Hello, Baby

September 21, 2009 · 2 comments

Post image for Hello, Baby

Before mix tapes became fraught with emotional baggage (as chronicled in High Fidelity), they were the best way for friends to share musical discoveries and favorites. At one point I was juggling six active tape exchanges, each with its own playlist parameters. But the one thing all the mixes had in common was the use of found sounds and non-musical sources to pad the spaces between songs and at the ends of each side.

Bob in Philadelphia was the master of the found audio source. He spent his weekends combing through record bins at Goodwill and Salvation Army stores, which yielded a rich treasure of motivational speeches, sermons, self-help regimens, hypnosis cures, and other behavioral modification programs. His last tape to me – which I still have – broke with tradition in that it used only one source for all of the filler: a female voice repeating the phrase “hello, baby” over and over. Sometimes the speed and pitch changed (no doubt from Bob manipulating his turntable), but “hello, baby” soon burned itself into my brain.

Despite repeated requests from me, Bob steadfastly refused to identify the source of the two-word mantra. Eventually I forgot about it altogether after I stopped listening to the tape. A few years later, while watching a “Dave’s Record Collection” sketch on Late Night with David Letterman (the original 1 AM slot after Carson), I heard it again: “Hello, baby.” Dave was talking along with the voice, which was from his Hartz Mountain Parakeet Training Record. At last, the source was revealed to be a cheap disc I could find in any pet shop.

Any pet shop but those I visited, which were always out of the record, which was always due “real soon.” I gave up looking for it, and only recently realized that I could probably locate it on eBay (duh). Which I did, and it only cost me 10 bucks, a mere ten times more than the original price. The sleeve was in good shape, the record less so, but I digitized the tracks with a USB turntable for posterity.

The Record

The back of the sleeve describes the rationale for this revolutionary disc:

In an amazingly short time, your parakeet will actually teach himself to talk, simply through listening and imitating the words and phrases on this record…

These words are professionally presented in the most ideal manner  – spoken slowly and distinctly by a voice with perfect diction.

They are repeated over and over, in the same tone of voice , at the proper pitch, at the exact rate that parakeets will most readily imitate.

The disc opens with a spoken introduction, and then we get to the big hit, “Hello, Baby”:

http://blog.belm.com/belmblog/audio/hello_baby.m4a

Riveting, isn’t it?

While listening to it, I realized that the phrases were not being repeated at a regular interval. I was snapping my fingers to keep time, and noticed that the voice was sliding all over the beat. I thought, If she could keep time, I could do something with the track. That’s when I got the idea for this:

http://blog.belm.com/belmblog/audio/hello_baby_loop.m4a

It took all of 20 minutes in Garage Band, but it was fun to slap together. It owes a conceptual debt to Erasure’s “Sweet Sweet Baby,” but I don’t think my track will be spun in Ibiza any time soon.

Does the record work? Will it teach a parakeet to talk? The last rack would have you believe so:

http://blog.belm.com/belmblog/audio/real_parakeet.m4a

It’s so obviously not a parakeet, but who is it? I think it’s is the “hello, baby” lady, her voice ravaged from hours of takes interspersed with cigarette breaks.

2 comments

Colin Summers September 21, 2009 at 11:55 pm

We had one of those records and tried it with no success on our Red-headed Amazon parrot. I think by the time we got the African Grey we had given up. Nevertheless, Hazelhurst (the grey) learned to say, “Hello,” in the deep, terse way my stepfather answered the phone.

So, many fewer repetitions, but maybe they were contextually more meaningful (movement in the house, he would soon see Alex after the call) and it took.

David September 22, 2009 at 11:09 am

But would it work for a Norwegian Blue?

My Dad’s childhod parakeet would swear “Merde!” if you got to close to the cage. His French grandmother’s room was near the cage stand, which she would invariably bump into and curse at. Repetition and a triggering event, just like with Alex.

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