I didn’t even “think” to look on Tidal for something as unusual as a 2017 album featuring unreleased pre-electronica music experiments by Raymond Scott. And while I’m glad its there, I’m also glad that I finally found it first on a three LP vinyl set at Amoeba Music. Called Three Willow Park (Electronic Music From Inner Space 1961-1971) and issued by Basta Music, the package is lovingly assembled including a fascinating 20-page, full size, full-color booklet with loads of amazing photos from Scott’s studio and informative essays explaining the significance of these recordings.
In this set you will hear otherworldly musical adventures taken by composer / inventor Scott on instruments of his own invention. Included are musics made on something called an “Electronium” (a keyboard-less compositional instrument he created — a “cockpit of dreams” as he called it) and the “Clavivox” (an earlier a proto-synthesizer type device that began as a keyboard controlled Theremin). From the Basta Music website, they add: “Besides the Electronium, sounds heard on Three Willow Park were generated by the Circle Machine; Clavivox; Bass-Line Generator; Bandito the Bongo Artist (a drum machine); tone, melody, rhythm and sound effects generators (some controlled, others random); oscillators, sequencers, and modulators; tape montages; and acoustic instruments and voices.”
Motown’s Berry Gordy was an early client of Raymond Scott and the Electronium. Long before the days of computers and sequencers, Scott was dreaming up sound ideas which could (and ultimately did) end up in popular music. If you are a fan of groups like Kraftwerk and Devo, or synthesizer-based music pioneers like Brian Eno and Cluster, you really need to hear these recordings in which Scott and his machines create new musics together.
Um… before we continue, I think there is a question from someone up there in the balcony which we need to address: who is Raymond Scott and why he worthy of your attention? Fair ’nuff! Well, first off he became very popular in the 1930s and ’40s, writing some amazing music which stands out as genuinely unique, different from pretty much any other “big band” composer from the period (I own many of Scott’s 78 RPM discs from this period and I can attest they sound nothing like Glenn Miller, Count Basie or Benny Goodman!).
Additionally, if you are a person of a certain age group (ie. Baby Boomers) and/or fans of legendary Warner Brothers cartoons from the 1940s through 1960s — you may well recognize this music as part of your subconscious pop culture DNA. Titles written by Scott such as “Powerhouse” and “Twilight In Turkey” — many issued on major labels like MGM and Columbia Records back in the day — were licensed by the Warners’ studio and incorporated into more than 100 now-classic cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig and others. On top of that, Scott was also an inventor of an influence equal to — but decidedly different from — the likes of Les Paul. Scott was a man budding with ideas for synthesized and machine-generated music, a project which eventually derailed his performing career and dominated most of his later life.
You can and should read more about him at his website (here) and on the Wiki (here). In the 90s and beyond, his music was later used in The Ren & Stimpy Show as well as The Simpsons and Animaniacs. Scott’s compositions have influenced music by They Might Be Giants, Rush and The Kronos Quartet. He was also a jingle writer and there are many commercials which used his sounds and musics (click here for some). Paraphrasing Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh (from this documentary trailer here) Scott was in many ways the Frank Zappa (and in some ways an Andy Warhol) of his time (I would not be surprised to learn that Zappa may have been influenced by Scott’s music, perhaps from the cartoons). There is also brief promo teaser video you can watch here too.
Moving back to Three Willow Park (Electronic Music From Inner Space 1961-1971), some of its contents on this three LP (two CD and double volume Tidal stream) are short snippets of less than 30 seconds in length while others are longer structures and even movie score ideas. All are quite wonderful and the sound is remarkable in all their pure analog splendor — consider that this music was created via hard-wired, tube-driven electronics made decades before “chips” and other digital processors were a commercial thing (as they say). Many of these recordings are in Stereo and might be useful demo disc material for some of you audiophiles. I’ll bet this album is already a sampling DJ’s dream.
There are SO many cool sounds here! I’ll put it this way: if you like the raw synthesizer sounds Mark Mothersbaugh fashioned on those first two albums by Devo, you’ll probably fall in love with this album. Related Trivia: Mothersbaugh purchased and restored Scott’s Electronium to working order! Conversely, if you are a fan of 8-bit sounds like you heard on your favorite Nintendo games back in the day, some of these tracks could easily be alternate universe game soundtracks made way ahead of their time.
Immediate favorites of mine on this collection include (note: I’ve embedded links to these streaming in CD quality on Tidal, just click through to follow the hyperlinks) “1st Class Electronium (Part 3)” “Toy Funk” feels like a test for the sounds that Giorgio Moroder would use on his Donna Summer disco hit “I Feel Love.” “Auto Lite Wheels Effect” pre-echoes sonic flavors on the original score for Disney’s Tron. “Portofino #3” reminds me of Les Paul’s late 40s and early 50s experiments with sound-on-sound recording (sans the vocals and saxophone, of course). “Cyclic Bit #3” could easily become the basis for a modern day pop tune. “Pygmy War Dance” from the early 1960s has a repetitive rhythm that XTC’s Andy Partridge might have composed in and around had he heard it. “Dorothea” is a groovy little melody with drum machine-like sounds you might have expected from Kraftwerk in the mid 1970s, only it’s not a drum machine and the track was recorded around 1964!
Fans of electronic music and synthesizers or simply the history of popular music should be exploring Raymond Scott’s pioneering music. And after hearing his early works from the 1930s-40s, Three Willow Park (Electronic Music From Inner Space 1961-1971) is a great next stop in your exploration of Scott’s catalog. Personally, I can’t wait to explore more of these Raymond Scott archive proto-electronica releases the label has reissued such as Soothing Sounds For Baby (from 1963) and Manhattan Research Inc., the three disc precursor to Three Willow Park. Cool stuff!