1. Powerhouse (2:56)
  2. The Toy Trumpet (3:00)
  3. Tobacco Auctioneer (2:36)
  4. New Year’s Eve in a Haunted House (2:22)
  5. Manhattan Minuet (2:40)
  6. Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals (2:56)
  7. Reckless Night on an Ocean Liner (3:06)
  8. Moment Musical (2:17)
  9. Twilight In Turkey (2:43)
  10. The Penguin (2:38)
  11. Oil Gusher (2:39)
  12. In an 18th Century Drawing Room (2:39)
  13. The Girl at the Typewriter (3:02)
  14. Siberian Sleighride (2:52)
  15. At an Arabian House Party (3:21)
  16. Boy Scout in Switzerland (2:50)
  17. Bumpy Weather in Newark (2:51)
  18. Minuet in Jazz (2:51)
  19. War Dance for Wooden Indians (2:31)
  20. The Quintet Plays Carmen (2:40)
  21. Huckleberry Duck (2:51)
  22. Peter Tambourine (2:55)

Released by: Columbia / Sony
Release date: 1992
Total running time: 61:45