"Scott’s [electronic] music is so perfectly crafted, so lyrical and easy, so completely charming and good-natured, that it seems all the more wonderful, even mysterious, that much of it was created with the sophisticated and complex technology he invented. Scott developed his instruments to make his music—and did it so well that what you hear is the music."
—Joel Chadabe, president, Electronic Music Foundation (2000)
The Jingle Workshop
When Your Hit Parade ended in 1957, Scott still needed to earn a living and buy electronic gear. He began concentrating on jingles—music for commercials, which previously had been a sideline through his Jingle Workshop company. While most of the jingles in this new phase at first used traditional instrumentation, he began to integrate electronic music using the equipment he had designed and built. One of the strangest was The Circle Machine.
The Circle Machine—Lighting the Way
Raymond Scott's Circle MachineThe Raymond Scott Archives
The Circle Machine
Scott designed and built the Circle Machine, an electronic sequencer, around 1959. Dr. Thomas Rhea, music synthesis professor at the Berklee College of Music, visited Scott's laboratory many times from 1970 to 1972 and remembers the Circle Machine as “an analog waveform generator that was this crazy, whirling-dervish thing. It had a ring of incandescent lamps, each with its own rheostat, and a photo-electric cell on a spindle that twirled in a circle above the lights.” Each bulb's intensity was adjustable, as was the rotation speed of the photocell. As the lights brightened, the pitch ascended. Arm rotation speed governed the rhythm.
"I would like to demonstrate a practical use of the Circle Machine. Problem: Create a sound to go with the sequence in a TV spot in which a storage battery is dying because the electrolyte is rapidly evaporating, ending in a short circuit. This tape demonstration starts with a Circle Machine impression of a dying battery." — From a Raymond Scott presentation in summer 1962 at the Advertising Age Creative Workshop in Chicago.
The Wall of Sound Evolves into the First Sequencer
By the early '60s, Scott's Wall of Sound, which was originally a rhythm generator, had evolved through his constant experimentation into what is widely acknowledged as the first true sequencer. A sequencer is an electronic or in this case, electro-mechanical device that can be programmed to store pre-determined musical elements, such as tones, melodies, and rhythms, and cycle them repeatedly in accordance with musical time signatures. Sequencers of various types are essential to modern electronic music—and what generates ringtones or music using apps in a mobile phone is actually a tiny sequencer.
Scott began using his room-sized sequencer to create jingles, like the Sprite Melon Ball Bounce spot below. The jingle is from 1963, and the female vocalist is likely his wife Dorothy Collins. The 1963 original was audio only, the video below is a 2016 interpretation by Jacob Graham and Co.
Soothing Sounds for Baby—Ambient Music by Another Name
In the early '60s Scott used his sequencer for a more ambitious project—Soothing Sounds for Baby. The 1963 three LP record set was intended for infants, but history has endowed these deceptively simple works with broader significance. Released in conjunction with the Gesell Institute of Child Development, SSFB was intended to serve as an “aural toy” during the “feeding, teething, play, sleep and fretful periods” of infants in three age groups. SSFB provided a “quieting” atmosphere of relaxation, warmth, and contentment.
These same qualities were embodied in a type of adult music in the 1970s. Brian Eno’s Discreet Music (1975) is often cited as the cornerstone of the Ambient movement. Soothing Sounds for Baby, with many of the same qualities and purpose, pre-dated Discreet Music by over a decade.
"We decided to undertake a long (15 minutes), rigorous (involving beer) experiment (highly unscientific) to test Scott’s Soothing Sounds for Baby’s effectiveness on a real live baby... The experiment yielded an unanticipated finding: one of the experimenters, when writing up the results, listened to ‘Little Miss Echo,’ from Vol. 3 of Soothing Sounds. The experimenter, aged 35, was not only soothed, but determined it to be among the most objectively beautiful pieces of pre-Moog electronic music created." — DeadElectric.com (February 2014)
"Little Miss Echo" from Soothing Sounds For Baby
"Limbo—The Organized Mind" by Jim Henson, Music by Raymond Scott.
Raymond Scott provided soundtrack music for several short experimental films by Jim Henson in 1966 and 1967. Limbo: The Organized Mind was created in 1966 and sponsored by IBM: photo animation by Jim Henson, electronic music and musique concrète score by Raymond Scott. The film’s narrator (Henson) guides the viewer through the bright and dark recesses of his complex mind. Throughout his entire career, Henson was a film and television maker as well as a master puppeteer—he was also the photographer who took many of the color photos of Scott in his electronic music studio.
Raymond Scott Sequencer history letter--Page One.The Raymond Scott Archives
Gentlemen—I Have a Story That May Be of Interest to You
Page one of a c.1980 unaddressed letter by Raymond Scott explaining his process in inventing the first sequencer, and why he wasn't recognized for his work. It was probably intended for the electronic music academic community, but as far as we know it was never sent.
Throughout his career Scott, with some justification, was fearful people would steal his ideas. Therefore, a lot of his best work was never recognized and acknowledged beyond the people in his immediate circle. Fortunately, that is no longer the case...
The Electronium—Development Begins
Despite all his other projects, Scott was also busy, starting in 1959, developing the Electronium, an instantaneous composition-performance machine, that would become the culmination of his life's work. More about the Electronium in our next story. Below is a sample with animation of how the early Electronium sounded, an excerpt from a tune called "When Will It End."
The Raymond Scott Archives channel — created & curated by Stan Warnow, Deborah Scott Studebaker, and Jeff Winner.
Additional content from Corey Goldberg, Irwin Chusid, and Henry Studebaker.