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Experimental Voices #1: Raymond Scott


Experimental Voices #1: Raymond Scott

Raymond Scott was a composer, musician and inventor who began his musical career playing piano in studio orchestras during the heyday of the radio era. He even served as band leader for the radio show Your Hit Parade for a number of years. Amazingly, he never learned to read music and composed by humming the music he heard in his head to members of his band, who would then play it. He recorded rehearsals and later would combine the bits into complete compositions.
With his Raymond Scott Quintette he recorded dozens of tunes, giving them fanciful, humorous names that caught on with the public, such as this one:


Though his compositions had the feel of jazz, they can't really be considered such because there was no improvisation involved. Though Scott never directly composed for animation many of his tunes were later adapted by Warner Brother Studio Orchestra leader Carl Stalling for use in Warner Brothers cartoons. Because of this many people might be familiar with his music and not realize it, such as this number:


In 1950 he composed his one and only classical work, and amazingly, we can hear it on Spotify:


In the 1950s he also became fascinated with the new field of electronic music. Always interested in the technical side of recording he was soon inventing his own instruments and supplying other innovators with parts for their own inventions. Bob Moog was a client. His first foray into electronic music turned out two proto new age, or meditation music efforts titled Soothing Sounds for Baby.


Scott created the Electronium, which he said composed music with Artificial Intelligence, and is considered the first self-composing synthesizer. During this time he created many unusual instruments, including electronic telephone ringers, alarms, chimes, and sirens, vending machines, and ashtrays with accompanying electronic music scores, an electronic musical baby rattle, and an adult toy that produced varying sounds depending on how two people touched each another.


He formed Manhatten Research Institute and soon had many high profile clients for which he created electronic scores for advertising, including this piece, which features Jim Henson (pre-Muppets) doing the voice over:


In the 1980s Scott fell into obscurity and in 1987 after a series of heart attacks, he died. In the 1990s two collections of his work were released, leading to a resurgence in popularity. Some of his compositions were used in Ren & Stimpy cartoons. The Beau Hunks, a Dutch trio released two albums of Raymond Scott covers. Here's one of their recordings:


Today, Raymond Scotts work is loved by fans of quirky, crazy and experimental music. Thanks to Spotify for helping spread Scott's work to new audiences. Here is a playlist of mine featuring Scott's work and others:

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