Karls Rakivach (RAHK-eh-vach, almost rhymes with “avalanche”) , 1940-1997, is a Swedish composer most famous for his ambient noise works of the late 1970s that focused on the sounds of crying babies. Works like Faaghern (“foghorn”), yurpeedile (“crocodile”), sachk flaxxen dejstroochiln, (“exploding paper bag”) not only transcending all existing genres of ambient music, but created a whole new one — the genre of making babies cry and recording it.
Rakivach never liked to use any hired babies. He found them crying naturally in their own habitats. He’d wander the back alleys of Helsinki with a single Seinheiser ML-80 microphone in his hand and a Karnak 4-track recorder in his backpack cocking his head for a faint cry. He’d crouch outside an open kitchen window to capture the wails of a toddler who didn’t like his canned peaches. Or dress up as a Registered Nurse to get into the natal wing of a hospital, recording equipment clumsily hidden under a smock. Or he’d slink along a stone wall to get close to a hungry screaming baby on a picnic blanket with his family. If caught, he’d never explain — just hurl a smoke bomb at his feet and sprint away at maximum speed in the billowing fog, shrieking in delight.
“The baby’s cries must be natural,” he explained to the New Musical Express in their feature article on him Primal Scream in Scandanavia. “That is why it is important that the baby and its caretakers do not know I am there.” Rakivach was arrested more than 45 times in his adult life and once sent to prison for reckless endangerment of a child — charges which he denied for his entire life. “The harness holding me above that stroller was as sturdy as steel,” would be his only comment.
Besides babies crying, Rakivach’s music consisted of muted synthesized tones, rippling in their lower registers like a cat purring, with sprinkles of bells and chimes — powerfully soothing sounds — as if hoping to lull the listener into a near-dreamlike state. Then you’d hear it: a whole buncha crying babies: the singers in Rakivach’s eerie jazz ensemble. Sometimes you’d hear the parents, too. “What are you doing here?” or “Oh my god, it’s a pervert! Call the authorities.” One can clearly hear the prime minister of Sweden calling the police on one of Rakivach’s masterpieces, Foolgarden Falseton (“Clown Mask.”) If you listen through the fade out you can hear the master himself defending himself “It’s just a microphone, I wasn’t pleasuring anything!”
Rakivach had many imitators including Jools Holland whose first compositions all featured sobbing infants (hired babies, since Jools never had Rakivach’s emotional commitment) and Steve Nieve, the keyboardist for Elvis Costello who used to insist that their live performances always open with an unexplained ten minute session of a live baby in its mother’s arms crying nonstop. Neither of these otherwise talented men had Rakivach’s unforced touch for making completely innocent spirits sob out their souls. “I use clown masks,” Rakivach would say if asked, or even if he wasn’t.
Lost to time is Rakivach’s first career as a thrash guitarist in the speed metal/hate rock band Devil Sores. Though they toured to sold out ballrooms and intimate arenas in the area of their hometown, they band only recorded their music in one session after which they lost the master tapes because they ate them.
Rakivach died while touring Finland from two gunshot wounds sustained while recording a two month old baby at three in the morning without the parent’s consent. The shooters — both mother and father fired simultaneously — were absolved of all charges in an absurdly short one and half minute trial.
The great man’s funeral was tasteful. And although his native homeland banned him from being buried in any of its cemeteries — the composer ended his life with a victory. As his ashes floated out into the North Sea an onlooker saw on the beach a toddler pointing up. He was sobbing.