No Trivia

Archive for the ‘Raymond Scott’ Category

Raymond Scott: Electronic Pioneer, Imminent Hip-Hop Sample Staple…Action Figure?

leave a comment

For the 100th anniversary of Raymond Scott’s birth, PressPOP’s making an action figure of the composer/guy sampled in some Dilla and Madlib tracks/electronics pioneer and it looks pretty cool.

Similar to the Robert Moog figure–and a Kauffman brothers figure?–a couple years ago, this one similarly takes a retro cartoon style to the figure and design (done by Archer Prewitt of The Sea and Cake), but adds a CD that gives you a short but effective sampling of Scott’s work. You get “Powerhouse” one of his best jokey jazz tunes, three tracks of Scott discussing his electronic music inventions, and “The Happy Whistler” from his proto-Ambient Music Soothing Sounds for Baby record.

What’s interesting about the CD is how it takes the time represent every era of Scott’s musical career and also, accidentally charts the way that Scott’s posthumous reputation has changed. Most slept-on, didn’t quite make it, musical footnotes are lucky if they have a single un-earthing and recontextualization of their music; in the past decade or so, Scott’s gone through quite a few.

He’s gone from the slept-on dude that composed a lot of Carl Stalling’s Looney Tunes music, to novelty weirdo that made joke jazz with titles like “Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals” that ended up in a lot of Looney Tunes stuff, to jazz weirdo that also made electronic music and invented electronic instruments, to a guy whose reputation’s now almost entirely tilted in the direction of proto-electronica prophet.

Much of Scott’s shifting reputation has to do with how his music’s been re-released and how it jibes or doesn’t jibe with what music dorks are really into at the time. His jazz music was first re-released on CD in the early 90s and pretty much contextualized as “this is the guy that composed a lot of that crazy, super-memorable Looney Tunes music” and was an attempt to gather Scott’s compositions and give proper credit to him. Not that Stalling did anything wrong, he’s usually credited with something like “Musical Direction” and all of Scott’s music was licensed to Warner Brothers, but still.

Scott’s jazz then, was mainly being connected to the cartoons which no doubt fit Scott’s music in both sound and song titles (“The Penguin”, “Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals”, “Powerhouse”) but also relegated the music to being an odd footnote and essentially novelty music. In the late 90s, the Reckless Nights compilation came out and sounded way better and was more appreciative, with more biographical information–and the first hints of discussing his electronic work–and framed his music as whimsical and fun and fascinating.

Still, there seemed to be a distance between the actual music and why the music was significant enough to get a re-release. My ears have always heard some early rumblings of bop, for like Parker, Monk, etc. Scott’s jazz–all of which was composed in the late thirties making it pre-bop–was a response to the stale formulas of swing music. Because jazz writers are stuffy turds, they usually don’t like to think of this stuff too much, but it’s not hard to imagine that Parker or Monk took a little inspiration from that Looney Tunes music. Scott’s music is fun and it certainly does swing but it also wanders or waddles into weird, odd jagged corners of thumping drums and depressed squonks and then bursts into something really exuberant or wild and everything else.

A lot of instrumental music has goofy or weird titles but generally, you get the sense the composer thought of a title that explained how the music sounds after the fact. With Scott’s music, whether it’s true or not, you get the sense “Reckless Night on Board an Ocean Liner” came to him as a phrase and then he rushed down to his quintet and pulled out of their instruments and his brain, a song that was the jazzy approximation of a restless night on an ocean liner.

And semi-violent adjectives like “pull” aren’t too off if you read the liner notes of Reckless which makes Scott into a pretty strict and demanding composer. It sounds like the same way James Brown handled the J.Bs, nothing written down but this already-perfect vision of the song that’s then hummed and sung to the performers until somehow, they fucking play exactly what Mr. Brown hears between his ears.

Scott though, kept the music to those same hard-ass strict rules performing live too and so, the music was jazz without the cornerstone of jazz: improvisation. While the lack of improvisation mixed with the bumpy fun of the the tracks confused stuffy jazz critics–here’s a really fun and in a lot of ways not necessarily incorrect review from 1939–it’s really brilliant on Scott’s part to have this odd tension between the inherent, however hyper-rehearsed chaos of the tracks and the fact that they didn’t move or waver from their pre-planned start and end. It made the music useless in a way, it wasn’t jazz music and although apparently popular, it wasn’t exactly the pop of the time either, but useless in the way really good art should be useless…as this weird, rarified thing that doesn’t totally connect to any specific audience or genre or whatever and just kinda is. Weird and “useless” the way an action figure of a electronic music pioneer is weird and useless, you know?

Interestingly though, most of the re-issues of Scott’s music since 2000 or so have been of his electronic music. This no doubt, is because the music itself is truly deserving of re-release, but it also has to do with the audience or intended audience for record nerd oddities, and up, up, up cartoon jazz isn’t anymore appealing in 2000 than it was in 1939, while a dude fiddling in his basement with home-made electronics and keyboards and everything else totally is.

Which explains the release of Scott’s electronic experiments, soundtrack work, and commercial jingle work from the 1950s and 60s Manhattan Research. For a CD like this to come out in the early 2000s was fortuitous, as it made music that was previously impossible to hear relatively easy to obtain and ingest (I recall picking it up in the TOWER records that was once at the bottom floor of Trump Tower). A small group of electronic music fans and crate-digging, sample-grabbing rap kids have latched onto this release–you now see it on record way more than CD–and a few people here and there have sampled it, most notably perhaps, Dilla on Donuts’s “Lightworks” and Madlib on Beat Conducta’s “Electric Company (Voltage-Watts)”.

-J Dilla “Lightworks”

-Raymond Scott “Lightworks”

The relevance and prevalence of Manhattan Research will only grow and grow as two of the most worshipped sample-flipping beatmakers around have gone to Raymond Scott’s music. This mixed with the apparently here to stay trend in rap and R & B towards scronky, retro-futurism might just turn Scott, when it comes to sampling, into the next James Brown.

Interestingly though, no one’s really flipped or done anything too crazy or cool with a Scott sample. Dilla and Madlib just sort of loop it and chop it, and while that’s to be expected from Madlib, one could easily imagine Dilla obsessively rearranging and editing Scott’s crazy sounds into something almost unidentifiable.

So far though, my favorite Scott sample has been the use of “Cyclic Bit” on El-P’s “T.O.J”:

-El-P “T.O.J”

-Raymond Scott “Cyclic Bit”

The track employs a couple of other Scott samples that I hear but can’t immediately identify without consulting Manhattan Research but the most effective is “Cyclic Bit”. El-P uses it towards this pretty amazing like, clouds-part and the sun comes out feeling of musical epiphany as his really affecting and minus the space-shit or hyper-lyrical hard-assisms opening verse stops after a resigned “I used to be in love…” and we get maybe a half-second of silence and then Scott’s wobbly electronics flutter through to punctuate the heaviness of the verse. Interestingly, El-P too, doesn’t really chop or flip the sample, he just sort of inserts it in there and builds upon it for an extended, slow-building breakdown that blows-up into a coda-like rap-chant to end the song.

Written by Brandon

December 2nd, 2008 at 6:58 am