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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Music That'll Knock You Out! Part I

Transitions 2 - Music To Help Baby Sleep

Produced by Dr. Fred J. Schwartz MD
Synthesized by Joe and Burt Wolff
Oohing and ahhing by Susan Marriott

Transitions 2 - Music To Help Baby Sleep was released in 1990 on the Placenta Label out of Atlanta. It's one of those true underground recordings, in an underground genre that no one cares about enough to deny or acknowledge its' existence, but nonetheless exists: scientifically designed muzak. Designed mostly for babies, to help them sleep, or so they say. It certainly works on me, and it worked on the only daddy who's heard it so far - my brother Allen. Son James bopped around as usual, or so it seemed upon his dad waking up.

The first sound you hear is an undulating - yes, undulating - 'whoosh', taken from an ultrasound recording of a mother's heartbeat. This sound is alleged to suggest to the baby the comfort and security of mother's womb, through which her heartbeat resounds into embryonic ears. A few seconds into this sonic amniotic -effect tonic, the Wolff brothers' synthesizers enter on a single high, soft flute note that leads into chords that seem composed of circles of fifths fleshed out with octaves - notes A and E , for instance, then perhaps F and C, stuff like that. Then Susan Marriott overdubs the vocal equivalent of that high flute note until the fade.

This music is based on the kind of therapeutic concepts that are harmless at face value, until you try to pinpoint just how the MD's conclusion was arrived at. That won't stop the development of a whole sub-genre of art for infants. We won't know for years the effects that shows like Teletubbies and Boombah are having on infants, a target demographic that goes from crowning up to 2 years old. I haven't seen Boombah, but if it makes as much sense of the world as Teletubbies this generation of infants won't need psychotropic nuthin' for their foreseeable future.

Likewise, I wonder what kind of research can determine what infants respond to musically in any broad fashion. Drugs, alcohol, cigarette addictions and taste for sugar we can know. Musical tastes, especially in music that claims to be built around a scientific concept, remain a mysterious acquisition in infancy. Or else they just don't acquire it and infant sleepy-time music is just muzak with a ad pitch capable of getting adults to take it seriously. Advertise it as 'Transitions 2 - Music To Help Baby Sleep - a placebo from Placenta'.

I'll take it seriously for a graf. The closest idea that makes sense of this particular musical concept is that infants respond positively to symbolism, to anything that builds a gradual recollection of a safe, supportive, floating world. The heartbeat starts things nicely. Mariott's cooing would correspond to exactly that kind of sound the baby might hear in the womb, though it's coming from the crowd outside the safety zone. The Wolffs' synthesizers represent…er…they represent…umm…they just represent. Maybe because a heartbeat and a long cooing would get dull. Since excitement isn't the point, maybe the people who put 'Transitions' together distinguish between dull and lull. I do.

But hey, I'm a grown-up. So I continue to put it on and zzzzzzzz...

Whatever happened to this underground, I wonder?
Yo, great music reviews, VSH!! You gonna get around to writing up 'The Passion of the Christ'?
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