Raymond Scott

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Raymond Scott is definitely not a household name when it comes to the pantheon of modern American music, but many would argue that he deserves to be up there with some of the most influential composers and innovators of the Twentieth Century. Who the hell then, was Raymond Scott?

Born in Brooklyn in New York in 1908 Scott was a composer, band leader, pianist, engineer, recording studio maverick and electronic instrument inventor whose career spanned numerous musical decades, until his death in 1994. From the quirky and often eccentric sounds of his 30s jazz “Quintette” through to the cutting-edge electronica of his Manhattan Research project, Scott constantly sought to push the envelope of sound.

With renewed interest in his prodigious output and legacy of recordings, a new generation of music fans are discovering the magic of Raymond Scott. Amongst them is Sydney musician Sam Golding, who notes:

“Way back in the early part of the 21st Century a couple of musician mates pressed on me the importance of listening to the miniature musical gems of Scott’s Quintette recordings. Then I slowly navigated my way to his other works – the electronica and jingles – a lot of those I have been discovering through YouTube: the great musical data bank.”

 Sam was so inspired that he decided to approach SIMA (The Sydney Improvised Music Association) to stage a night exploring both the depth and creativity of Scott’s compositions. Given the green light, he them assembled a group of not only great Sydney musicians but devout Scott fans as well including Peter Dasent, Matt Ottignon, Ross Harrington, Steve Elphick, Evan Mannell and Sarah Belkner. Together they will explore Raymond Scott’s early ‘Quintette’ miniature masterpieces, his groundbreaking electronica, as well as his eerie and often unnerving advertisement jingles. Sam explains:

“The width of his musical imagination is very impressive and being able to bring this great band together to play the repertoire has been a lot of fun. The music skips along and we have to keep our touch very light – Scott’s personality is so big that we have to keep ourselves a little in-check to pull it off.”

Approaching Scott’s electronic works has also been a challenge, as Sam points out:

“To come as close as possible to the sounds of his synthesisers we will be blending the human voice, our modern machinery and our acoustic palette. It’s a little bit like a “What If?” game… what would his later compositions sound like if played by his early ensemble. It’s a reversal of the treatment he gave several of his own early compositions – twisting them into new shapes with his synthesisers.”

For those that think they have never heard the music of Raymond Scott, chances are you have heard something very similar. Whilst he never scored any actual cartoon tracks, it was often adapted by Carl Stalling and used in over one hundred Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck animations. As well, his melodies can also be heard in more contemporary shows like The Simpsons and Ren & Stimpy.

I finally asked Sam what audiences could expect at the Sound Lounge for the “Great Scott” night:

“Taking the little alleyways through his large output has been so rewarding – it seems that Raymond Scott got to every fun musical place long before everyone else. We hope that the audience will enjoy picking up the breadcrumbs with us on our way to his gingerbread house.”

SIMA presents The Music Of Raymond Scott
Jan 21, from 8pm. The Sound Lounge in the Seymour Centre, cnr City Rd + Cleveland St, Chippendale. $15-$30. Tickets & info: www.sima.org.au