The Origins

What happens when an obstetrician and a sound artist meet? Well, they want to re-create the sonic environment of the womb of course!

The story starts in 2012 when Professor Julian Henriques, a leading topology researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London and a sound artist approached Professor Eric Jauniaux, an internationally known fetal medicine specialist at the Institute for Women Health at UCL. The meeting was to ask a fundamental question, that all parents-to-be ask during pregnancy: “What does a fetus hear in utero?”

For the sound artist, the question validates an important intuition: hearing, which, unlike vision, develops in utero (from the 24th week of conception), is the only sense that connects the fetus to the outside world, and thus the first means of perception for humans. Recreating that sound environment could transport listeners to a place long forgotten but eagerly rediscovered, the origins of perception.

For the fetal physiologist, the sound environment of the womb, and therefore the auditory exposure of the fetus in utero, despite incredible advances in physiology research, is not well understood. Important clinical and societal implications follow from this. For example, the ability of neonatologists to recreate womb-like conditions for premature babies in incubators, which is important for normal cognitive development, is limited if those conditions are not known. Also, a lack of understanding of what a fetus hears in utero hinders mothers-to-be from making fully informed decisions about modern artificial sounds to which her unborn child can be safely exposed.

Although it remains impossible, for obvious ethical reasons, to experiment with human beings, advances in computer modeling and sound diffusion technology can help us better simulate how and what a fetus hears in utero.

Over the last two years, Eric and Julian, joined by Aude, an entrepreneur and a mother of now thriving but prematurely born twins, reviewed the most up-to-date academic research, complemented it with their own proprietary experiments, and worked with state-of-the-art audio engineering to re-create the experience of hearing in utero in an acoustically optimised enclosed space.

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(Left to right, Aurelie, Julian and Aude in front of the Orrb at Goldsmiths workshop.)

On May 26-27 at the Brain Forum in Lausanne for the first time the Sonic Womb Orrb listening experience will be offered to an audience of neurologists and to the public, courtesy of W Investments, a leading Zurich-based R&D investor, who provided Sonic Womb Productions Limited with a wellness and learning capsule, the Orrb, developed by Lee McCormack Designs and his team of engineers.

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