LOONEY TUNES

for flute, saxophone, violin, cello, electric guitar, electric bass, percussion and piano

Written: 2006-07
Duration: 16'
Instrumentation: flute (doubling piccolo), alto saxophone (doubling baritone sax), violin, cello, electric guitar, electric bass guitar (not acoustic contrabass), percussion (drumset, bongos, xylophone, amplified Udu drum and misc. small instruments) and piano (doubling synthesizer). All players doubling misc. small percussion instruments, bird whistles and sound effects.
An accompanying slideshow and with over one-hundred images and a list of cues is also available.
World PremiereGreat Noise EnsembleCatholic University of America, Benjamin T. Rome School of MusicWard Hall, Washington, DC, USA, April 30, 2010.
World Premiere Recording: Great Noise Ensemble. Guerrilla New Music, CD Baby, December 9, 2013.
PublisherBill Holab Music

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PROGRAM NOTE

(Short Version for Programs)

In Looney Tunes, each movement uses a specific well-known cartoon character as a musical influence and point of departure. The first movement, Taz, is inspired by the Tasmanian Devil character and plays upon all of Taz’s traits with loud, dissonant outbursts, gyrating transitions, quiet, reflective sections and a few references to his attraction to music. The second movement, Foghorn Leghorn, is inspired by this character’s loud, vocal disposition. The ‘Foghorn’ part of his name makes me think of real foghorns, and a foghorn-like interval begins this low-sounding, baritone sax-heavy movement. The third movement, Tweety Bird, provides contrast with a somewhat high tessitura and includes prominent parts for piccolo, violin, xylophone and alto sax. Although the entire movement only abstractly references the animated Tweety, I try to make all of the high instruments sound bird-like from beginning to end. Two of my favorite cartoon characters of all time are the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, so it seemed appropriate to end the work with a fastRoad Runner movement. I have always been fascinated by the seemingly infinite array of ACME inventions the Coyote uses to try and capture the Road Runner, and the last movement reflects this and incorporates a number of exotic, gizmo-like sounds and instruments.

(Long Version)

As a child, many of my Saturday mornings were spent in front of the TV wearing pajamas, bowl of cereal in hand, watching my favorite Looney Tunes cartoons. Since they were made well before I was born and generally intended for adults, I was oblivious to many of the subtle jokes and hidden meanings. They have a certain level of depth and humor that I find missing from many of today’s animated shorts. They also broke new ground, playing off stereotypes and making fun of almost anything.

While composing Looney Tunes, I enjoyed watching them again and catching everything I missed as a child, particularly reveling in sound editor Treg Brown’s use of exotic sound effects and composer/arranger Carl Stalling’s complicated, technically demanding scores, full of rapid, tightly coordinated musical cues and clever musical references and puns. Certain aspects of my creative style probably germinated in my childhood when I watched these cartoons and heard these colorful scores.

In the beginning, cartoons with sound interested Warner Bros. primarily as a way of promoting their vast music library, and they initially stipulated that each cartoon must highlight one or more of the songs they owned. This somewhat subtle form of product placement creatively integrated marketing and humor. Today, most of the tunes and references go right by us, as they are no longer popular, but they are still funny nevertheless.

The very first Looney Tunes cartoons also drew their story lines from Warner Bros. music library, and this is where the ‘Tunes’ in Looney Tunes probably came from. (Interestingly, Warner Bros. released another overlapping series at the same time called Merrie Melodies. Both titles were direct references to Silly Symphonies, a competing cartoon series by Disney in which the cartoons were designed around a musical score.) I interpret the title—at least how it refers to this work—as meaning crazy musical tunes. Each movement of Looney Tunes uses a specific cartoon character as a musical influence and point of departure, and I also uses a few quotes from each cartoon throughout the work.

The first movement, Taz, is inspired by the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character. Ironically, Taz didn’t become famous until the 1980s, well after the five original shorts were introduced. The character is based on the real-life, Australian Tasmanian devil and his main traits are his obnoxiousness, ravenous appetite, dim wit, his growling, screeching, loud, grammatically-limited, raspy voice and especially the gyrating, tornado-like way he spins from place to place. He also has a soft spot for “she devils” and music. In Bill Of Hare, Taz sits at a restaurant table while Bugs Bunny serenades him with a violin, which after a moment he grabs from Bugs and swallows whole. In Ducking the Devil (a Merrie Melodies short), Daffy Duck woos him, first with a radio and then a trombone. This movement plays upon his pseudo bi-polar traits with loud, dissonant outbursts, gyrating transitions, quiet sections and a few references to his attraction to music. At the end of the movement, I also allude to his marriage to the “she devil” in the Devil May Hareepisode.

Unlike Taz and other Looney Tunes characters that speak very little or not at all, Foghorn Leghorn is almost too vocal. The first half of his name alludes to his loud, overbearing voice, the second half a breed of chicken called a leghorn. His name also suggests an association with Senator Beauregard Claghorn, a fictitious character portrayed by actor Kenny Delmar in the 1940s Fred Allen Showand in the movie It’s a Joke Son. The word ‘Foghorn’ makes me think of the real thing (and was inspired by my hearing foghorns near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco), and a foghorn-like interval of a perfect fifth begins the low-sounding, baritone sax-heavy second movement, Foghorn Leghorn.

Tweety Bird, the third movement, contrasts the low-sounding second movement with a somewhat high tessitura, including prominent parts for piccolo, violin, xylophone and alto sax. Although the entire movement only abstractly references Tweety the animated character, All of the high instruments sound bird-like from beginning to end. Today, one cannot really allude to birds in a musical work without thinking of the twentieth-century French composer Olivier Messiaen or Charlie “Bird” Parker, Jr., the twentieth-century American jazz saxophonist and composer, so I allude to these two greats in the middle of the movement by depicting what it might have sounded like if Messiaen and Parker had met for coffee. The abstract nature of the movement is broken up by a final interlude, a quote from the Tweety Bird song in Putty Tat Trouble.

It seemed appropriate to end the work with a fast movement, so I based it on and call it Road Runner. Two of my favorite cartoon characters of all time are the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, the Road Runner’s comically ineffectual, starving predator whose carefully thought-out hunts always end in disaster. I have always been fascinated by the seemingly infinite array of ACME inventions the Coyote uses to try and capture the Road Runner, and I allude to this by incorporating a number of exotic sounds and instruments; in effect, musical gadgets. The movement literally begins with a bang and is distinguished by fast sixteenth-note runs, a groove created by bottles mimicking the Road Runner’s distinctive tongue blips, old-fashioned car horns and a Nigerian Udu drum, along with a few other special sound effects.

Review of the New York premiere with the American Modern Ensemble... Mr. Paterson’s music paid homage to the genre-smashing jump-cut soundtracks of those shorts without outright mimicry. He added his own clever touches: snatches of Messiaen and Charlie Parker in “Tweety Bird”; percussive water jugs to imitate the Road Runner’s tongue wags.
— Steve Smith, The New York Times
Review of the New York premiere with the American Modern Ensemble... Robert Paterson conducted the uproariously fun New York premiere of his Looney Tunes, set to photos and cartoon stills, which gave post-modern definition-shifting and slippery subject recognition a fresh face.
— Daniele Sahr, Seen and Heard International, MusicWeb International
Review of the world premiere with the Great Noise Ensemble... Then the group offered aural portraits of four favorite cartoon characters in Robert Paterson’s “Looney Tunes.” With techniques expanded to include scraping sounds, grunts, whistles and screams, the music was put out there with enormous exuberance and good humor, all tempered by moments of delicacy and restraint.
— Joan Reinthaler, The Washington Post