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Raymond Scott: Manhattan Research Inc. (2000) February 8, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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Manhattan Research Inc.

Raymond Scott: Manhattan Research Inc.

The first exposure most people have to the music of Raymond Scott is through Carl Stallings’s rearrangements of his music for Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies cartoons. He was a popular bandleader whose music sounded like jazz but wasn’t, exactly — Scott didn’t want his musicians to improvise, he wanted them to play exactly what he told them to. That may be one of the reasons why Scott changed his focus to electronic music in the late 1950s.

But Scott’s electronic music wasn’t made with the top 40 in mind; it was made for radio and TV commercials and short experimental films. So this album is not like the usual early electronic music album from the likes of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, who created so much exciting and innovative electronic music for Doctor Who. Here you’ll find jingles with vocals and spoken voiceovers. They sound dated but surprisingly fresh as well, because Scott’s dream of synthesized music in commercials never happened quite the way he hoped. It’s the musical equivalent of 1950s magazine articles about the wonders of the space age, exemplified by a spot for “Bendix: The Tomorrow People.”

Musicians from a broad range of electronic music backgrounds have lavished a great deal of praise on Scott’s work presented here. One of them is Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog synthesizer, who worked for Scott before setting up his own company. Another person who played a part in the Manhattan Research (Scott’s company) story was Jim Henson of Muppet fame; he worked on an experimental film and a TV commercial represented here.

There are three important things to know about this album: first, anyone seriously interested in electronic music needs to hear it. Second, don’t download it. You need the physical object. Not only for the two CDs; worth of music, but for the packaging they come in: a small hardcover book with a hundred pages of text and photos, giving the whole story of Scott’s Manhattan research project and giving plenty of track-by-track detail on the 69 pieces of music (commercial jingles, equipment tests, short film soundtracks, and more) here. Third: this is historic and important, sure, but most of all, it’s fun.

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