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  • Writer's pictureThom Holmes

Electronic Music for Babies

My blog for the Bob Moog Foundation.


I begin this episode by asking a question that I know is on the minds of every listener of this podcast:  That question is, what kind of electronic music appeals to babies?


Seriously, in my Archive, I find a vein of recordings that were intended to help babies sleep, relax, keep them occupied and otherwise bemuse them during play or distract them in times of duress using the powers of ambient and electronic music, sometimes mixed with sounds of nature. I decided to gather together this little substrate of recordings and feature them here in this episode. It is also a great excuse to share with you some unique electronic music produced by one of the founding fathers of ambient and sequenced electronic sounds, Raymond Scott. I write extensively about Scott in my book (EEM6 see link above), recounting his various inventions and personal history, so rather than go into those details here, I invite you to explore the book if you are interested in learning more about Raymond Scott. Saying that, a little more than half of this episode will be devoted to showcasing the electronic music created by Raymond Scott in 1964 for his series of three albums called Soothing Sounds for Baby. Each was intended to be listened to by babies in a particular age range, album 1 for 1 to 6 months, album 2 for 6 to 12 months, and album 3 for 12 to 18 months. The music gets more complex with each volume. Scott created much of the music on the albums with instruments he created, such as the Electronium and the Clavivox. Advisement around the nature and complexity of the sounds for each age group was based on ideas from the Gesell Institute of Child Development, an organization that also produced a little essay inserted into each album. The cover states that the records are “an indispensable aid to mother during the feeding, teething, play, sleep and fretful periods,” and also brands the albums as “an infant’s friend in sound.” Who wouldn’t want such a friend is what I say? Anyway, I interpret those ideas as a pretty solid reason for Scott, then known as a band leader and writer of commercial jingles, to put his electronic music inventions to work for an extended project.


To be clear, this music wasn’t the work of an eccentric tinkerer who cobbled together instruments to make sounds electronically. By the late 1940s, Scott had accumulated enough wealth from his work as a bandleader and composer to purchase a large home in North Hills, Long Island. In it were eight rooms devoted to his electronic experiments. He had a professionally outfitted machine shop for making electronic equipment and a spacious recording studio with a disc lathe, reel-to-reel tape recorders, and a wide assortment of wall-mounted instruments, mixers, and controls that grew more complex from year to year as he continued to invent new audio-processing devices and musical instruments.[i]


Scott occasionally reached out to other engineers to obtain gear. Robert Moog recalled a visit he and his father made to Scott’s home around 1955. Scott was interested in using one of the younger Moog’s Theremin circuits. Robert Moog later remarked:

I can’t remember the first time I saw that much stuff. But you don’t go from having nothing one day to having 30 feet of equipment the next. Scott probably was fooling with that kind of stuff for years and years.[ii]


Two key instruments were used on these albums, in addition to his multi-track recording system. The Clavivox, invented in 1959, was a three-octave keyboard instrument resembling a small electronic organ. It used the beat frequency principles of the Ondes Martenot and Theremin but had the unique ability to slide notes from key to key at adjustable rates of portamento.


The other component of Scott’s growing arsenal of instruments by that time was the Electronium, which was in continual development from about 1949 to 1972. Originally conceived as a machine-assisted method of composing tunes and advertising jingles, Scott once remarked that the Electronium was not played as much as it was guided by the operator. The Electronium was a semi-automated composing synthesizer without a keyboard. Controlled by a series of switches on the face of the instrument, the composer could preset melodies, tempos, and timbres or recall previously prescribed settings. After making initial settings for the music, the Electronium was set into motion and made additional parameter changes on its own, automating the creation of tunes according to the basic rules initiated by the composer. Polyrhythms and multiple parts for the music were performed and recorded in real time without the aid of multitrack tape recording.[iii] The Electronium also used “processes based on controlled randomness to generate rhythms, melodies, and timbres.”[iv] In his operator’s manual for one version of the Electronium, Scott didn’t skimp on the hyperbole to explain its use, saying, among other things:

“Whatever the composer needs: faster, slower, a new rhythm design, a hold, a pause, a second theme, variation, an extension, elongation, diminution, counterpoint, a change of phrasing, an ornament, ad infinitum. It is capable of a seemingly inexhaustible palette of musical sounds and colors, rhythms, and harmonies. The Electronium adds to the composer’s thoughts, and a duet relationship is set up.[v]


On component that made its way into the design of the Electronium was an electro-mechanical switching sequencer to control the racks of electronic music devices.[vi]

Soothing Sounds for Babies provides examples of both the keyboard tones of the Clavivox and the rhythmic beat and melodic note repetition of the Electronium.


The other electronic music for babies featured in this episode ranges from an electrified Brahams Lullaby, to mildly beat-driven techno, and ambient music with prenatal heartbeats, sometimes mixed with other natural sounds. Artists featured include a who’s who of obscure music for infants, including Rosemary, Steven Halpern, Luke Slater, Howie B., Chris Kimbell, Lee Rosevere, Lullaby Movement, and Dana Falconberry. We also in include some portions of Pete Namlook’s wonderful musical excursion called, Music for Babies, an hourlong ode to the infant with sounds to make them comfortable. This disc was in fact, not for sale but given away during the 2011 holiday season to customers of his record label. In fact, we are listening to part of that album in the background right now.

 

Please see details about all of the tracks in the playlist below, along with starting times for each work in the podcast.


[i] Gert-Jan Blom and Jeff Winner, liner notes, Manhattan Research Inc. (Holland Basta, 90782, 2000), 40–5. The liner notes refer to an article written by Joseph Kaselow for the July 19, 1960 edition of the New York Herald Tribune.

[ii]Robert Moog, interview with Thom Holmes, March 4, 2001.

[iii]Jeff E. Winner and Irwin D. Chusid, Circle Machines and Sequencers: The Untold History of Raymond Scott’s Pioneering Instruments. Available online: http://raymondscott.com/em.html (accessed June 30, 2007).

[iv]Blom and Winner, liner notes, Manhattan Research Inc., 20.

[v]Winner and Chusid, Circle Machines and Sequencers.

[vi]Blom and Winner, liner notes, Manhattan Research Inc., 54–5.


Episode 122

Electronic Music for Babies

Playlist

 

Track Time

Start Time

Introduction –Thom Holmes

09:56

00:00

1.     Raymond Scott, “Lullaby” (14:06) and “Sleepy Time” (4:25) from Soothing Sounds For Baby Volume I: 1 To 6 Months (1964 Epic). Monophonic recording. Mine includes the insert.

18:30

09:56

2.     Raymond Scott, “Tempo Block” (3:15) and “The Happy Whistler” (10:45) from Soothing Sounds For Baby Volume II: 6 To 12 Months (1964 Epic). Monophonic recording. Mine includes the insert.

14:12

28:22

3.     Raymond Scott, “Little Tin Soldier” (9:24) and “Little Miss Echo” (7:23) from Soothing Sounds For Baby Volume III: 12 To 18 Months (1964 Epic). Monophonic recording. Insert is missing.

17:10

42:17

4.     Rosemary, “Undiscovered Island” from Rosemary And Little Andy, Lullaby From "Rosemary's Baby" (Sleep Safe And Warm) (45 RPM) (1968 Columbia). Written by, arranged and conducted by Stan Applebaum; Producer, Wally Gold. This single was not from the movie soundtrack to Rosemary’s Baby but was inspired by the movie and featured an alternative version of the lullaby from the film. I found that track to be a little too unsettling for a podcast about music for babies, but I did find that the B side, “Undiscovered Island” had a much more calming effect. I believe the instrument heard is a Moog Modular keyboard with the glide feature. Wally Gold, who produced this album, is known to have use the Moog Modular on other recordings. Monophonic recording.

02:57

59:17

5.     Steven Halpern, “Brahams Lullaby Part 3” from Lullabies & Sweet Dreams (1984 Halpern Sounds). Grand Piano, String Synthesizer, Steven Halpern; Violin, Daniel Kobialka. I couldn’t help but include a track from Steven Halpern, one of the founding fathers of new age music. As for electronics on this one, there is a string synthesizer.

02:25

01:02:21

6.     Luke Slater, “Dreams of Children” from X-Tront Vol. 2 (1993 Peacefrog Records). This track is a little bit manic for relaxing babies, but it has a minimalist repetition that becomes trance-inducing. And one could find solace in that sound.

07:50

01:04:44

7.     Howie B., “Music for Babies” from Music For Babies (1996 Polydor). Keyboards and treatments, Howie B.

05:27

01:12:24

8.     N., Tracks 12, 19, 22, 23” from Memories From Before Being Born (2005 + Belligeranza). This is a solo work of one Davide Tozzoli, who lives in Italy. An unusual disc of glitch sounds, processed two empty tape recorders an echo machine, and minimal synthetic filters. I selected four of the more mesmerizing tracks and strung them together. “Two empty tape-recorders, one connected to the other, no sound if not the distortion produced by the tape-recorders themselves in play/rec. On this recording of Nothing the modulations of vintage analogic effects: emptied frequencies, prenatal sounds without any sonic grain, audio for a flat electroencephalogram. Memories from before being born," a possible conceptual-noize manifesto.”

05:41

01:17:41

9.     Pete Namlook, Music for Babies (excerpt) from Music for Babies (2009 Fax +49-69/450464). On Christmas 2011 "Music For Babies" CD release without cover or catalog# was sent out as a give-away with orders directly from the label. All tracks written, mixed, and produced by Pete Namlook. We have hear prenatal heartbeats mixed with electronic music. Perfect!

15:39

01:23:18

10.  Chris Kimbell, “Sleepwave” from Ultrasound / Sleep (2007 Pause). A mellow ambient tune but without any detectable prenatal ultrasounds, as the title might indicate to some.

11:04

01:38:50

11.  Lee Rosevere, “Dreaming” from The Ambient Baby (2009 Kazoomzoom). Composed, performed, produced by Lee Rosevere. All original material designed specifically for infants from birth to about two years of age. “Little ones are engaged early on by rhythmic sounds at the start. The sounds then weave into a gentle and soothing environment to help babies fall asleep.”

05:59

01:49:50

12.  Lullaby Movement, “Ru-Ru (Sleep Little Baby)” from David Holmes – LateNightTales (2016 LateNightTales). An eclectic mix of tracks from DJ David Holmes, includes this muted little lullaby with a haunting vocal.

03:55

01:55:42

13.  Dana Falconberry, “Sea Stones” from Dreamland (Songs For Lulling) (2017 Not on label). Falconberry explains why she created the private recording: “Years ago, I made an album of lullabies for a friend of mine who had just had her first baby. She encouraged me to release a lullaby album to the public, since it helped her with her child so much, which was the main inspiration for this album (thanks Lisa!!). . . . People have been telling me for as long as I can remember that my voice puts them to sleep. Even more common has been fans approaching me at the merch table after a show and telling me that they use my albums to put their babies to sleep. Now, I can say that is a complicated thing for a songwriter to digest, but ok babies, I hear you, let's go. Here's a full album of songs to take you off to Dreamland.”

04:39

01:59:30

Opening background music: Pete Namlook, “Attracting Attention” and “The Womb” from Music for Babies (2009 Fax +49-69/450464). Excerpt (12:57)

Opening and closing sequences voiced by Anne Benkovitz.

Additional opening, closing, and other incidental music by Thom Holmes.

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NOISE AND NOTATIONS

Electronic and Experimental Music

Notes on the development and continuing history of electronic music, its creators, and the technology.

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