Saturday, July 25, 2015

What's in A Sign?

Let's get detailed.

I think that until the opening of Disneyland Paris in 1992, Magic Kingdom was the theme park with the most interesting, unique collection of...... signs.

Signs are interesting things in theme parks. They don't often get a lot of attention and coverage, but they really belong to that category of theme park grace notes which visitors would miss if they weren't so nicely done. Magic Kingdom's original crop of signs were, in many ways, dead simple. Many of them were simply flat, painted surfaces in a variety of evocative shapes. Especially since the 1990s, theme park signs have become increasingly dimensional and elaborate, sometimes turning into light shows or kinetic sculptures.

Yet its the dead simplicity of those early Magic Kingdom signs which appeals to me. They often had nothing more to work with than typefaces, shape, and color. But sometimes, that's all you need. Indeed, some modern theme park signs are better than the attractions they lead to or the architecture they adorn. The earliest Magic Kingdom signs worked with the architecture like a hand inside a glove.

Consider Adventureland, the Magic Kingdom area with probably the nicest collection of signs and typefaces. Fantasyland went all-in on Gothic letters and Tomorrowland was a sea of handsome, sans-serif fonts. But in Adventureland, the rules could be loosened or broken.

Let's take a moment to consider why this is. At Disneyland, Adventureland goes heavy on the "Tiki" styling: carved masks, skulls on poles, and a rugged outpost feeling. At Disneyland Paris, it's adventure literature of a long ago childhood brought to life. Tokyo Disneyland has a bustling tropical plaza.

Magic Kingdom's Adventureland is the only Adventureland which is feminine, which may partly explain why I favor it. It's all flowing lines, layered details, and complex carvings. It has architecture which manages to evoke the Caribbean, Asia, India and the South Seas without specifically replicating any single element of these cultures.

In other words, in the place of the elephant gun and dive bar ethos best reflected at Disneyland, Magic Kingdom's Adventureland evokes lazy evenings on tropical verandas being fanned with banana leaves, and lazily turning fans. It's a Henry Mancini exotica record frozen in architectural form.

A diverse range of fonts were selected to convey this impression, and largely the main rule seemed to be that anything that went heavy on serifs and looked "fancy" would do nicely. It's a broad range of styles which reflect the notion of a romantic (if unspecific) tropical fantasy.

Let's take a close look now at one specific example, how its signage changed over the years, and how this subtly affects the meaning and presentation of the attraction: The Jungle Cruise.

1962 / Daveland.Com
 By the time the Magic Kingdom was being built in 1971, Disneyland had years before pulled down their original Jungle Cruise boathouse (above) and replaced it with a series of huts and thatched roofs to allowed greater queueing space. So it's perhaps interesting that when WED built a new boathouse in 1971 that was more or less an architectural copy of the original one.

Here's a photo from Jerry Klatt showing the original Magic Kingdom boathouse, pre-expansion. We get a very good view of the original sign, picturesquely suspended on the side of the second floor:

The sign can be read, but not in any real clarity. Thankfully the same font that's used here was used for years afterwards for the ride's advertisement on the side of the Main Street omnibus, tasteful placards which were reproduced in The Poster Art of the Disney Parks.

That's Windsor EF Elongated, a font which saw active duty until fairly recently on the directional signs around the entrance of Magic Kingdom. It's an old font - over one hundred years old now - while still looking restrained and modern. Based on Jerry's photograph, the modern digital version of the font and the spacing and kerning of the omnibus poster example, we end up with this for the Jungle Cruise's original "logo":

It's perhaps a little too easy to fault this one for being too plain. Jerry's photograph does demonstrate how in this original 1971 arrangement, it was possible to enjoy the simple, rather spare Victorian design of the boathouse, which was fancy in a rather simple way. It was old fashioned in an unspectacular way, and the Boathouse still is amazingly effective at conveying the idea that it's been there in the middle of nowhere for a long time without finger pointing. Windsor as a typeface choice is similarly classical yet restrained, echoing the original concept for a simple building which is the embarkation point for a huge adventure.

The first changes came in 1973, shortly ahead of the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean. The entire queue was reworked, expanded out towards the new ride, and the entire area where you see those rope switchbacks in Jerry's photo was covered with a roof. Because the 1971 sign would now be located so far away from the pedestrian space that it would not be seen, a new one was created, and it's a doozy.

For years I thought this had to be a hand-lettered logo, simply for being so weird. I was somewhat right, in the sense that any sign produced in 1973 was going to be painted and cut by hand, producing eccentricities. But it actually was a real font, and a contemporary one in 1973: Barker Flare, which has been digitized by Canada Type as Plywood. I produced mine by tracing from a photo.

This is one of my favorite attraction signs ever.

Barker Flare is idiosyncratic - it's completely modern in design, with those upward thrusting serifs on the R, L and E. It wouldn't be out of place alongside a hippie poster's bubble text.

Yet it's also undoubtedly old fashioned, placing it in the era's love for Victorian and Victorian-style fonts, such as the elongated version of Rubens used for the Haunted Mansion's marquee. There's something to it which suggest the organic, flowing curves of art nouveau.

And it's that art nouveau connection which so easily suggests, especially in the context of the ride it was affixed to, the reaching vines of the jungle without being too overt about it. In other words it was a precise middle ground between being modern looking while still looking a little old fashioned while also looking vaugely, indefinably exotic - perfect for a modern, but wholly old-fashioned excursion into the unknown.

That's right, don't forget that in 1973 there was no hint that the Jungle Cruise was taking place at any time other than right now. Yes, it was a Hollywood-style escapism as well, but with details like red-striped candy colored boat canopies and a bright orange camping tent for the gorillas to cavort in, we clearly weren't back in the Great Depression, either.

So it's interesting to note that not only was the Magic Kingdom Jungle the first to get "sent back" to the 1930s, but that this was accomplished in 1991 with relatively few changes. By far the bulk of them came to the queue, which besides gaining vintage music, got an entirely reworked entrance area. If you never saw this in person you may be shocked at how elaborate this was, because it's all gone now.

Al Huffman
A giant mass of pilings anchored a huge mast which on one side supported a gigantic sign. Spears were stuck in the sign as though they had been thrown out of the jungle and become lodged there.

Al Huffman
A vintage delivery vehicle welcomed visitors, along with boxes for delivery and an engine being worked on. At this time the familiar "boat rudder" marquee also appeared at the top of the hill, beckoning visitors to come check out the Jungle Cruise, just as it does to this day.

With the new theme and new time period, a new logo also appeared.

Given the fact that I've heaped praise on the weirdo 1973 sign you may be forgiven for thinking that I wouldn't like this one, but I do. The hand-lettered look and complex capitals conveys a vintage atmosphere which sets the stage for what's to come. The wave that the words inscribe suggest a relaxing experience while the informal quality of the letters suggests that it won't be entirely serious. And, best of all, it's never been used by a Jungle Cruise in any other park, so it belongs wholly to the Magic Kingdom ride.

Certainly given the tone of the ride and the two terrific logos it's had since, one could be forgiven for thinking that the short lived, handsome 1971 logo is just too darn serious.

Amazingly enough, the huge sign and theming outside the Jungle Cruise lasted eight short years. By 1999 the area was being reworked for the introduction of Fastpass. The vintage car was re-painted and moved to the Africa area at World Showcase, where it sits today, doing nothing. It did nothing outside the Jungle Cruise too, but at least there it was lending atmosphere to one of the park's best rides instead of sitting in the corner of the worst "pavilion" in World Showcase. A new sign appeared, smaller than any of the ones which preceded it but making good use of natural wood grain:

There was no logo change this time. After twenty years, the Jungle Cruise finally had a graphic identity she could live with. In some ways, the Jungle Cruise is an abnormality. Most rides don't change their signs, ever. Here's a ride that's had three good ones and not one of them is at all similar to any of the others.

In our day to day world, signs are functional and not much else - does anybody seriously frequent, say, a Chinese takeout place with a sign you'd be willing to hang in your house? In theme parks the attentively designed, carefully crafted signs are part of the thoroughly manicured impression the parks exude. They help create the "play space" where everything is beautiful and everything, even the smallest detail, has been put in place entirely for the pleasure of the viewer.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

The New Age Music of Tomorrowland, and Others

The New Age Era, 1983 - 1993

The year was 1983, and Tomorrowland was looking a little bad.

EPCOT Center had just opened the year before, and compared to the friendly new face on tomorrow WED had achieved just south of Magic Kingdom, the fact that Tomorrowland was still selling a 60s version of the future was ever more apparent.

In truth the project hadn't really ever ended. For the opening of Space Mountain in 1975 Flight to the Moon had been reworked into Mission to Mars and America the Beautiful had been updated for the Bicentennial. New Circlevision films had popped up pretty regularly, and the Canada Circlevision film from the 1967 Montreal Expo had even been shown occasionally during "Canada Weeks". This was before it was reworked yet again and installed permanently at EPCOT.

1983 saw the first true "New" Tomorrowland. Space Mountain was given a new post show and EPCOT-style musical soundtrack. ORAC-1 took over for Jack Wagner on the WEDWAY Peoplemover. American Journeys, another reworking of America the Beautiful, moved into the Circlevision theater. The whole area was given a new color scheme, and the problematic entryway fountains were turned off. And, Jack Wagner created a new piece of music for the area.

The music sound system of Magic Kingdom had seen its first efforts to standardize and improve in the early 80s. EPCOT Center had been by far the most musically complex theme park ever created, and for the first time WED had managed to create a theme park with wall to wall music that was evenly audible through the entire area. What they had learned was headed back to Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disneyland.

New speakers had appeared all through Tomorrowland during the re-painting process, and soon debuted a new kind of Tomorrowland music. Jack Wagner had experimented with "New Age" synth music in the 1983 Tokyo Disneyland Tomorrowland, and created an entirely new one for Magic Kingdom, this time using music entirely from one artist.... surprise! It was Mannheim Steamroller.

Tomorrowland Area Music [ca. 1983 – 1990] 
Running Time Approx. 50 Minutes
01.  Chocolate Fudge [1] 
02.  Pass the Keg (Lia) [1] 
03.  The First Door [2]
04.  The Fourth Door [2]*
05.  Going to Another Place [2]**
06.  Toccata [3]* 
07.  Mere Image [3]* 
08.  Four Rows of Jacks [4] 
09.  The Third Door [2] 
10.  The Fifth Door [2] 
11.  Morning [3] 
12.  Midnight on a Full Moon [3]* 
13.  Dancing Flames [4] 
14.  The Cricket [3]* 
15.  The Sixth Door [2] 
16.  Door Seven [2]***

[1] Fresh Aire by Mannheim Steamroller (American Gramaphone, AG-355-S, 1975)
[2] Fresh Aire II by Mannheim Steamroller (American Gramaphone, AG-359-S, 1977) 
[3] Fresh Aire III by Mannheim Steamroller (American Gramaphone, AG-365-S, 1979) 
[4] Fresh Aire 4 by Mannheim Steamroller (American Gramaphone, AG-370-S, 1981)

* Denotes a track which fades into the next track
** Track 5 is followed by five seconds of wind sound effects from the end of the record fading into the next track
*** Followed by approx. 15 seconds of silence
Based on a reference recording by Mike Lee made in 1990. Identified and compiled by Nomeus and Foxx.

 We really have Nomeus to thank for this one. He worked in Tomorrowland in the 80s and really kept the memory of this loop alive on MouseBits, even putting together a playlist of the Mannheim Steamroller songs he remembered playing there which turned out to be mostly accurate. It was his prompting that got Mike Lee's live recording of the loop from 1990 transferred, which allowed me to attempt a reconstruction.

This is one loop I won't post my rebuild of, because all of the tracks are commercially available, owned by the same person, and distributed by a company founded by the composer for the sole purpose of distributing this music. It's a very straightforward compilation process.

I do hope you'll make your own playlist or reconstruction of this loop, because I think it's the most remarkable Tomorrowland loop Jack Wagner ever created. The loop is structured around the first side of Fresh Aire II, which is an extended single suite which weaves variations on a theme in and out of a larger piece of music for a full 20 minutes. Wagner re-orders the tracks but keeps the musical motif moving in and out of his loop, meaning this is one of the very few pieces of park BGM which feels like a true listening experience instead of a bunch of random pieces of music which have a unified "feel". I had no idea what to expect during the identification of the songs and reconstruction of the loop, but it turned out to be my far and away favorite.

After Mannheim we come to the famous "Bubble Shuffle" loop.

I've tried to come up with a clear date when Mannheim fled the coop, but it just isn't possible. The loop which replaced the Mannheim loop is often distributed with a 1989 date on it, which I don't think is accurate. Home videos and recordings by Mike Lee from 1990 and 1991 reveal both the Mannheim and Bubble Shuffle loops playing on different days. Between 1989 and 1991 Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland and Magic Kingdom began to switch over from reel to reel music to CDs, so it's possible that the Bubble Shuffle loop was intended to replace the Mannheim loop when the new system came online, and it wasn't a straightforward process.

The Bubble Shuffle loop is made up of tracks which entered the Wagner sound library in 1983 to compile the Tokyo Disneyland Tomorrowland tracks as well as music which played at the EPCOT Wonders of Life pavilion. Jack used these same tracks to create the sound scape for the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure at Disney-MGM in late 1990, and I would not be surprised to learn they were used elsewhere as well. After Jack's retirement, they were used to create the interior music loop for FountainView Espresso at EPCOT in 1994.

Tomorrowland Area Music [ca. 1990 - 1993, 1995 - 2003]
Running time: approx. 58.46 
01. Bubble Shuffle [9] 
02. Night Fire Dance [3] 
03. The Palace [6] 
04. Summer's Day [8] 
05. Windswept [12]  
06. Inside the Sky [5]
07. Inside the House [10]  
08. Sea Space [9]
09. Fire Ritual [1]
10. Behind the Waterfall [7]  
11. Generation Prelude [11]  
12. Generation [11]
13. Elsewhere [2]  
14. Hidden Pathways [4]
[01] Between Two Worlds by Patrick O’Hearn (Private Music 2017-2-P, 1987)
[02] Direct by Vangelis (Arista ARCD-8545, 1988)
[03] Down to the Moon by Andreas Vollenweider (CBS MK 42255, 1986)
[04] Hidden Pathways by Bruce Mitchell (Narada Mystique CD-2003, 1987)
[05] Inside the Sky by Steve Haun (Silver Wave Records SD-504, 1988)
[06] Island by David Arkenstone (Narada Equinox ND-63005, 1989)
[07] Natural States by David Lanz and Paul Speer (Narada Experience ND-63001, 1985)
[08] Neverland by Suzanne Ciani (Private Music 2036-2-P, 1988)
[09] On Solid Ground by Larry Carlton (MCA Records MCAD-6237, 1989)
[10] The Wanderer by Azuma (Private Music 2037-2-P, 1988)
[11] The Waiting by Peter Buffett (Narada Mystique ND-62002, 1987)
[12] Whatever Works by John Jarvis (MCA Records MCAD-6263, 1988)

Playlist compiled by sds910.

This floats around in various versions, including one ripped from a CD that was used in park, but I don't think you can do better than this restoration by YouTube user TheMellowPumpkin:

Most people who went to Disney in the 90s remember this as the New Tomorrowland music, and in fact it hung on all the way up to 2003, when the current Foliart loop began playing. To help fill in the record a bit, I'm going to wander out of the usual time period of this blog and provide a brief overview of how we ended up listening to Behind the Waterfall until 2003...

The New Tomorrowland Loops, 1994

When Tomorrowland went down to be rebuilt in 1993, the sound scape was simplified. The 1976 WEDway "Lounge" track, which had survived all through the "New Age" era, was removed and the Peoplemover track speakers were wired to play the same music as the rest of Tomorrowland, which is why an entire generation remembers Behind the Waterfall from the TTA.

When New Tomorrowland debuted in late 1994, it did not do so to the relaxing sounds of Peter Arkenstone and Vangelis. A short, 15 minute suite of music by Raymond Scott played, appropriate to the machine age look of the refurbished area. You know Raymond Scott from dozens of Looney Tunes shorts and Ren and Stimpy. It's the music which usually plays when a factory is shown.

According to MagicMusic forum user sds910, all of the tracks came from a 1989 CD called "The Raymond Scott Project, Vol. 1", which most reviews online seem to indicate is of extremely unsatisfactory quality. The tracks used were, in order: 01, 03, 21, 20, 13, and 12. This played for a few months.

Soon that 15 minute loop was replaced by a 30 minute loop especially recorded for Tomorrowland by George Wilkins, in a clever pseudo-imitation of Scott's style. This still floats around online, usually identified as "Old Tomorrowland Music", in a group of ten tracks. Here's a sample:

The Wilkins track did not last long either, apparently not even making it through 1995 before the music reverted to the good old Bubble Shuffle tracks. Why?

If we use the Internet Archive and access the official Raymond Scott website at RaymondScott.Com, if we go back far enough we eventually find listed under live performances:
Tomorrowland - DisneyWorld: (Orlando, FL) six Scott Quintette compositions and recordings blatantly used as musical template for constantly-running soundtrack loop at renovated theme park attraction; infringement settled out of court (1995-96)
Busted! It looks like the Scott estate had been after Disney for a while,  for if we backtrack to the F.A.Q. section of the website we find this pointed remark:
Was Raymond Scott's music used in the Disney film HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS? 
The film score was written by noted klepto-composer* James Horner, who cleverly appropriated Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse" in approx. 17 scenes, without crediting Scott. Disney was threatened with a lawsuit by Scott's publishers, and after a year of negotiation, the matter was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Although the film's screen credits were not revised, the film's cue sheets (music logs) were revised to reflect a dozen or so uses of "Powerhouse." This means Scott's heirs and publishers earn performance revenue through ASCAP when the film airs on TV and elsewhere. (* see New Yorker Magazine, March 9, 1998)
This is presumably why Esquivel music continued to play in the exit area of Space Mountain up to 2005, and possibly rights-free for Disney!
In some ways this is one of those cases where you don't realize that a piece of music is inappropriate until you hear what was intended. And while the Raymond Scott and Wilkins tracks are undoubtedly more in the style of New Tomorrowland, I don't regret having lost them. I don't know anybody who loved the 90s version of Tomorrowland who didn't feel that the New Age loop worked for it. I think the secret is that it softened an area which otherwise could feel frenetic and impersonal. The 1994 Tomorrowland sometimes seemed more sarcastic than genuinely optimistic, but the soothing, upbeat New Age music gave it back a beating heart which perhaps it would have otherwise lacked.
Ready for more? Visit the Passport to Dreams Theme Park Music Hub.
Or, hop a monorail to the past and spend a full "day" at the Walt Disney World of the 1970s by downloading Another Musical Souvenir of Walt Disney World.