Labor Music

By Robert Thacher (a.k.a. fat bobby)
Web Exclusive – November 24, 2007

cover from Oneida's Each One Teach OneMy wife Erica went into labor with our first child, at 11:30 PM on a Friday night. We were exhausted when her labor began, and fortunately we had no inkling that her labor would last for 25 hours. As neophyte expectant parents, we were at once overprepared and hapless; we brought what seemed like trunkloads of extraneous items with us to the hospital, including books, playing cards, massage oil—and all would go unused. The one invaluable accoutrement that we brought, however, was an iPod seeded with labor-specific songs and albums. Erica and I had given tremendous thought to what effect the right music could potentially have on her labor. We focused on repetitive, hypnotic songs and albums, orderly constructions of relentless motion and swirling noise; our own tastes precluded anything cloying or insipid. Following is a list of the songs and sounds that worked best for Erica during her long, intense labor—leaning heavily on guitars, drums and drones.

  • Neu!: Neu! and Neu! 75 (albums)
    The heavyweight champions. We probably listened to these albums (particularly Neu! 75) three or four times each. I can’t stress enough how perfect these sounds were for Erica to achieve a steely-yet-placid inner resolve. Chiming, propulsive guitar/drum bliss.
  • Yo La Tengo: Painful (album)
    The day shift labor nurse, whom we found grating and chirpy, described this album as “torture” to us, conversationally. Not only was this a bewildering bedside manner, it was an incomprehensible judgment. The gentle, surging layers of organ and guitars combined with the murmured, fragile melodies on this album are a Jacuzzi for the mind.
  • Brian Eno: Another Green World (album)
    An aural stroll that begins somewhere near reality, where guitars rule, and politely escorts the listener inexorably down a still, calm hallway to ambient bliss.
  • Six Organs of Admittance: “School of the Flower” (song)
    A simple 2-bar acoustic guitar melody repeats, replicates, reharmonizes, and blossoms over the course of 13 minutes. Crashing free drums cascade in and out of frame, never upsetting the surefooted balance of the melody.
  • Oneida: “The Adversary” (song)
    I don’t usually listen to my own music after it’s finished, but an excellent rule of survival is never to argue with a woman in hour 19 of labor. I love this song, which sounds from my biased perspective like a throb that builds to repeated crescendos that never achieve escape velocity. It’s in a kind of waltz time, which makes it an anomaly on this list.
  • Can: Future Days (album)
    Tidal pull in musical form. This is one of my favorite albums for any occasion, so why not childbirth? Sprawling, aquatic and elastic, and constantly returning to circle around the same couple of musical themes, this record is a streamlined interstellar cruiser, and the quintessential album by one of the greatest rock bands of all time.
  • Circle: “Luikertelevat,” “Ydinaukio” (songs)
    Ah, where would the world be without primordial Finnish psychedelia? Mysterious, entrancing, and hypnotic, these songs (totaling 14 minutes between them) are from an album called “Forest,” which sounds exactly like its title.
  • Samara Lubelski: The Fleeting Skies, and Spectacular of Passages (albums)
    These two albums on New York’s Social Registry label are flawless packages of fragile, ringing guitar and delicate vocal melodies. Perfect for moments of respite and calm.
  • Stereolab: Transient Random Noise Bursts with Announcements (album)
    Lilting pop melodies, droning organs and strict guitar/drum discipline for an eternity—the song “Jenny Ondioline” is a near-perfect 19-minute plagiarism of a song from the first Neu! album, which began this list.

I hope our joy in this music will inspire you to seek it out, whether to enhance your own childbirth experience or simply to explore a new world of sound and energy.

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