In 1968, a New York City polymath named Irv Teibel and a computer scientist named Louis Gerstman pulled an all-nighter in Gerstman’s apartment. Teibel had hours upon hours of audiotape of the crashing waves at Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach, and Gerstman had an IBM 360 computer. Together, they tweaked the tapes, using the computer to change their resonance and tone until they had made, as Teibel later wrote, “a ‘perfect’ ocean in completely convincing stereo.”
Teibel went on to release that tape—along with 21 other computer-doctored nature recordings—as a popular, groundbreaking record series called Environments. He swore that listening to them could “induce sleep and promote faster reading,” and that their “effects on the esthetics [sic] of lovemaking are said to be truly remarkable!” He called that first one “The Psychologically Ultimate Seashore.”
Now it’s 2018—fifty years after that fateful all-night session—and ambient sound is all the rage. Data-driven studies on the psychological effects of nature recordings have begun to confirm Teibel’s sales pitch. And, as of last week, Environments is available as that quintessential 21st-century productivity tool: It’s now an app.
The Environments series has a fascinating history. As I wrote back in 2016, the whole thing was essentially a one-man operation: Teibel handled everything from recording the sounds to (potentially) writing the testimonials on the back of the first record. Equal parts hippie, huckster, and visionary, he was more than up to the task.
The new app is a collaboration between Syntonic Research, Inc.—Teibel’s original company, recently resuscitated by his family and a few choice collaborators—and the Chicago-based archival record label Numero Group. It features every entry in the Environments series, many paired with the original sleeve art. All the hits are on here: “Optimum Aviary,” “Country Thunderstorm,” and, of course, “The Psychologically Ultimate Seashore,” whose crashing, computer-tweaked waves haven’t aged a day.
Why Environments? Hours and hours of the natural world, captured on analog tape, from the best selling LP field recording series in history. Lives on your phone so you can use it in airplane mode. Playlists, infinity mode, minimal design, no ads. https://t.co/48UGDdTmqh pic.twitter.com/R6hqKZHtWu— Numero Group (@numerogroup) February 8, 2018
Although it is entering a crowded field, Environments has a few things going for it. As Numero put it, “Environments is the only ambient sound app based on long-form recordings. These are not short digital loops but meticulously collected, sustained analog recordings of natural and human soundscapes created by a master audio engineer.” Users seem enthusiastic. I listened to it while I wrote this.
As Teibel used to print on his record sleeves, “The music of the future isn’t music.” Perhaps the future is finally here.