Thursday, May 24, 2012

75 Years of Hungry Cannibals

75 years ago, on this date, Raymond Scott returned to CBS studios with his Quintette for their third session to record "Dinner Music For A Pack Of Hungry Cannibals." It was an immediate hit when it was released in 1937, and is immortalized in "Which Is Witch" and at least 16 other classic LOONEY TUNES. Download the vintage Columbia recording from the iTunes store, or Amazon, and check-out this cover by Kronos Quartet. Details about our year-long celebration of the 75th Anniversary here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

BOB MOOG's memories of his friend and colleague Raymond Scott

Although the late Bob Moog was more than 25 years younger than Raymond Scott, they were professional colleagues, and friends. Here, in his own words, are Bob's memories of Raymond:

In the mid-1950s, I was in my early twenties, living with my parents, and attending Columbia University. In the evenings my father and I would make theremins as something between a hobby and a business. One day we got a call from Raymond Scott, who we knew from radio and television. He invited us to come out and see his place in North Hills, on Long Island, New York. We shot up Northern Boulevard and eventually we got there. It was a beautiful, big, four-story mansion surrounded by elegant grounds. Raymond greeted us and showed us in.

First, he showed us his recording studio. Then a very large room with a cutting lathe, and all sorts of monitoring and mixing equipment on the main floor of the house. I remember the amplifiers that drove the cutting head of this disc lathe were behind a screen, and they were big, fat vacuum tubes that would glow yellow like the sun at sunset.
Next he took us downstairs and showed us around. There was an elevator going from one floor to the other. The entire downstairs of the house was a dream workshop. It consisted of several rooms. A large room with nothing in it but machine tools of the highest quality. Everything you could want. There were four or five lathes, drill presses, milling machines, and on, and on. The next room was a wood-working shop. Once again, completely equipped. Next was an electronics assembly room, and off that there was a large, thoroughly equipped stockroom of all kinds of electronic parts.
So there my father and I were with our mouths hanging open! It looked like heaven to me. My father was an electrical engineer who worked for Consolidated Edison, and I was a twenty year-old electronics nerd who found himself on the track to becoming an engineer...

''It was the size of a football field! More than half a dozen big rooms, impeccably set-up. The floors were painted like a high class industrial laboratory. He had a whole room of metal-working equipment, a room full of wood-working equipment, and this huge barn of a room for electronics.''

Raymond then brought us into the big room downstairs where he had music synthesis equipment. He had rack upon rack of stepping relays that were used by the telephone company. The relay would step through all positions when dialed. He had them hooked up to turn sounds on and off. It was a huge, electro-mechanical sequencer! And he had it programmed to produce all sorts of rhythmic patterns. It looked like something out of a science fiction movie. First, we heard all these funny sounds coming from all over the place — 'beep-beep, boomp, bop-bop' — and then 'click-click-click-click-click' on top of that — dozens and hundreds of things going 'click-click-click.' We were standing right in the middle of it. It was disorienting. I'd never seen anything like it! Never tried to imagine anything like it. And I'm sure it gave me something to think about over the years.
Raymond also showed us his "Circle Machine," which was a big disc, and a rotating arm with a photo-cell at the end of the arm. There was a series of lights on the circumference of the disc that this arm would pass over, and you could adjust the brightness of each lightbulb. As the arm swung around, and the photocell was illuminated and got darker, the different sounds would come on and off.
Obviously, not everybody could do these things. It required a huge amount of imagination, a huge amount of money, and an impressive amount of craziness too!

''Raymond Scott bought a theremin from me in the early 1950s. A couple of months later, he invited us to see his prototype of a keyboard instrument. This was NOT a theremin anymore. Raymond quickly realized there were more elegant ways of controlling an electronic circuit.''

The evening ended by Raymond placing an order for a theremin with us. But he wouldn't tell us what it was for. Many months later, we delivered the theremin. Several months after we delivered, he calls again and asks us to come and see how he had used our theremin. Once again we got in the car and headed eastward on Northern Boulevard.
Off in one corner of his electronics workshop was our theremin that we had sold to him, with the pitch antenna cut off! In place of the pitch antenna there were wires going off to an assembly of parts in the back of a keyboard. Raymond called this his "Clavivox." This was not a theremin anymore — Raymond quickly realized there were more elegant ways of controlling an electronic circuit. He used a very steady source of light instead of a theremin for subsequent models. There was a shutter consisting of photographic film that got progressively lighter as it went up. This produced a voltage which then changed the pitch of the tone generator.
Raymond had everything adjusted so that, sure enough, when you played the keyboard you got the notes of the scale. But the really neat thing, as he pointed out, was that now you could glide from note to note — you could play expressively — you didn't have to play discrete notes.
The waveform of the sound determines the tone-color, and there are several different ways of changing the waveform that are characteristic of, but not identical to analog synthesizer. Much of the sound producing circuitry of the Clavivox resembles very closely the first analog synthesizer my company made in the mid-'60s. Some of the sounds are not the same sounds that you can get with an analog synthesizer, but they're close. The Clavivox also generated a vibrating voltage, or "vibrato," which can be turned on and off from the left-hand control.
There are three controls under the finger of your left to produce a fast attack, a slow attack, or a silence between notes. There's a lever you can press to extinguish a note so you can go very fast on and off. Although it has a three octave keyboard, there's a range switch on the front panel so you can play very low to very high. The Clavivox looks sort of like a synthesizer too; it has a three-octave keyboard, some left-hand controls, and a few knobs in the front. And this was all very impressive. Raymond said that he wanted us to see this because he was going to design a commercial product based on it.

Over the years, from time to time, Raymond would ask us to design a circuit for him. Then he'd come up from New York City and pick it up, or tell us what else he'd want. This happened every couple of months, and we became fairly good friends...

''Raymond Scott had brilliant intuition. He once said to me, 'The trouble with you is that you believe just because you think about something, then it's done.' I was having a hell of a problem managing my time. Raymond put his finger on part of the problem.''

Now we cut to 1964. We began building synthesizers in Trumansburg, near Ithaca in central New York State. He used to come up to Trumansburg periodically, to give me new assignments and check up on how our work was coming.
We built circuits for Raymond, but often he wouldn't tell us what they were for. He was always very protective of his ideas and current projects. And he wasn't ashamed of it. He'd tell me, 'It's none of your business. Just build this circuit, and I'll take it from there.'
The listening public first became aware of the electronic music medium subliminally, through radio and TV commercials. Raymond Scott explored electronic sounds in widely-heard commercials during the 1950s and '60s, well before electronics infiltrated pop music through the Rock and Roll idiom. Raymond got a lot of his electronic music into radio and television, but he also went much further out and did pieces of music with the equipment he built. They don't sound as weird anymore, they sound similar to what artists are doing today.
Raymond Scott was definitely in the forefront of developing electronic music technology, and in the forefront of using it commercially as a musician.
He was the first — he foresaw the use of sequencers and electronic oscillators to make sound — these were the watershed uses of electronic circuitry.
He didn't always work in the standard ways, but that didn't matter because he had so much imagination, and so much intuition, that he could get something to work. And do exactly what he wanted it to do.
Raymond Scott was one of those rare people who was influenced by the future. Not by the past, not by the present, but by the future. He did things that later turned out to be directly for the future. I think Raymond was tuned into the celestial, cosmic network — the one that is out there in time as well as space — to a greater extent than the rest of us.

Text above is © Bob Moog

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

New Comic Strip

"Cul de Sac" is a light-hearted comic strip by Richard Thompson about the life of a pre-school girl named Alice Otterloop. Raymond Scott is mentioned in this recent episode — see the comic: here

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Raymond Scott on Mickopedia

Raymond Scott, as profiled on Mickopedia ("the feckin' free Irish encyclopedia"):

A 1931 graduate of the feckin' Juilliard School of Music, where he studied piano, theory and composition, Scott, under his birth name, began his professional career as an oul' pianist for the feckin' CBS Radio house band. Would ye swally this in a minute now? His older (by eight years) brother Mark conducted the oul' orchestra. Arra' would ye listen to this shite? Harry reportedly adopted the bleedin' pseudonym "Raymond Scott" to spare his brother charges of nepotism when the orchestra began performin' the bleedin' pianist's idiosyncratic compositions. In 1935 he married Pearl Zimney (1910-2001). Be the hokey, here's a quare wan.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Tobias Stretch: Reel II

Tobias Stretch: Reel II (2011)
Animation: Tobias Stretch
Music: The Raymond Scott Quintette 
"War Dance for Wooden Indians" (1938)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Mitzi Scott (July 18, 1918 - May 3, 2012)

Mitzi Scott passed away in Santa Clarita, CA, on May 3, 2012, at age 93. She was the widow of legendary composer, jazz bandleader and electronic music pioneer Raymond Scott.

Born Mathilde Waldman, on July 18, 1918, in New York City to Muriel and Arthur Waldman, she grew up in the city, where she started dancing at age 10, thus developing a lifelong passion.

From 1937-43 Mitzi was part of the Roxyette troupe at the famed Roxy Theater on West 50th Street. In 1943 she first appeared on Broadway, and eventually performed in the musicals Star and Garter (with Gypsy Rose Lee), Something for the Boys (with Ethel Merman), and the road company of Let's Face It (with Benny Rubin). She performed on three national USO tours, headlined by Bing Crosby, Jackie Cooper, Phil Silvers, Martha Raye, and James Cagney.

In 1946 she married Hewitt Clay Curtis. The marriage dissolved a year and a half later, after which she sold advertising for the Miami Daily News and the Long Island Star-Journal. She became a dance instructor for the world-renowned Arthur Murray Dance Studios, and then served as a District Manager for Avon Cosmetics.
Mitzi was introduced to Raymond Scott in July 1966, and they were married in January 1967. (It was Mitzi's second marriage, Raymond's third.) She lived with Scott in Farmingdale, Long Island, at Willow Park, a sprawling suburban industrial park where Scott rented a large space that he had fashioned into a home and electronics lab. Mitzi undertook the administration of Scott's businesses during a period when he was inventing now-historic electronic instruments and The Electronium, a machine that composed using artificial intelligence. When Scott was hired by Berry Gordy to work for Motown in 1971, the couple relocated to Los Angeles, with Mitzi coordinating most of the cross-country logistics.

In retirement, Scott suffered a major stroke in 1987, which eventually caused severe financial hardship for the couple. Mitzi nursed Raymond almost singlehandedly in their Van Nuys home until his death in February 1994, at age 85. Shortly after her husband's death, Mitzi donated his extensive collection of over 3,000 personally recorded discs and tapes, covering his career from 1932-1987, to the Marr Sound Archives at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. She sold Raymond's no-longer functioning Electronium to Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh in 1996, amid a resurgence of interest in her late husband's music and legacy.

In 1997, Mitzi moved to Santa Clarita and joined a troupe of former professional dancers called the Gingersnaps.  She was active in several charitable organizations, including Mes Amis, the North Hollywood Women’s Club, the Women’s Canadian Club and the Hope is Forever Foundation (City of Hope), for which she served as an officer. She was a member of the Sages group at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.

She was a passionate animal lover, and regularly took in stray dogs and cats, and adopted rescue animals. In 2007 the National Wildlife Federation designated her back yard as a certified wildlife habitat. She told the Santa Clarita Signal, "Everybody who has a backyard ought to take care of the wildlife. It's very soothing to look out your window and see butterflies and birds."

Mrs. Scott is survived by four stepchildren: Carrie Makover, Stan Warnow, Deborah Scott Studebaker, and Elizabeth Adams, as well as fourteen grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held on Friday, June 22, 11:00 am, at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 24901 Orchard Village Road, Santa Clarita. A reception will follow in the church hall. The service is open to the public.

In lieu of cards and flowers, her family has requested that donations be made in the name of Mitzi Scott to City of Hope (via check payable to "Hope is Forever," mailed to Hope is Forever, c/o Chick Benveniste, 409 Meadows Drive, Glendale CA 91202), or online to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.