The 1960s experimental collaborations of Raymond Scott and Jim Henson
September 12, 2013 8:42 AM   Subscribe

"Gentlemen: I have a story that may be of interest to you. It is not widely known who invented the circuitry concept for the automatic sequential performance of musical pitches - now well known as a sequencer. I, however, do know who the inventor was - for it was I who first conceived and built the sequencer." This is the opening to an undated, unaddressed letter, found in Raymond Scott's personal papers (yes, the same fellow whose kooky soundtracks scored everything from Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies to Ren & Stimpy, The Simpson, and Animaniacs). You can read the rest of Scott's letter, along with Bob Moog's recollections of visiting Raymond's electronics laboratory in the mid-1950s. Or you could jump ahead to the mid-1960s, when Jim Henson was in his late 20s to early 30s, and he was working on a variety of odd projects after a successful run with Sam and Friends, but before he it it big with Sesame Street. It was at this point that he teamed up with Scott on a few short, experimental films.

The Short Films
Limbo, the Organized Mind (4:22)
This was the first collaboration between Jim Henson and Raymond Scott. Henson was intrigued by thought processes and idea sources, and wanted to visualize these concepts. "Limbo" is a character he created using eyes and mouth, made from foam rubber, that seemed to float in front of images that evoke the mind's inner-workings. Henson narrates Limbo's thoughts while Scott's electronic music and sound effects articulate how and where his thoughts are filed. This short clip was first broadcast in July of 1966 on The Mike Douglas Show, and then on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1974, which is the source of this version.

Memories (1:06)
Jim Henson's Bufferin commercial from 1967. While an actor played the lead, Jim provided the voice-over, and the electronic score was composed in collaboration with Raymond Scott.

Ripples (1:07)
In 1966-67, Jim created two short films for a contest at Montreals Expo 67. One of these was "Ripples." Shot on 16mm film, Ripples explored motion and movement and was accompanied by an electronic score created in collaboration with jazz composer Raymond Scott. Shot in January 1967, Ripples featured an architect (played by Sesame Street colleague Jon Stone) tossing pebbles into water making ripples.

The Paperwork Explosion (4:59)
In 1967, Henson was contracted by IBM to make a film extolling the virtues of their new technology, the MT/ST, a primitive word processor. The film would explore how the MT/ST would help control the massive amount of documents generated by a typical business office. Paperwork Explosion, produced in October 1967, is a quick-cut montage of images and words illustrating the intensity and pace of modern business. Henson collaborated with Raymond Scott on the electronic sound track. You can read more musings on this clip here.

Wheels that Go (1:03)
A short film made by Jim Henson in 1967, Wheels That Go explored motion and movement and was accompanied by an electronic score created in collaboration with jazz composer Raymond Scott. It features Henson's son Brian playing with things with wheels.

I Know Who I Am (Muppet Wiki; no video clip found)
"I Know Who I Am" is a short film by Jim Henson featuring Limbo. Combining live puppetry and pre-recorded film, Henson originally gave the premiere on The Mike Douglas Show in July 1966.

The film comically features the identifying numbers given to people in everyday life such as can be found on passports and driver's licenses.

Idea Man (3:16)
This early experimental animated short created and narrated by Jim Henson, featured on The Mike Douglas Show with Limbo, but seen here without that character superimposed. I don't think this was scored by Scott, but it seems this clip could have been mixed up with I Am What I Am, mentioned above.

From Jim Hensons's archives come a few references to his work with Scott, and a picture of Scott, then in his late 50s. There's also a short entry on Scott in the Muppet Wiki, noting the five short films he scored with Henson.

You can find more of Raymond Scott's experimental electronic music from the 1950s and 60s on Manhattan Research Inc., a 2CD set of film soundtracks, commercials, and personal experiments. Much of the material is available to stream on Grooveshark, plus or minus a few tracks: Disc 1, Disc 2.

As a fun tangent, it was Henson who snapped the photo of Scott that is used on the Raymond Scott Archives blog.
posted by filthy light thief (11 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Wow. Amazing find. It's like an ur-happy-geek explosion.
posted by oneironaut at 8:47 AM on September 12, 2013

... and a belated happy 105th birthday to Raymond Scott (or 105th anniversary of his birth - I'm not sure how to refer to the birthday of someone who is deceased).
posted by filthy light thief at 8:47 AM on September 12, 2013

I remember seeing a Limbo-like character on Sesame Street as a kid, disembodied eyes and mouth. Nightmare-fuel.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 9:01 AM on September 12, 2013

Oh, thanks for this! I was just watching The Paperwork Explosion after I fell down the rabbit hole after watching Robot from the Bell Labs Archives. I teach technical writing and I wanted to show some examples of artists collaborating with industry.
posted by Tesseractive at 9:05 AM on September 12, 2013

I've only recently begun to delve into the evolution of electronic music from the Futurists through to musique concrète and onwards (and was already a new fan of Scott's), so to learn that Scott worked with another one of my favourite artists is just so cool.
posted by droplet at 9:30 AM on September 12, 2013

to learn that Scott worked with another one of my favourite artists is just so cool

On that note, here are some memories of Raymond Scott by Jean-Jacques Perrey.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:43 AM on September 12, 2013

The mind-blowing thing about Raymond Scott is that at a time when popular music was still getting used to electric guitars, he was making music like this, which wouldn't sound out-of-place today.
posted by ubernostrum at 10:02 AM on September 12, 2013

If you like the later era of Scott, Deconstructing Dad is a great documentary. There is so much to Scott beyond the Looney Tunes tunes.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:09 AM on September 12, 2013

FYI, Raymond Scotts original Electronium (which he used to make a lot of the music you're hearing) is now owned by Mark Mothersbaugh.
posted by SPUTNIK at 12:34 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I hear he just uses it to generate weird ringtones these days.

(I joke, because I'm a bit jealous, but mostly happy that someone who really appreciates it and has time and room for it is the current owner/curator.)
posted by filthy light thief at 1:37 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really like "Idea Man." It's hard not to hear Rowlf narrating it.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:06 PM on September 12, 2013

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