Saturday, June 5, 2010

Raymond Scott, Sequencing, Numerology and Musical Magic

I recently had the pleasure of attending a screening of the captivating documentary "Deconstructing Dad - The Music, Machines and Mystery of Raymond Scott", lovingly created by Scott's son, Stan Warnow, a resident of the Hudson valley (the screening was sponsored by my friends over at Rivertown Film). The film is deeply personal, compelling blend of Scott's considerable talents in musical composition, electronics, audio synthesis, engineering and recording technologies. I've known about Scott for years - The Music of Raymond Scott: Reckless Nights & Turkish Twilights, and "Manhattan Research, Inc." are longtime parts of my collection, and are required listening for anyone who appreciates uniquely eccentric music.

Check out his very first hit song, Powerhouse, and ask yourself, why does this sound familiar?

Think Warner Brother cartoons.

Here's the trailer for the documentary:

In many ways, Scott was very much the Frank Zappa of his era, in that he worked with some of the top session musicians of the time, but reached the point where he seemed to feel that technology was the only way to recreate the complexity of the music running through his imagination. Scott hired a young Robert Moog right out of school, to help build early analog synthesis and sequencing hardware, culminating in a audio workstation called The Electronium.

Sequencing is what Scott ended up devoting a major portion of his creative efforts to later in life, and his elaborate electronic studio was the most powerful sequencer on the planet for some amount of time, an impressive achievement in any era. The Sequencer is essentially the tool for arranging the musical notes that are used to trigger sounds - in a player piano, the punched paper was the note sequence used to trigger the actual mechanical hammer assemblies.

While most DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) hardware and software is designed around the idea of combining MIDI sequencing with sampled-audio tracks (live, mic'd instruments and recorded vocals), there is one particular program that goes far beyond the typical sequencing capabilities found in most programs - it's a Mac-only marvel called Numerology, and there's absolutely nothing like it on any other platform. It uses the flexibility of software to deliver sequencing potential that literally blows my mind... and it would have made Raymond Scott smile ear-to-ear, no question. I did a review for Mac|Life that merely scratches the surface of this addictive wonder, and it's just one of those situations where it's hard to clearly explain the amazing depth of this uniquely creative, deeply fascinating musical production tool.

Watch this movie, and you'll start to understand the possibilities.

There are plenty more demo movies that show off some of what you can accomplish with Numerology, check them out.

It uses any Audio Units synth and effects plugin you have installed in your Mac (and there are LOTS of those floating around), and there's no question that it's one of my desert island picks. It's the fruits of the mind of an amazingly talented creative programmer/musician, James Coker, who has come up with something so special, he deserves a MacArthur Award for his efforts. For $119, you can enjoy the same level of potential that took Raymond Scott many years, and thousands of dollars, to cobble together. If ever someone's soul could haunt a piece of software released years after his passing, well, I'd be willing to bet there's some Scott lurking somewhere deep in Numerology.


timsmallman said...

Numerologly. Looks interesting. I've been out of the recording game for a few years now, but eager to return. Might check it out. David, have you made public any of your own recordings?

David Biedny said...

Tim - my music is a very private thing, I tend not to share it with anyone, but the original theme music for a paranormal podcast I used to do, was composed by me in an evening, and is part of a larger piece of music I wrote using Ableton Live.

Stan Warnow said...

Thanks for this splendid post--might have to quote this as a review! While It's always satisfying for me to introduce people to the history of my Dad's work but an absolute thrill to learn about people who have been aware of him for years and really know about it.

Thanks again David!

Stan Warnow

Christal said...