Although many musicians might claim the same, the late composer, inventor, TV personality and cartoon-music guy Raymond Scott was one of the most influential, innovative musical thinkers of the 20th century. And most people have never heard of him.
Scott’s estate is working to change that with the first ScottWorks | The Raymond Scott Festival, a day-long symposium announced Thursday morning.
An exploration of his ideas and influences, the event will occur on Sept. 8 at the Colony Theatre in Burbank and feature conversations with experts, musicians and former colleagues.
The dozen-plus participants will include Grammy-winning producer Hal Willner, who oversaw the production of the Raymond Scott compilation “Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights”; Herb Deutsch, co-inventor, with Robert Moog, of the Moog synthesizer; and Scott historian, producer and DJ Irwin Chusid, who administrates the catalogs of Scott and Sun Ra.
Why all the fuss?
Starting in 1930s New York as a big-band leader, Scott wrote quirky, tightly composed, frantic ditties for large-ensemble jazz outfits. Many of those works, including “Powerhouse,” “War Dance for Wooden Indians,” “Twilight in Turkey” and “The Toy Trumpet,” were used on classic “Bugs Bunny” cartoons for Warner Bros.
During the rise of television, Scott led the NBC Orchestra while researching, building and writing for electronic instruments. He founded his own electronics company, Manhattan Research, in the late ’40s with the goal of harnessing synthetic tones in service of radio commercials — adding space-age bleeps and blurps across the ’50s to spots for cough-syrup makers and lighting companies.
A measure of his brilliance? His sounds have been sampled by essential beat producers including J Dilla, Flying Lotus, El-P, Madlib, Pete Rock and Danny Brown.
Scott’s desire for musical perfection — and his lack of enthusiasm for human players — led him to ponder deleting them from his process altogether. He spent much of the 1960s in service of perfecting the Electronium, which he claimed was the first self-composing musical instrument.
In 1972, Motown founder Berry Gordy hired him and relocated him to Los Angeles to become the label’s director of electronic research and development.
The inventor spent the rest of his life in the L.A. area, and although he never achieved the success or attention of peers Moog and Don Buchla, the music he created has echoed across the decades.