Irv Teibel’s Music of the Future (1969-79)

environments1

UPDATE 12/16/15: Are you a fan of Irv’s work? Want to collaborate or share your personal story of discovering the environments series? Drop me a line at jonathaneennewton [at] gmail [dot] com. Exciting projects in the works.

UPDATE 10/8/14: I’m now working with Syntonic Research, Irv Teibel’s label, to sort through his papers and recordings and compile a number of projects related to his life. More forthcoming. I edited this post to correct errors and reflect what I now know about him and his work. 

When YouTube began hosting videos longer than fifteen minutes an unexpected flood of environmental recordings followed. My recent search for “nature sounds” yielded nearly endless results, with some videos charting views in the millions. It’s not surprising that many of the examples I previewed were short loops stitched together from subpar field recordings–nature’s broken records. The shear number recordings, however, raises questions on the manufacturing and packaging of nature in the name of health.

In the September issue of The Wire, writer Dan Barrow devotes a short column to the ubiquity of sleep-inducing media. He traces the lineage of nature recordings designed and marketed to improve wellness back to the influential environments series (1969-79) created by Irv Teibel.

irv teibel

Irv Teibel (1938-2010)

The series featured eleven LPs each with two side-long soundscapes. The track names ranged from documentary (“Dawn at New Hope, Pennsylvania”) to downright vivid (“Psychologically Ultimate Seashore”). I picked up two on vinyl this past week, and, after an initial pass, it’s clear that Teibel’s “totally new concepts in stereo sound” were matched only by his imaginative marketing. One provocative tagline proclaimed “The music of the future isn’t music.” Each jacket also included “listener test responses,” often unattributed testimonials filtered through a hippie haze.

response

While many of Teibel’s soundscapes are hyperreal field recordings enhanced through early digital processing at Bell Labs, Environments 2 stands out for it’s proto-new age aesthetics.

From the liner notes:

“Tintinnabulation” can be played at any speed, from 78 to 16 rpm, in full stereo. At different speeds, the sounds change in tone and apparent size, although the harmonics remain unchanged. The effect, unlike real bells, is fully controllable by the use of your volume, bass, and treble controls.

In the 1970s, these recordings pushed LP lengths at thirty minutes per side when played at 33 1/3. Combined with the variable speed option, listeners could enjoy over an hour of psychoacoustic sounds to aid in concentration, sleep, and even lovemaking (see Environments 5).

Many labels have produced similar recordings since the 1970s, often pushing the genre towards new age, a direction Teibel apparently despised. However, contemporary labels like Earth Ear carry the torch of high quality natural recordings. Acoustic Ecology Institute director Jim Cummings started the label in 1998 as an alternative to the mediocre relaxation recordings available in retail megastores. While he admits the company never made much money, he sustains that the label was artistically and conceptually successful. Today the company is largely inactive but still occasionally releases recordings for the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology.

I’m endlessly interested in investigating the ways sound has been marketed as a utility and I’ll continue to write deeply about the intersections of music, nature and health on this blog.

If you’ve used a nature recording, app, or sound machine, I’d love to hear your feedback on their efficacy–if they worked, or if they added to the din of modern living.

8 thoughts on “Irv Teibel’s Music of the Future (1969-79)

  1. Just bought Enviroments 1 in cd, looked for the Dan Barrow note on Wire on my ipad and didn’t find it, I’m very interested in it as I’m sorta investigating “healing sounds” and new age. You sure it was on the September issue?

    • Hey Chuck,

      It was just a short “side bar” blurb–I forget the exact title of the series, but I think most issues have them. Unfortunately, I don’t have my copy with me right now but I’m pretty sure it’s from last Sept. I couldn’t find it online right now either…

      Have you stumbled across the Sounds of the Dawn blog? Pretty great archive of somewhat ephemeral new age and environmental recordings: http://www.soundsofthedawn.blogspot.com/

      I think ECM is a great label to explore as well since their aesthetic is so thought out and not hackneyed like Yanni et al. 🙂 Though I do have a soft spot for Lasos and his pontificating on resonance.

      I’m interested in the “healing sounds” you mentioned as well; for me, specifically, the place where ambient, new age, and early electronic meet. One thing I’m still wrestling with in my own enjoyment, however, is the cultural appropriation or approximations of “exotic” sounds in many of these works. These “worldly” moods can be evoked well or poorly, and sadly, most new age does a pretty crap job haha!

      Best,
      Jonathan

      • Thanks a lot for the quick reply, I bought the ECM – Selected Signs box set and I love it to bits. Have a Iasos vinyl reissue on Numero Group, lovely as well! There’s a good reissue of private press New Age music called I Am The Center, I forget the label. Also got a tape by JD Emmanuel called Minimal Ancient Meditations, but the good one’s called Wizards! Will look into that blog you mentioned, cheers!

      • Glad to hear you found it. I’ll have to check out the Selected Signs box set as well as that Iasos reissue. Thanks for the info and good luck in your research and journey through the oddity that is this music!

  2. HI jonathan,

    I am currently writing a dissertation for my degree in Music. I am studying the efficience of soundscapes on people suffering from insomnia. I have been listening to the Teibel’s Environments series in order to fall asleep (which really worked), but I am still looking for more case studies about this piece.

    Do you know any existing studies about Environments and insomnia ?

    Thank you !

    • Hey Merlin – Unfortunately, there’s not much hard science related to the environments. Irv claims he conducted studies in partnership with psychologists in New York but I don’t have any records of those tests. The best information we have is anecdotal evidence in the form of thousands of feedback cards. Irv put cards in all the records he sold. Curious to know more about the dissertation, sounds interesting. And glad the records woked for you! I’d check out Mark Nazemi’s work if you’re not already familiar. He focuses on pain and he’s one of the few people I know doing clinical trials on the efficacy of soundscapes. Hope this is helpful.

      • Hey Jonathan, thanks for you quick answer ! Just seen it now.
        That’s ok, I am going to look deeper on the topic, trying to find any soundscapes related to insomnia, which I could link to Environments.
        My dissertation is mainly : Music on people suffering from insomnia. I found out, reading previous studies, that music worked in many tests. I am writing about how Soundscapes (sound of waves in my case with Environments) are more efficient than Ambient music (Weightless – Marconi Union). I believe it is because of the visual and the fact of immersing yourself in a specific context. Environments1 suits really well.

        I am going to check Mark Nazemi’s work. This will definitely help me. Thank for the info !

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