Lullaby from the Womb
Dr. Hajime Murooka's Lullaby from the Womb LP (Capitol, 1974)
In the early 1970s, Dr. Murooka, Professor of Gynecology at Nippon Medical University in Tokyo, tried to figure out ways to calm newborn babies. He figured that much of a babies crying and inability to sleep came from suddenly appearing in a new world, away from the safe confines of the womb.
Murooka observed that the incubator served as a surrogate womb, a warm, comfortable place that kept babies feeling secure. He knew that there had to be other ways to make a baby's transition from womb to the outside world much more seamless. In his search, Murooka stumbled upon sound.
Murooka observed that newborns were super sensitive to sound. He saw that babies stretched their hands when confronted with unfamiliar noises such as heavy footsteps or a slammed door. Even in sleep, he noticed that babies reacted strongly to strange sounds.
This realization lead to an insight: What if a baby was surrounded with familiar sound and transitioned to the soundtrack of everyday life? There must be sounds that would serve to wean newborns from the comfort of the womb, Murooka thought.
After much searching, Murooka found that infants respond to the sound of a mother's heartbeat, a sound that every fetus hears 24-7. The good doctor took an 8-mm microphone and placed it near the head of the fetus growing inside a woman who was 8 months pregnant. He then played the recording to a room of "restless, howling infants." The babies fell silent. Soon they were asleep.
The first four cuts on this album are of a mother's main artery and veins. The sounds range from booming - almost like the sound of a pile drive ramming I-beams into the ground - to a pulsating hum not unlike the chanting of Tibetan monks.
Murooka wasn't done with his experiments just yet. He knew that adults also responded to sound. Familiar tunes, such as light classical music, often soothed people trapped in confined spaces, such as an airplane. The doctor figured that if he combined music with the sound of a mother's heartbeat, a baby could be eased into the world.
Two cuts on Lullaby from the Womb are Murooka's mix of heartbeats and music. Each cut starts with the pounding of the mother's heart. After about 30 seconds, light symphonic music fades in. For his experiment, Murooka chose Wolf-Ferrari's Jewels of the Madonna and Schumann's Scenes from Childhood. The mix of the heart and the music is strange but not unsettling. While there is a contrast, a very marked one, all the sounds seem to go together. When the heartbeat fades to a few seconds of music you leave both pieces a bit more relaxed.
Once a baby gets used to the mix of heartbeat and music, Murooka advises transitioning the infant to just music. Side two of the record is just that. And while, Tchiakovsky, Bach, and Massenet are good listens, it is side one which makes this a keeper.
Lullaby from the Womb is not a difficult record to find. Thousands of them were sold to mothers during the 1970s and they now hit thrift store bins with regularity. For those of you who are interested in sound, are noise fanatics or DJ's, and/or dig strange records, I would advise keeping an eye out for this one.
Below are the two experiments Murooka did with heartbeats and classical music. The music drifts in so give it some time. The last cut is a mix Murooka did of various sounds from the womb.
This is one of my all time fave "strange" records.