Carl Stalling

Carl Stalling, composer and arranger, was the genius behind the kaleidoscopic music that accompanied the classic cartoons made under the auspices of Warner Bros. Studios in the middle of 20th century. His work was passionate and frenzied. He followed the visual path of the action, rather than the established rules of composition. The result, which is not anchored in traditional senses of rhythm or time, was unorthodox in its extremeism. It saw melody, style and form collide in a magnificent pile-up sound and image. Stalling was a maverick who had a wide reach, spanning from jazz to classical to pop music to experimental music. His cutting-and-paste compositions are a clear example of the pioneering music that was created. In fact, you could argue that his work helped to introduce entire generations to avant-garde music. Stalling was born at Lexington, MO, in 1888. His musical education began when he was a child, playing on a toy piano for hours. He saw Edwin S. Porter’s first film, The Great Train Robbery at five years old. This ignited a passion for cinema and many years later, he was hired to play the piano during reel changes at the local movie house. By the 1920s, he was leading his own orchestra and creating music to accompany silent films at the Isis Theater, Kansas City. Stalling was invited to score two animated shorts by Walt Disney. His soundtracks included cartoons such as “The Skeleton Dance”, the first of the Silly Symphonies Series. While in the studio, Stalling developed a system called “ticking”, which allowed orchestra members to maintain a consistent tempo while listening to a steady beat via headphones. Stalling was so involved in Disney’s projects that he even became Mickey Mouse’s voice. Stalling was hired by animator UbIwerks to work on the “Flip the Frog”. Six years later, Stalling landed at Warner Bros. and remained the department’s music director for more than two decades. Stalling’s arrival coincided the emergence of a golden era in Warner animation. Under the direction of Leon Schlesinger who assembled a stellar team of animators, including Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones, the studio’s cartoons, the Merrie Melodies series and Looney Tunes series respectively, the studio’s animated cartoons, the Merrie Melodies, and Frank Tashlin’s cartoons, heralded a new era inspired lunacy with affer and Porky Pig and a brand of humor that was far from Disney’s gentlemen. The studio’s core team was formed with Mel Blanc’s 1937 arrival as a voice-over master. This was followed by the introduction of Bugs Bunny in 1940, which became the WB’s iconic icon. Stalling was responsible for 600 cartoons at Warners. He also created the studio’s distinctive opening sound effect, a “boinngggg!” He also created their unique opening sound effect — a “boinngggg!” using an electric guitar chord. Stalling worked with Warner’s 50-piece orchestra, under the direction of Milt Franklyn. Each cartoon was scored in three hours. Stalling’s work cannot be discussed without mentioning Raymond Scott, the visionary recording of the late 1930s that, although not intended to be used in conjunction with animations, remains a cornerstone of cartoon music. Scott was a major influence on Stalling’s use of his mechanized Powerhouse in “Mousemerized Cat.” This resulted in Stalling introducing music to Ren and Stimpy and other programs. Other Scott creations that were popularized through Warner cartoons include “Dinner Music For A Pack of Hungry Cannibals” and “Dinner Music for an Pack of Hungry Cannibals.” Stalling believed that 80- to 90 percent of the scores were his creations. Each composition had to be perfectly synced to every moment onscreen. In his compositions, bassoons and sliding trombones as well as odd viola effects and glissandos all ascended to great prominence, sometimes even replacing Treg Brown’s many sound effects. Stalling, who had scored 1958’s “To Itch His Own,” retired in 1974.

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