MONM 2011, Day 4: Raymond Scott – Soothing Sounds for Baby

Raymond Scott – Soothing Sounds for Baby (Basta Audio-Visuals, 1964)

Even if you’ve never heard of Raymond Scott, odds are you’ve heard his music. It appeared in over 100 of Warner Bros.’ cartoons, which had a particular fondness for his “Powerhouse,” especially the bit that comes in at around the 1:30 mark. That track and Soothing Sounds for Baby don’t share much, musically, although it’s fitting that the Warner cartoons picked his song to represent coldly efficient machinery, since by most accounts, that’s how Scott viewed his musicians.

It was that disregard for human imperfection that led Scott to become a pioneer in electronic music, even if he doesn’t often get the credit for it that he deserves. It’s impressive enough that Scott’s masterwork, the three-disc set Soothing Sounds for Baby, was largely composed on instruments that Scott himself designed, and that Bob Moog considered him a huge inspiration. But when you consider that the album came out a full decade before Brian Eno or Tangerene Dream started exploring ambient electronic music, the actual achievement becomes that much more incredible.

By design, the album favours simple arrangements, usually built around short loops and chiming melodies. It was, after all, written to lull babies to sleep, with each of the three discs catering to a different age group (1-6 months, 6-12 months and 12-18 months) and getting gradually more complex.

Some tracks are more successful than others, with the more percussive tracks usually falling short of the more melodic ones.“Toy Typewriter” loops a simple, two-second-long rhythmic pattern for almost 18 minutes, with only minor variations. It’s even more grating than you might think. Same with the eight-minute “Tic Toc,” which mostly just sounds like an “out-of-time” warning for a gameshow.

But those tracks that focus more on bubbling melodies and warm atmosphere are grin-inducing enough to justify the experiment. Each of the three discs has at least one song worth recommending: “Lullaby” and “The Happy Whistler” are as welcoming and cheerful as the names imply, and the last disc’s “Little Miss Echo” has some downright gorgeous synth washes. Admittedly, Soothing Sounds is probably more a curiousity than a true classic, but it’s one that, on the whole, is surprisingly easy to listen to.

One Response to “MONM 2011, Day 4: Raymond Scott – Soothing Sounds for Baby”
  1. Jeff Winner says:

    Excellent article, thanks!

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