Making music mobile

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Musician and artist Najia Bagi talks through her research for a musical mobile for babies. 

When Alex, Naomi and I met up to plan Baby Art Club we started talking about what sounds and frequencies babies respond to, what movements they like to make and what shapes provide stimulation. We’ve noticed that babies seem to particularly engage with instruments that are suspended on strings from washing lines in the studio and how this promotes movement as well as sounds. I decided to extend this idea and create a musical mobile. 

I wanted to make something which looked beautiful and simple and which sounded peaceful, but I wasn’t sure which instruments and sounds would capture babies attention. Naomi and I went on a research trip to Forsyths music shop in Manchester, where we enlisted the expert help of Naomi’s son Jackson in testing the percussive instruments there. It was surprising how much weight Jackson could lift, and how quickly he learnt what to do with an instrument to make noise. 

I then went to Johnny Roadhouse, another music shop in Manchester. The 
staff there were absolutely brilliant and I left that day with bags of  inspiration, 20 individual morris dancing bells and a cymbal, among other things! 

The next part was really exciting. After buying 20 teaspoons, some cane, 3 wind chimes and a host of other metallic and “soundful” objects, me and my stepdad built the frame and drilled holes in everything so that the objects could be suspended. After lots of drilling and threading we had a frame that was a pyramid shape, with lots of holes in it to suspend things from. 

When I installed the mobile the day before Baby Art Club, I was thrilled to discover that it looked as clean and pretty as I’d wanted it to. It sounded really peaceful and tuneful and importantly it also worked with the aesthetic of the rest of the installation which was 
designed by Naomi Kendrick. 

And the babies loved it! They explored the reflective surfaces of the cymbal, wind chimes and spoons and experimented with how movements create sound by interacting with their bodies. And because the sounds are so pleasant, parent and baby are spending long periods of time playing with the mobile, which we know improves communication between parent and baby. 

Over the next few months I’ll observing how parents and babies use the mobile and be using this research to inform which sound making objects I include.  I hope to share some of my findings on the blog over the next few months.