If you like sampling, you’ll enjoy digging through the Manhattan Research, Inc. recordings up on youtube – not only to keep an ear out yourself, but to relish the skill of Raymond Scott, one of the original samplers and a fine one indeed.
If you don’t really care about sampling, then read on anyway for some great listening, playful, confusing, and very fun, an experience somewhere between album and radio play.
A 2000 double CD set released recordings made by Raymond Scott’s company Manhattan Research, Inc., which were originally pieces of auditory experimentation to promote the various niche bizarro musical instruments that Scott was inventing. Despite this very functional purpose for their recording, the tracks and pieces take on aesthetic qualities and delicious musical character of the abstract and odd variety.
The contrast of some vocal samples, taken from advertisement, and the sounds and melodies sculpted around them attest to the pivotal role of sound in setting mood. In the second track (by which I mean youtube video) detergent – “whitest possible washes” – becomes spooky, with the open question of what you are washing out of white sheets forming a sinister suggestion. Crisp effects on the vocal samples mesh them neatly into the whole sound, which ranges from crackly vintage sound recordings to totally artificial digital 8-bit-ish noises.
Exploring a wide range of melodies, moods, instruments, and themes, there is chaotic variety to the collections. Their higgeldy-piggeldy ordering cuts any kind of build or narrative flow, and supports the release as a presentation of ability and innovation, and of the instruments and their sound, with no deeper meaning behind the work than to show off the mans creativity and technology and leave everyone agasp at his ability and repertoire woooo.
Yet the sound remains within the context of recognisable music, embracing popular influences and working within the framework of expectations. Classic themes and motifs are recognisable, played in strange environments with outlandish tonality and accompaniment. Then there are really deconstructive parts, abstract and jarring, and permeated with a sense cheeky teasing, like a boast of creativity. During all this, Scott seems to adopt the voice of his samples to become personal, and own the productions as aesthetic and creative at the same time as functional – or is this just evidence that we can interpret intent and meaning and beauty into anything, even the least artistic creation, an advertisement for sounds that uses advertisements for commercial products? Perhaps we should regard this even like a museum piece, seeing as Scott was already dead when it was released.
How it all is so interesting and (at times) pleasing to listen to attests to the talent of one of sound engineering and digital sound production and instrumentations original pioneers. It can be quite intense though – I personally can only listen to one video at a time before it becomes a bit too much for me.
Perfect for when you want a little bit of oddity and digital sound-wizardry in your life – snack a bit on the weird side.