Letters flooded into Irv’s Flatiron Building office. Some fans thanked him for subduing their ails or offered suggestions of what to record next. Others questioned the claims on his record jackets. There are eleven pages of listener quotes from just 1977. These people were captains in the army, postal clerks, disco DJs, students, correctional officers, millwrights, and professional baseball umpires. Not a bad cross section of America.
The news anchor Hugh Downs wrote Irv a letter while listening to “Alpine Blizzard.” Outside his office he saw people frying eggs on the New York City sidewalks. But this “conflict of sensory evidence” apparently didn’t faze him. He joked that “making use of my Environments Psychoacoustic recordings may drive me sane… but it’s a risk I gladly take because of the personal pleasure involved.” Downs mentioned he hoped to collaborate with Irv on a true “Music of the Spheres” album.
A blind chess champion from Chicago who won the U.S. Open, and later the US Braille Chess Championship multiple times, also enjoyed the LPs. He said, “Being blind the last half of my life, records help.” He often played “Alipine Blizzard” at Christmastime—a perfect sonic accompaniment to the televised Yule Log.
Irv received humorous messages too. Multiple listeners were suspicious that Syntonic buried subliminal messages in their recordings. One person even claimed his “subconscious [had] been altered.” Irv assured them there were no hidden messages and that these listeners had exemplary hearing. What they were hearing were “glitches produced by the original digital to analog computer interface” used by Irv and his collaborators during the early days at Bell Labs.
In perhaps the most ironic pitch, the Vice President of the MUZAK corporation petitioned Irv to use their services. Clearly unaware of Syntonic’s work, the writer assumed, as Irv had hoped when he named the company, that Syntonic was a typical business institution. If only Syntonic employed what MUZAK’s “technologists” called “progressive stimulation,” he insisted, they would see the synergistic effects of sound on human performance. It’s safe to assume Irv didn’t take the offer.
Irv was a savvy, DIY entrepreneur. He recorded the music, wrote the liner notes, shot the photos, and designed the layout for each release. And, at least for the first disc, he likely penned the testimonials. Once the series become popular however, he received a constant flow of letters from listeners thanking him for curing their insomnia and even someone asking his opinion of their Bigfoot recordings. He made a point to respond to each letter no matter how outlandish the claim or request.
-Jonathan Een Newton