Sound wave tattoos and heart beat rhythms let late loved ones live on in song

Who hasn’t turned up a pop song when they were feeling low, or belted along to a sappy ballad to get over a broken heart? Melodies move us, and can especially strike a chord with someone who is grieving.

So now that music therapy has met modern technology, your loved ones’ heartbeats can live on in song. Or the soundwaves from their voicemails can be inked into tattoos. Their ashes can even be pressed into vinyl records.

Amy Love, a music therapist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, sings songs and plays instruments with children undergoing cancer treatment to help them express themselves and share their experiences.

But she’s also creating a legacy for some kids close to the end of life by recording their heartbeats, and using the rhythm in personalized songs that she creates for their families.

“When somebody first finds out they are pregnant, the first sound they hear [from their child] is their heartbeat on the ultrasound,” Love told Moneyish. “When you snuggle up to a child, you hear their heartbeat, and [the heartbeat song] gives them a little opportunity to connect again.”

She captures the heartbeat by placing a lapel microphone inside a stethoscope, and recording the heartbeat using her iPad. Then she loops the heartbeat to a song the family has selected with the GarageBand app, which can take 90 minutes or more. She uses the heart rhythm as the drumbeat to a song, and then speeds or slows the tempo of the selected tune to match the child’s signature heartbeat.

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Love has mixed the heartbeats on lullabies like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or “You Are My Sunshine,” but she’s also set them to heavy metal riffs and cartoon theme songs. She said the parents usually select a song that is meaningful to them. And sometimes she has sung the song, herself, when she’s developed a strong rapport and relationship with the family.

“A few parents have told me that they have found it incredibly comforting, and it gives them a way to feel close to their child,” said Love. “Another mother shared that she felt unsure about creating a song, but after the passing of her child, she feels ‘very grateful’ to have it.”

Love said a number of families have played the songs at their little ones’ funerals. “Many parents’ biggest fear is that people are going to forget their child,” she explained. “So this is an audio representation that their child was here, that their child was alive, and that’s something they can find comfort in.”

Studies show that music therapy sessions decreases symptoms of grief and depression in children and adults. So it’s not surprising that innovators are tapping tunes to memorialize those who have passed on in creative ways.

A California company is patenting Soundwave Tattoos, where the soundwave inked to a person’s body will work similar to a QR code to play back a one-minute audio file through the partner phone app.

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When Skin Motion’s high-tech tats go live in late June, users can upload an audio clip – a voicemail, song or snippet of laughter – to the app or website. The company will generate your personalized Soundwave image, which users can bring to a tattoo artist in Skin Motion’s network to ink onto your skin. The next step is to upload a photo of the fresh ink to the platform. When a user opens the app and scans the tattoo with their phone camera, it recognizes your Soundwave and plays back the recording.

There’s a waitlist of 18,000 people eager for a Soundwave Tattoo, cofounder Juliana Damiano told Moneyish, and “the most common ideas are the last voicemails of lost loved ones and babies’ heartbeats (also usually losses).” They’re still determining the cost of these playback tattoos, but said they anticipate it would be under $100.

U.K. company And Vinyly will press someone’s cremated ashes into a vinyl record so they can “live beyond the groove.” The ashes are pressed into the record as it is being made, and you can record their voice or a favorite song on it. The basic package costs about $3,900 and includes a Rest In Vinyl album cover with the deceased’s name, date of birth and date of death.

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“Humans are musical beings,” Love explained. “There are parents who will sing one specific song to a child, and that’s their song. “Or your first dance at your wedding is to a song that you connect with your spouse. People are so connected to music, because it connects you to other people.”

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