The Audience is Listening (when you're done with the code)
March 4, 2014 5:49 AM   Subscribe

There are many, many random numbers involved in the score for the piece. Every time I ran the C-program, it produced a new "performance".... The one we chose had that conspicuous descending tone that everybody liked. It just happened to end up real loud in that version.
James Moorer relates the rather unexpected manner in which he composed one of the one of the world's best known pieces of computer generated music: "Deep Note" from the THX trailer.

Tomlinson Holman, one of Moorer's colleages at Lucusfilm came up with THX as a certification system for movie theatres who were planning on showing 1983's The Return of The Jedi. The name came from his initials together with an X denoting "crossover" - as well as being a reference to George Lucas' seminal THX 1138. "Deep Note" appeared in cinemas worldwide until 1997 - after having been played up to 4,000 times per day globally. It was parodied by The Simpsons, by Over the Hedge, by Tiny Toons, by cows, by Mellotron, and by this alarmed tarsier. More recent trailers have included James Horner's Cimarron as well as Grand. More details about Moorer - who will NOT fix your old radio - on his home page. The musical score is hard to find (and - since it originated as generative code rather than a performance the copyright issue appears unclear - modulus LucasArt's lawyers) - but here is a rough guide if you have a room full of trombone players handy - or a choir. The work has been cited as being similar to the (even spookier) 1954 work Metastasis by Iannis Xenakis - listen for yourself. Sound artist Batuhan Bozkurt has more details on the sound - including reports on his attempt to re-create it with SuperCollider. If you have even more time then you could listen to this 37 minute stretched version.

posted by rongorongo (15 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
As in the Simpsons link, pretty much every time my roommate and I saw a movie with the THX trailer, one or the other of us would mutter to the other 'turn it up! turn it up!' in our best Abe Simpson voice.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:13 AM on March 4, 2014

[By the way the rest of MusicThing's series on the origin of ubiquitous sounds is equally interesting: Intel Inside, Windows 95, The Mac Startup Sound, The Channel 4 Ident].
posted by rongorongo at 6:26 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

... and if you, or your offspring, have ever been unsettled by Deep Note, then you should be lucky that Lucasfilm did not use another Moorer composition "Lions are Growing"
posted by rongorongo at 7:03 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Synthesis of Complex Audio Spectra by Means of Discrete Summation Formulae. Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, Volume 24, Number 9, November 1976, pp717-727

This work resulted in US Patent 4,215,617 issued in 1976 to Stanford University, currently assigned to Yamaha.

So not only did James Moorer compose Deep Note and write the code for Sonic's NoNoise mastering tool, he invented FM synthesis. Basically he's kind of responsible for the sound of pop music circa 1984 – 1991.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:21 AM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

When I was in college and looking for ways to earn spending drinking cash, I took a gig doing exit surveys at a movie theater. The pay was pretty good for the time, about $10 an hour, and a bunch of my friends were doing it as well.

Upon arrival at the movie theater, we determined that our client was Pentium, and while ALL the movies in the theater had an Intel Inside ad, half had the ads finished with the standard "Bong! dumdum dumdum" and the other half only had "Dumdum dumdum!" (no "Bong!").

None of the questions we asked had anything to do with the Pentium ad specifically, just the specific movie seen, the person's memories of and feelings regarding the preview advertisements, and which ad stood out, if any.

My personal conclusion of the hundred or so surveys I conducted were:

1. ~5.0% of surveyed movie goers paid attention to the ads, or even remembered what was advertised before the movie, other than there were some.

Of that 5.0%, no one specifically remember a Pentium ad, other than "...something with shiny suits, I dunno, like a rap video? Maybe MTV?."

2. 70% of people thought that even having ads before movies is shitty.

3. 40% of people thought that "Dante's Peak" sucked and they should have seen the other volcano movie.

4. 10% of people were confused because they thought Tommy Lee Jones was going to be in "Dante's Peak" instead of Pierce Brosnan.

Needless to say, my friends and I thought it hilarious that our beneficiary was a large company willing to spend huge amounts of money on whether the "Bong!" sound made an impact on customers or not.

This was something I often shook my head in bemusement at until I worked at a publisher and was privy to a heated, week long argument in the Graphic Design department about the Star Burst on the cover of a .99 cent magazine (most often sold in checkout line in stores) being just the tiniest fraction of an inch too big and then having "too much yellow," then "not enough yellow."

Doing updates on one of the graphic designer's computers, I had the chance to stare at all three covers for a good 15 minutes, and honestly could barely tell the difference between the three even side by side.

It still didn't make any sense to me, but it introduced me to that side of corporate America.
posted by Debaser626 at 7:31 AM on March 4, 2014 [10 favorites]

I love the stretched version. I think it would pair nicely as a techno arthaus flick with a pair of eyes opening over the course of 37 minutes with an extreme sampling rate. Bonus points if a tear drops from an eye. More bonus points if the video is in black and white, or some other color and white.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:42 AM on March 4, 2014

Well, some of us have the whole thing, including the quiet part at the beginning that has the pastoral background eventually crushed by a jet plane passing over that turns into the deep chord.

There was a demo CD you could get with this and a pile of other experimental stuff called something something "Digital Domain".

Still great for testing speakers. Though, for the latter, "Aphrodite's Child 666" will do just fine, as well.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:55 AM on March 4, 2014

Well, some of us have the whole thing,
It looks like an interesting CD - and I like how it comes with a warning about not turning your system up too high at the outset - lest the noise of the jet shatter your windows.
posted by rongorongo at 8:02 AM on March 4, 2014

So not only did James Moorer compose Deep Note and write the code for Sonic's NoNoise mastering tool, he invented FM synthesis. Basically he's kind of responsible for the sound of pop music circa 1984 – 1991.

AFAIK, FM synthesis was invented at Standford, but not by Moorer but rather by John Chowning. And while FM synthesis was important, there were also quite a few successful sampling and wavetable synthesizers in that period.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:07 AM on March 4, 2014

Hmmmmm you are correct Monday.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:54 AM on March 4, 2014

In fact, patent 4,215,617 describes a wavetable synthesizer.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:20 AM on March 4, 2014

It seems like Chowning and Moorer were colleagues at both Stanford and then afterwards at IRCAM. So they may have collaborated.
posted by rongorongo at 10:23 AM on March 4, 2014

My brother worked at LucasFilm (worked on EditDroid and MusicDroid, IIRC) and met/knew Andy there. I was in college and Mike sent us LucasFilm t-shirts and sweatshirts as gifts (I was saddened when my Cocoon "Underwear Eradication Crew" shirt wore out). I happened to wear one to a talk being given at my college by...Andy Moorer.

Some notes:
Lucasfilm made great t-shirts - very pretty
Mike's main mail server was named dagobah, so his email was dagobah!mike
Andy seemed to be amused by Foley pits - talked about one day seeing them throwing squid at a wall
Mike's first day, they were mixing sound for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - trying to get the sound of someone's heart getting torn out just right.
Mike has an uncredited role in Howard the Duck - basically all of Lucasfilm was brought in to shout, "Howard! Howard! Howard!" at the tops of their lungs.
Andy said that they routinely added extra beats/bars to Williams' score to get it to fit better.
Andy ruined my enjoyment of all film and TV by pointing out that all sound effects are dubbed and if you pay attention you'll hear an inordinate number of cars that lay down rubber on dirt roads, physics be damned.
Mike performed a piano recital there which included an improvisation on a bunch of movie themes.
posted by plinth at 12:41 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Whenever I hear this, I think 'somebody ripped off Beaver and Krause'
Spaced from 1970
posted by Rash at 9:59 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

... and if you, or your offspring, have ever been unsettled by Deep Note, then you should be lucky that Lucasfilm did not use another Moorer composition "Lions are Growing "

Indeed. Deep Note ended up as (part of) the intro track on an early compact disc called "The Digital Domain - A Demonstration". It began with the Deep Note (I seem to recall it took a bit longer to "grow" than the THX version) which was then superceded by a jet airplane flyby sound. My dad was so impressed by the Deep Note that he started using it for all of his home movies, as a title theme.

Then a year or two later, Lucasfilm comes along and starts using it for THX. D'oh!
posted by ShutterBun at 12:00 AM on March 5, 2014

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