In the formative days of electronic music, one name stands out because it wasn’t associated only with that genre. Raymond Scott, whose unorthodox jazz pieces were less improvised than they were drilled to perfection (long before they were appropriated by Carl Stalling to serve as the soundtrack to the early Bugs Bunny cartoons), was a major American innovator in electronic music. Now, keep in mind, this is far enough back that “electronic music” meant generating and tweaking sounds electrically, and it often yielded results that tended more toward musical abstraction than precision or perfection. (Which is surprising considering Scott’s don’t-deviate-from-the-program jazz days.) Raymond Scott, however, saw the potential of the studio, and purely electrical devices, as instruments in their own right. (If you need evidence of Scott’s pedigree in electronic music, he once counted Robert Moog as an employee.)
Billed as “an infant’s friend in sound,” volume one of Soothing Sounds For Baby relies heavily on mesmerizing repetition – a sort of sonic highway hypnosis. To adult ears, it might seem tinny and grating, but after a while it’s quite relaxing. And with a one-month-old child to test it out on, I can offer an answer to a question that doesn’t come up often when doing music reviews – “Does it work?” – with a resounding yes. Though I’ve already introduced him to such things as the Moody Blues Days Of Future Passed and the Katamari Damacy soundtrack, Soothing Sounds helps to get my son to sleepyland in short order, even if he’s agitated by a loud noise elsewhere in the house or some other recent disturbance. Mr. Scott’s electronic music box gets him right back to sleep, and that’s why we call him the miracle worker.
Now, in some cases, I’m not quite sure how these miracles work – the last two tracks out of five drive me nuts. “Nursery Rhyme” sounds a bit like the alarm on an ’80s digital watch going off, while “Tic-Toc” is exactly as advertised – several minutes of a two-note “tick-tock” sound, which almost seems like it was played on the electronic equivalent of cowbells. But nothing knocks the kiddo out like “Tic-Toc”, so what do I know? Soothing Sounds For Baby seems to have gained new life as a historical curiosity and an early footnote in ambient music, but let’s not forget that it does exactly what it says on the box. And for that reason, I’ve gotten very well acquainted with it indeed and can recommend it to anyone whose baby needs some tunes of their own.
- Lullaby (14:05)
- Sleepy Time (4:19)
- The Music Box (6:13)
- Nursery Rhyme (5:48)
- Tic-Toc (8:03)
Released by: Basta
Release date: 1962 (CD reissue in 1997)
Total running time: 38:28