Monday, May 30, 2011

Music: Stu Brown Gets It

Hi. I'm Roberta X and I'm a fan of Raymond Scott.

--So are you, probably, if you ever enjoyed animated shorts (no, no, not that kind, the movies); his work is used so extensively (in everything from Bugs Bunny to The Oblongs) that you can't avoid it. Given his success at doing what his 1930s bosses claimed was impossible, writing music most people liked the first time they heard it, you wouldn't want to. (Even Rush quotes a Scott tune).

The best examples of his pre-electronic work are his own recordings of his band. An awful lot of his compositions* deliberately quote natural sounds -- a ticking clock, seagulls and buoys, an auctioneer, steam engines at least twice -- and it's not an easy feat. Other times, he's creating the sounds of things more fantastical: dancing wooden Indians (yes, cigar-store statues of Native Americans, who certainly ought to get a night off now and then), water bubbling in a cannibal's pot, ghosts celebrating New Years Eve. This stuff is hard to play; you can get all the notes right, be right on the beat, and still miss the sound.

Otherhandedly, the recordings Scott supervised are decades old; most precede magnetic tape. The noise floor is high and the dynamic range limited. Transient response is slow and tends to "grit." Oh, they are excellent work for the day and have been remastered with affection and respect, eminently listenable.

--But there've been few modern recordings that capture the elusive Raymond Scott sound; the man drove his musicians remorselessly, knowing precisely what he was after. Technical excellence will take you a long way but it's not enough alone.

With that for background, I'm very pleased to tell you that Stu Brown's Raymond Scott Project gets there. Maybe it's just Edison's 90%/10% formula or the plain willingness to play it until their eyes bleed. Maybe they're just that much better. But for whatever reason, here's a band that knows what live steam sounds like, that doesn't flinch from dancing mummies, and got it all down in digital storage.

Majorly recommended.
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* Composed, according to those who were there, on the the band itself, not on paper. This is a little rough on the musicians but Scott's notion was that, at least until the composition had taken final form, a written score got in the way, causing all involved to defer to the map instead of the territory, the abstract symbols rather than the real sound. When a Julliard grad says that, he's not expressing a mere quirk or whim and the results he got prove him out.

5 comments:

Guffaw in AZ said...

Thanks so much for the Stu Brown link!
As you said, pretty much everyone's a fan, they just don't know who this Raymond Scott was!
gfa

wv: squies (misspelled)

Cemetery's Gun Blob said...

I'm gonna have to hunt down my Raymond Scott recordings....

Jeff E. Winner said...

Hi Roberta:

Just wanted to be sure you knew about our official Raymond Scott Archives blog:

http://raymondscott.blogspot.com/

Thanks!

Jason Armadillo said...

Don Byron recorded a few Scott songs on his release "Bug Music" and they are excellent.

Roberta X said...

Thanks, Jeff! Very fine blog -- I'm impressed with the Army musicians.

Jason, I totally need to check that out. Amazon keeps suggesting it based on past purchases.