Heather Perkins was the first person to point out to us that Mel Blanc was first and foremost a musician. As we journeyed through preparations for the Mel Blanc Project, we came to understand how profoundly true this observation was.
Mel Blanc was first trained as a musician. He first performed as a musician. He was first discovered in Portland playing with a band. He supported himself in Portland as musician. He was discovered at Warner Brothers by a fellow musician.
….like many American kids, my first experience of an orchestra and a conductor was through cartoons, specifically through Bugs Bunny cartoons. As a kid, I had no idea what “The Rabbit of Seville” or “What’s Opera Doc” were parodying. When I got older and first heard Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Wagner’s cycle of Ring operas, I experienced that shock of recognition – “oh, that’s where that Bugs Bunny music comes from!” – which would become a recurring theme in my listening life.
From the Great American Songbook, small combo jazz by Raymond Scott, tone poems by Mendelssohn… over the years I would listen to these very different types of music only to realize I’d heard them before.
In Bugs Bunny cartoons!
When I mention this to people, I am no longer surprised when the response is “that happens to me all the time too!”
If you would like to stretch your musical horizons in ways other than watching Warner Brothers cartoons, on Sept. 9 & 10. at the Hollywood Theater in Portland, Oregon, Heather Perkins, the aforementioned originator of Oregon Cartoon Institute‘s Mel Blanc Project, will perform a live soundtrack to a rare screening of Starman: The Evil Brain From Space, a 1950’s Japanese TV special.
From the press release:
For this special performance, Perkins is pulling out all the stops. “I will be moving a version of my entire studio into the theater,” she says, “so I am basically building a huge new instrument with many heads, each with evil brains of their own.” As the film plays behind her, Perkins will work magic on her eclectic array of gadgetry – perhaps a Vocoder for the Evil Brain sound or some keyboard blips for gunbursts, and definitely a Waterphone to get the show started. A liquid-filled brass instrument, the Waterphone produces “a sound you have heard a million times maybe without knowing what it was,” Perkins explains. “It can sound evocative if played right, but one false move and it sounds truly screechingly awful. I’m not sure which outcome to hope for, honestly.”
Here’s another musical Portlander, this time repurposing Rossni:
The Mel Blanc Project was a series of public history/art education events made possible in part by a grant from the Kinsman Foundation and by a grant from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation.
For more information about Mel Blanc, see the Archives of this website.
“Despite what some might term the “frivolous” nature of my job, I consider myself an artist, and cartoons, art.” Mel Blanc