Raymond Scott - Soothing Sounds For Baby Vol.1-3 [Basta Records, 1997]

Forget The Orb. Forget Stereolab. Even try to forget Brian Eno. For the roots of ambient music we should go back to 1963. To the versatile American composer, band leader and inventor Raymond Scott, to be exact.

From the mid-thirties, Raymond Scott (1908-1994, alias Harry Warnow) was highly successful as a composer of remarkable jazz tunes and commercials, as a band leader on American radio and television and as the writer of a Broadway musical. Arranger Carl Stalling used Scott's music to accompany the adventures of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in many dozens of Warner Brothers cartoons.

Apart from all of these commercial activities, Scott had one great passion: electronics. As early as 1948 he built a device that could imitate various everyday sounds. A year later he built his first synthesizer. In the 1950s he worked on the Clavivox, an improved version of another electronic musical instrument: the Theremin, and in 1960 he was the first to have built a sequencer (a device used to repeat musical patterns - essential in today's dance music!).

All in all, we may say that Scott was far ahead of his time. The problem, however, was that he did not put any effort whatsoever into making his inventions known to the public at large. Therefore, his influence on the development of electronic music has been limited.

The outstanding result of Raymond Scott's inventions can be heard best on Soothing Sounds for Baby, a 3-LP set from 1963. Unfortunately, little is known about the realization of this intriguing project. We do know however that in 1962 or '63 Scott was given an assignment by the Gesell Institute of Child Development. Scientists from this institute had discovered that hearing abilities of babies are much better than most people think. Soothing Sounds for Baby was therefore intended as an "aural toy" for children aged 1 to 18 months. The original records are (of course) practically untraceable, but thanks to the Dutch Basta label we can now enjoy this extraordinary project in CD-quality.

Those who are familiar with the jazzy sounds of the Raymond Scott Quintette will be surprised by the uncomplicated, repeating music on Soothing Sounds for Baby. The pieces, with such titles as Sleepy Time, Toy Typewriter and Tic Toc, have a rather straightforward structure as far as melody and harmony are concerned. A minimal, yet very rhythmic, accompanying pattern is constantly repeated. In addition to this, catchy melodic lines can be heard. It's the simplicity and the repetition which makes the music quite intriguing, especially when you bear in mind that Scott is the forerunner of Philip Glass' minimal music and the ambient work of Brian Eno.

Marco Kalnenek

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Raymond Scott - Soothing Sounds For Baby