Raymond Scott (born Harry Warnow, 10 September 1908 — 8 February 1994), was an American composer, band leader, pianist, engineer, recording studio maverick, and electronic instrument inventor. He was born in Brooklyn to a family of Russian-Jewish immigrants. His older brother, Mark Warnow, a conductor, violinist, and musical director for the CBS radio program Your Hit Parade, encouraged his musical career.
Though Scott never scored cartoon soundtracks, his music is familiar to millions because of its adaptation by Carl Stalling in over 120 classic Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and other Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies animated features. Scott’s melodies have also been heard in twelve Ren & Stimpy episodes (that used the original Scott recordings), while making cameos in The Simpsons, Duckman, Animaniacs, The Oblongs, and Batfink. (The only music Scott actually composed to accompany animation were three 20-second electronic commercial jingles for County Fair Bread in 1962.)
Electronics and research
Raymond Scott, who attended Brooklyn Technical High School, was an early electronic music pioneer and adventurous sound engineer. During the 1930s and 1940s, many of his band’s recording sessions found the bandleader in the control room, monitoring and adjusting the acoustics, often by revolutionary means. As Gert-Jan Blom & Jeff Winner wrote, “Scott sought to master all aspects of sound capture and manipulation. His special interest in the technical aspects of recording, combined with the state-of-the-art facilities at his disposal, provided him with enormous hands-on experience as an engineer.”
In 1946, Scott established Manhattan Research, a division of Raymond Scott Enterprises, Incorporated, which he announced would “design and manufacture electronic music devices and systems.” As well as designing audio devices for his own personal use, Manhattan Research Inc. provided customers with sales & service for a variety of devices “for the creation of electronic music and musique concrete” including components such as ring modulators, wave, tone and envelope shapers, modulators and filters. Of unique interest were instruments like the “Keyboard theremin,” “Chromatic electronic drum generators,” and “Circle generators.” Scott often described Manhattan Research Inc. as “More than a think factory – a dream center where the excitement of tomorrow is made available today.” Bob Moog, developer of the Moog Synthesizer, met Scott in the 1950s, designed circuits for him in the 1960s, and acknowledged him as an important influence
Relying on several instruments of his own invention, such as the Clavivox and Electronium, Scott recorded futuristic electronic compositions for use in television and radio commercials as well as records of entirely electronic music. A series of three albums designed to lull infants to sleep, Scott’s groundbreaking work Soothing Sounds for Baby was released in 1964 in collaboration with the Gesell Institute of Child Development. The music, which today sounds uncannily similar to the ambient work of Tangerine Dream or Brian Eno from the mid 1970s, did not find much favor with the record-buying public of the day. Still, “Manhattan Research, Inc.” had considerable success in providing striking, ear-catching sonic textures for broadcast commercials.
Scott developed some of the first devices capable of producing a series of electronic tones automatically in sequence. He later credited himself as being the inventor of the polyphonic sequencer. (It should be noted that his electromechanical devices, some with motors moving photocells past lights, bore little resemblance to the all-electronic sequencers of the late sixties.) He began working on a machine he said composed using artificial intelligence. The Electronium, as Scott called it, with its vast array of knobs, buttons and patch panels is considered the first self-composing synthesizer. Some of Raymond Scott’s projects were less complex, but still ambitious. During the 1950s and 1960s, he developed and patented a large number of consumer products that brought electronically-produced sounds into the homes and lives of Americans. Among these were electronic telephone ringers, alarms, chimes, and sirens, vending machines and ash trays with accompanying electronic music scores, an electronic musical baby rattle and intriguingly, an adult toy that produced varying sounds dependent on how two people touched one another. It was Scott’s belief that these devices would “electronically update the many sounds around us – the functional sounds.”
Scott and Dorothy Collins divorced in 1964; in 1967 he married Mitzi Curtis. During the second half of the 1960s, as his work progressed, Scott became increasingly isolated and secretive about his inventions and concepts; he gave few interviews, made no public presentations, and released no records. In 1966-67, Scott (under the screen credit “Ramond Scott”) composed and recorded electronic music soundtracks for some early experimental films by Muppets impresario Jim Henson.
During his jazz/big band period, Scott had often endured tense relationships with musicians he employed (quote: “No one worked with Scott; everyone worked under Scott”). However, when his career became immersed in electronic gadgetry, he made friends with and seemed to prefer the company of technicians, including Bob Moog, Herb Deutsch, Thomas Rhea, and Alan Entenmann. From time to time Scott welcomed curious visitors to his lab, among them the renowned French electronic music pioneer Jean-Jacques Perrey, in March 1960. The eccentric electronic instrument builder and children’s music composer Bruce Haack visited Scott in the early 1970s (though there is no indication Haack and Scott collaborated in any way).
In 1969, Motown impresario Berry Gordy, tipped off about a mad musical scientist engaged in mysterious works, visited Scott at his Long Island labs to witness the Electronium in action. Impressed by the infinite possibilities, Gordy hired Scott in 1971 to serve as director of Motown’s electronic music and research department in Los Angeles, a position Scott held until 1977. No Motown recordings using Scott’s electronic inventions have yet been publicly identified.
Guy Costa, Head of Operations and Chief Engineer at Motown from 1969 to 1987, said about Scott’s hiring:
“He started originally working [on the Electronium] out of Berry’s house. They set up a room over the garages, and he worked there putting stuff together so Berry could get involved and see the progress. At one point Scott worked out of a studio. The unit never really got finalized—Ray had a real problem letting go. It was always being developed. That was a problem for Berry. He wanted instant gratification. Eventually his interest started to wane after a period of probably two or three years. Finally Ray took the thing down to his house and kept working on it. Berry kind of lost interest. He was off doing Diana Ross movies.”
Scott later said he “spent 11 years and close to a million dollars developing the Electronium.” Scott was, thereafter, largely unemployed, though hardly inactive. He continued to modify his inventions, eventually adapting computers and primitive MIDI devices to his systems. He suffered a series of heart attacks, ran low on cash, and eventually became a mere “Where Are They Now?” subject.
Largely forgotten by the public by the 1980s, Scott suffered a major stroke in 1987 that left him unable to work or engage in conversation. His recordings were largely out of print, his electronic instruments were cobweb-collecting relics, and his once-abundant royalty stream had slowed to a trickle.