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Powerhouse
April 23, 2011 11:34 AM   Subscribe

  • It was written by Raymond Scott in 1937, and first heard by the world played by the Raymond Scott Quintette on CBS Radio's Saturday Night Swing Club.
  • It was first recorded in 1937 and released by Master Records. It was later re-released by Brunswick and then Columbia.
  • It contains a middle section that has a greatly different tempo and style from the rest of the song, to the degree that it is sometimes considered to be two different songs.
  • It was a popular tune of its time. Among Raymond Scott's admirers was Carl Stalling, music director for Warner Bros. cartoons. Stalling's appreciation for Scott lead to his music being featured frequently in Warner cartoons. Itself, it has been used in dozens of classic cartoons, especially in places depicting rapid motion or heavy machinery. Despite this, no Warner cartoon contains a complete version of the work.
  • It's now so recognized from its use in cartoons that most people can probably hum portions of its middle potion, and recognize the rest, even if they don't know it's name. It's so connected with cartoons that Cartoon Network used it as a distinctive bumper tune from 1997 to 2003.
  • Regardless of its iconic nature, it's still in copyright and is controlled in the US by Music Sales Corporation, and elsewhere by Warner/Chappell Music.
  • That song is called "Powerhouse."

Performed with harmonicas - Performed by orchestra in 2008 - From “The Piano Guy,” Dave Powers plays piano duet with himself - Arranged in Mario Paint Composer - An unusual performance - for the obsessed: Remixed with dozens of different cartoon theme songs from the “Powerhouse” Cartoon Network rebrandingMore versions

A few other Raymond Scott songs on YouTube. Don't be surprised if you already know parts of these:
Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals - The Toy Trumpet - Huckleberry Duck - War Dance for Wooden Indians - The 18th Century Drawing Room - Twilight in Turkey

Some audio from the Raymond Scott website.
posted by JHarris (62 comments total) 75 users marked this as a favorite

 
Somehow my brain interpreted the first line as reading "It was written by Raymond Chandler in 1937..." and I was having severe cognitive dissonance during the rest of the description of the piece.
posted by hippybear at 11:44 AM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm ashamed to admit that I always thought this was some obscure piece of classical music they appropriated for Looney Toons. That it was a contemporary piece (or close enough) just blows my mind.
posted by tommasz at 11:46 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


And now having listened to that, I'm a bit astounded. Of course... it's THAT song.

How odd that it's only the middle section of a very different song overall.

Interesting piece. Thanks for posting!
posted by hippybear at 11:50 AM on April 23, 2011


Rush borrowed the middle section of Powerhouse for one section of their tune 'La Villa Strangiato'
posted by dr. fresh at 12:01 PM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Very very cool. Hearing the entire tune is awesome and it really fits with the popular midsection. Thanks!
posted by davidmsc at 12:27 PM on April 23, 2011


If anybody needs me I'll be in the basement, listening to this song on repeat while I build some kind of Rube Goldberg machine.
posted by .kobayashi. at 12:31 PM on April 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


Also known as "That Song Danny Elfman Has Been Ripping Off For Thirty Years."
posted by Sys Rq at 12:33 PM on April 23, 2011 [15 favorites]


Soul Coughing samples Scott:
Bus to Beelzebub (this demo version was all I could find)
Disseminated (bonus kitty video)
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:39 PM on April 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Another example of music that the House of Bugs ruined. No one but aboriginal tribesman can listen to that music and NOT see the visions of Chuck Jones and Frtiz Freling.
posted by crunchland at 12:41 PM on April 23, 2011


Great post! I have always liked this version by Don Byron, too.
posted by mintcake! at 12:43 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


My favorite Raymond Scott tune is Cindy Electronium - I have no idea how this song was made in 1959. I find it in mixes from today all the time. He's also been sampled by J Dilla and Madlib:
Lightworks - Lightworks
Baltimore Gas/Electric Company commercial - Electric Company
posted by ofthestrait at 12:44 PM on April 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Raymond Scott, previously.

Scott was prolific, and humble. His quirky sound is heard a LOT in old cartoons, and he's the 6th member in his quintet (he plays piano - though this profile says he called it a "Quintette" (his spelling) because it sounded "crisper," and "calling it a 'sextet' might get your mind off music."


The links to Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals, The Toy Trumpet, The 18th Century Drawing Room and Twilight in Turkey link back to this thread, so I'll add some alternatives:

* Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals, from the Raymond Scott Centennial Tribute Concert
* The Toy Trumpet, performed by Chamber League
* The 18th Century Drawing Room, performed by The RedHot Ramblers
* Twilight in Turkey, by the Concordia Raymond Scott "Quintette"
posted by filthy light thief at 12:50 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


My favorite Raymond Scott tune is Cindy Electronium - I have no idea how this song was made in 1959.

He made it with this. Which he also made.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:51 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fucking awesome. Thank you.
posted by googly at 12:54 PM on April 23, 2011


Wait. Wait. Those two are the SAME SONG‽ <head=asplode>
posted by erniepan at 1:00 PM on April 23, 2011


Raymond Scott was amazing! I'm sort of surprised he hasn't come up on mefi before....
posted by lumpenprole at 1:03 PM on April 23, 2011


Here's another co-opting of "Powerhouse" by DEVO, from their early days.

It is no coincidence that Mark Mothersbaugh is on the Raymond Scott Preservation Society board. He also owns Scott's Electronium, the first music-generating analog computer.
posted by SansPoint at 1:07 PM on April 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Raymond Scott was amazing! I'm sort of surprised he hasn't come up on mefi before....

Either a closer reading of the thread above or entering his name into the Search window would disabuse one of that notion.
posted by y2karl at 1:12 PM on April 23, 2011


I can't be the only one who had a flashback of Wiley Coyote hammering something together near a bunch of empty Acme boxes....
Thank you, Metafilter.
posted by pentagoet at 1:14 PM on April 23, 2011


Love me some Raymond Scott, especially "War Dance for Wooden Indians."
posted by Countess Elena at 1:17 PM on April 23, 2011


I remember the question of "what is that song?" running all the way through my sophomore year of college. When my roommate finally figured it out, it was like unearthing Troy.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:19 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


The timing of this post couldn't be more perfect. I was humming this tune in the shower today and I kept trying to pick my brain as to who it was by. I love Raymond Scott. Thank you for sharing!
posted by inqb8tr at 1:21 PM on April 23, 2011


On a side note, let me add that, speaking from personal experience, creating more than one post comprised of double spaced sentences and paragraphs in small text is probably not a wise idea. Normal text and More Inside is your friend.
posted by y2karl at 1:25 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


or, rather, are your friends.
posted by y2karl at 1:25 PM on April 23, 2011


A version by Steroid Maximus aka Jim Thirlwell aka Foetus
posted by jtron at 1:28 PM on April 23, 2011


y2karl: Yeah yeah, failed experiment. The idea was to tell about the song before naming it, and esp. linking to it, which would fill in the blanks as to what piece of music was being described, then to use More Inside to provide supplementary material. Unfortunately it turned out to be rather a lot of text, so I reduced the font size one level so it wouldn't take up too much room on the front page.

Ah well, live and learn.
posted by JHarris at 1:37 PM on April 23, 2011


[Fixed! ]
posted by restless_nomad at 1:40 PM on April 23, 2011


The music, meh, but WHAT THE HELL... How did they animate those Lissajoux patterns? That is some mighty fine graphics work, considering what video tech was like back then.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:44 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks r_m!
posted by JHarris at 1:47 PM on April 23, 2011


Great song, great composer, great post. If you don't own it already, I highly recommend picking up Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights, a collection of Scott's songs. Every piece on that album is amazing in its own right.
posted by saladin at 1:49 PM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Awesome, thanks for posting. Sanspoint wins the thread (for me) for posting that DEVO song...I'd always thought there was something about that song but never could put my finger on it. Thanks!
posted by schyler523 at 2:01 PM on April 23, 2011


Also Known As (before I knew the title): Factory Music

No one but aboriginal tribesman can listen to that music and NOT see the visions of Chuck Jones and Frtiz Freling.


Feature not bug.
posted by marxchivist at 2:10 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


[For real this time. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 2:13 PM on April 23, 2011


How did they animate those Lissajoux patterns? That is some mighty fine graphics work, considering what video tech was like back then

That's extremely easy using the tech of the time. An analog oscilloscope plus a pair of drifty oscillators = animated Lissajous figures. You could add a couple of rods to the plates of the tank circuits and play it like a theremin, I dunno.
posted by hattifattener at 2:28 PM on April 23, 2011


I came in to comment on the Hit Parade Lissajous animations. While it's easy to add that to the broadcast, it would be quite hard to compose the animation since there would be no way to record it; what you had is some geek behind a board with a bunch of knobs and switches controlling the signal generators, and he had to twiddle the knobs as the music played to sync the animation to the music. For such a performance it's a very elaborate and unsung composition. I would guess that whoever was twiddling those knobs was an electronics genius of his era. He probably had a week or so with a (reel to reel) tape recording of the song to figure out how he was going to do it all.
posted by localroger at 2:35 PM on April 23, 2011


moustache wax music.
posted by clavdivs at 2:35 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


moustache wax music

The perfect name for Carla Bley's hipster album.
posted by hippybear at 2:37 PM on April 23, 2011


I can't tell whether it's just the angle or not, but the drummer in the in the famous middle part is commanding all of my attention at the moment.
posted by Earthtopus at 3:01 PM on April 23, 2011


I dunno about the oscilloscope theory for those graphics. Yeah, that occurred to me too, but notice in the beginning, it had some text titles that morphed into abstract patterns. That doesn't seem like the sort of thing that was easy to do with oscilloscopes.

Ultimately, all the video tech of this time was just advanced oscilloscopes, and this was sort of the heyday of analog. I looked at the graphics and figured it was something more like video feedback (pointing the camera at a tv screen of its own output). But then, it would be possible to do those manipulations in analog circuitry too.

More than anything, this reminded me of the old 60s light shows, with some guy swirling around colored liquids sandwiched between two transparent dishes, on top of an overhead projector. They did those all live, improvised, which isn't that hard once you know what your medium can do. And if you make a mistake from what you wanted, how the hell is anyone going to tell?

I wish we could find out more about the guy who did those graphics and how he did them. That system almost qualifies as a Video Synthesizer, and many years before Nam June Paik's early experiments.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:34 PM on April 23, 2011


I've had Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights for years. I love it. I just wish that Ira Glass and This American Life would take the time to invest in buying at least one other CD for their show.
posted by ursus_comiter at 3:58 PM on April 23, 2011


I'm a little surprised to learn that this music wasn't composed specifically for cartoons - it's absolutely perfect for the frenetic, wacky action of Looney Toons. I had no idea Warner Bros took the soundtracks from actual, y'know, music. I can't imagine old cartoons without this type of music, but it's also kind of hard to imagine what else you'd use it for - it's too jittery for relaxing background music, and if you tried to dance to it you'd probably sprain both ankles and throw your back out before collapsing of dehydration.

I wonder how much Scott's musical style influenced the cartoons - did Warner Bros ramp up the pace to match the soundtracks?
posted by Quietgal at 4:02 PM on April 23, 2011


I envision benzedrine fueled gnomes making munitions at an alarming rate.
posted by clavdivs at 4:15 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I also love some of Raymond Scott's music for commercials - produced, no doubt, at great cost at the time. I mean does Sprite really make a melon ball bounce? Surely it does! For those wanting to hear more of his music and some background on how he produced the instruments to make it - I would recommend the lovingly produced CD Manhattan Research inc..
posted by rongorongo at 4:23 PM on April 23, 2011


That song is the soundtrack my terrier hears in her head as she rips through the house from door to door window to window lap to lap chair to chair door to window lap to chair door to lap to woop! what's this a fallen cashew? emm yom yom comp chew to door to lap to chair to window to bed.
posted by notyou at 5:06 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was thinking about this song in the shower the other day and how I should post a question on Askmefi.
posted by 445supermag at 8:40 PM on April 23, 2011


I had the great good fortune to catch Don Byron at MOHAI on the Bug Music tour in, OMG, 1996.

It wasn't the same as riding out to Long Island, really, but it was like watching an archaeologist dig up a lost wine cup. So awesome.
posted by mwhybark at 8:50 PM on April 23, 2011


Nthing the recommendation of the Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights CD.

Also, the Beau Hunks have recorded some incredibly faithful modern reproductions on Celebration on the Planet Mars and Manhattan Minuet.
posted by pmurray63 at 8:50 PM on April 23, 2011


Every so often I set a short clip of this as my Windows logon sound. I just put it back. :)
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 9:14 PM on April 23, 2011


I really like this post!
posted by XhaustedProphet at 10:18 PM on April 23, 2011


I want to be one of those harmonica guys SO. BAD. Especially the one with the two-foot-long bass harmonica. I really expected him to clock the guy next to him in the head.
posted by daisystomper at 10:43 PM on April 23, 2011


As for the light patterns, I think y’all are seriously over-thinking it. These types of FX were quite popular back then (I swear I saw them in the Outer Limits too), particularly because they were so damned easy. Start with a good light source, reflect it off a membrane of some sort (plastic or some sort of foil), then screen it over your video source while tugging at the plastic. It’s quite easy to achieve rhythmic, synchronized patterns in this way. There are several distinct light source transitions in the video — you can see them switch to a strip of discrete lights (like the ones you’d find around a vanity mirror) at :32, for example.

I’m looking for sources, but I’m 99% sure I’m right.
posted by scamper at 1:13 AM on April 24, 2011


Metafilter: Benzedrine fueled gnomes making munitions at an alarming rate.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 1:40 AM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's one piece of music from Looney Tunes that I'd love to know the source of. It's used in chase scenes and starts off really slow and gradually speed up. Assuming it's in E, the first few notes are
Eb E D E Eb E D
E Eb E C# E Eb E C#
I will now spend the next two hours of my life on YouTube trying to find an example of it.
posted by kersplunk at 2:04 PM on April 24, 2011


It's weird, I can kinda halfway hear heavy-metal type rock 'n' roll straining to be born in that piece. Certainly the name of the song is prophetic in that way.
posted by telstar at 4:50 PM on April 24, 2011


I’m looking for sources, but I’m 99% sure I’m right.

I think you are, too. To me, it looks like images reflected on perhaps some flexible reflective material like mirrored mylar, onto a projection screen, manipulated in real time by some studio technician. I was playing with a deflated mylar balloon and a lcd projector, and came up with something that could do this pretty easily, I think.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:17 PM on April 24, 2011


I used to start humming this tune at my Operations/IT job when things got really bent - seemed appropriate at the time.
posted by HannoverFist at 9:03 PM on April 24, 2011


Don't forget Raymond Scott's Portofino 2, a beautiful piece played several times throughout Adam Curtis' documentary Century of the Self!
posted by ReWayne at 5:39 AM on April 25, 2011


Wait wait. 57 comments in and no link to the last track on the first They Might Be Giants album, Rhythm Section Want Ad, of which the bridge is an accordion rendition of the middle part of Powerhouse at speed? Come ON, Metafilter, you're slippin'. Here.
posted by clavicle at 10:43 AM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Plus: underwear & socks... They don't even SELL those secondhand that I've ever seen.

Now there's a concept to pitch on Projects: Extremely Funky Value Village.
posted by y2karl at 2:30 PM on April 25, 2011


clavicle, I had forgotten all about that use! It's been entirely too long since I had a listen to Then: The Earlier Years.
posted by JHarris at 12:46 AM on April 26, 2011


To me, it looks like images reflected on perhaps some flexible reflective material like mirrored mylar..

Yeah, that's sort of what I was thinking too, there were plenty of ideas like that at the time, even direct links to the waveform by attaching the reflective surface to a speaker cone. But this was obviously being manually manipulated, and seems like the source image (before reflection) was a little more complex than that.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:01 AM on April 26, 2011


Kersplunk, I'm pretty sure that's the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.
posted by darksasami at 11:09 AM on April 26, 2011


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