Great Scott! - Page 2

One hundred years of Raymond Scott's exotica genius

secured the rights to the Quintette's catalog in 1943 and Warner musical director Carl Stalling inserted huge swathes of Scott's work into the immensely popular Looney Tunes.

Using the generous salary from his work at CBS, Scott bankrolled his own electronics studio — a sort of junior BBC Radiophonic Workshop — which he christened Manhattan Research in 1946. Though its initial function was to produce radio ads and jingles, the Long Island, NY, laboratory's true purpose was to develop unheard and unimagined forms of electromechanical and synthesized tones. Predating the widespread use of integrated circuits and analog synthesis, the photocell tone generators and polyphonic sequencers constructed at Manhattan Research were completely unprecedented in sound technology.

"Given the amazing, tiny, and cheap technology that's everywhere today, it's a real challenge for us moderns to appreciate how difficult and s-l-o-w the process was," Winner explains. "It was always laborious, tedious, and extremely time-consuming. Designing, theorizing, soldering, then testing.... Wiring, rewiring, and testing again and again.... Hour after hour, year after year — literally — decade after decade."

The records spawned from these contraptions — the Clavivox, the Electronium, and the Circle Machine — often consisted of limpid pools of sustained sound multitracked with sharp sine wave helices and processed glitches. The almost childlike primitivism and free-form tonality that template Scott's work bely its enchanting subtlety, prefiguring the kraut rock pastoralism of Brian Eno and the lush microtones of contemporary digital artists Christian Fennesz and Nobukazu Takemura. In fact, Winner recalls that when a colleague introduced Eno to Scott's music years ago, Eno "was indeed impressed. He agreed that some of Scott's electronic music is similar to some of his own."

Though his success as a producer and inventor was subordinated to his very popular role as an orchestra conductor and jazzman — creating a kind of night-and-day personality that alternated between the smiling TV bandleader and the dial-twisting mad scientist — Scott continued his nocturnal research unabated. Along the way, the once-gregarious musician became more obsessive and secretive regarding his unwieldy instruments, some of which extended wall to wall with their untranslatable, blinking consoles.

The fruits of his labor only became clear later, as the impact of Scott's brilliance was measured in the younger technologists and musicians who joined his mission in the '50s and '60s. Budding musical technician Robert Moog began working with Scott long before he invented the first modular synthesizer that bears his name. Motown impresario Berry Gordy was so impressed with Scott's mysterious Electronium that he recruited the inventor to the label's expanding R&D department and bankrolled Manhattan Research's 1971 move to California, where Scott would spend his final professional years toiling unapologetically on the apparatus.

"During [those years,] among the very few who were thinking about electroinstruments, no one foresaw a consumer market for hardware," Winner explains of Scott's lifelong work. "Almost no one wanted those kinds of sounds yet." With this centennial celebration — and a bevy of new studio discoveries — Scott's work may finally be recognized for its uncompromising beauty and understood as the revolving soundtrack for a century of technology and dreams, human and machine.

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