One hundred years ago today the weirdly brilliant American composer and one of the pioneers of contemporary experimental and electronic music, Raymond Scott, was born. While his name may not be instantly recognizable, his musical compositions are, and though Scott never actually composed music specifically for cartoons, most anybody -- any age, anywhere -- who ever watched an old Warner Brothers’ Bugs Bunny cartoon or a Ren & Stimpy episode or even the Simpsons or Animaniacs would recognize some of Scott’s extraordinary pieces like “Powerhouse” and “The Toy Trumpet.”
He was born Harry Warnow in Brooklyn, New York, September 10, 1908. After graduating from The Institute of Musical Art (later renamed Juilliard) in 1931, Scott was hired as a staff pianist with the CBS Radio network orchestra conducted by his brother Mark Warnow; he took the name Raymond Scott specifically to avoid talk of nepotism. Scott soon began presenting his own bizarre and quirky compositions like “Confusion Among a Fleet of Taxicabs Upon Meeting with a Fare.” By the mid 1930’s these unexpected eccentricities started creeping into the CBS Radio broadcasts and the American subconscious. For the next four decades he would go on to record for several major labels including Brunswick, Columbia, Decca, MGM, Coral, Everest, and Top Rank. He always managed to sell records, even with such Duchampian-like song titles such as "Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals", "Reckless Night on Board an Oceanliner", "New Year's Eve in a Haunted House", "Bumpy Weather Over Newark", "Celebration on the Planet Mars", and "Siberian Sleighride".
In 1949 Scott invented one of the first Synthesizers ever created, the Electronium, which can be best described as an ‘instantaneous composing machine.’ The Electronium produced original music via a random sequence of tones, rhythms, and timbres, and though Scott was never comfortable with the claim of having invented the first synthesizer, the Electronium was one of the very first machines able to compose music by means of artificial intelligence.
Scott’s most famous electronic record, Soothing Sounds for Baby, began in 1964 in collaboration with the Gesell Institute of Child Development. By relying on several instruments of his own design, such as the Clavivox, the Electronium and an early programmable polyphonic sequencer, Scott created futuristic sounds for a series of three albums designed to calm babies and help them sleep. In 1971 Scott was hired by, of all people, Berry Gordy Jr. of Motown to head the label's electronic music research and development team. Scott retired a few years later.
None of Scott’s recordings were in print throughout most of the 1970’s and 80’s. However in 1992 his music was rediscovered by contemporary audiences with the release of the compilation Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights, still available and a perfect starting point for Raymond Scott’s oddly surrealistic and madcap legacy.
Raymond Scott died on February 8, 1994 at the age of 85.