Deep Note
July 31, 2009 9:14 PM   Subscribe

I will be completely honest: that theme scares me to death. Firefox actually automatically played that MP3 link with its built in player and I nearly screamed out loud (volume was high). It sounds incredibly creepy to me. Especially the opening.

When I was younger I would always make sure to mute my sound system before I played DVDs. Thank goodness for ripping DVDs to hard drives.
posted by Askiba at 9:23 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yeah, the standard one creeps me out a little bit, too.

I still like the moo can version.
posted by maudlin at 9:36 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

I never noticed it until Askiba mentioned being creeped out, but the beginning does sound like David Lynch's Ominous Noise That He Puts Over Innocuous Things To Make Them Seem Creepy.
posted by Brainy at 9:39 PM on July 31, 2009

LOL -- man, did I misremember that scene, jedicus.

But I still think, "THUD: The Audience is Now Deaf," EVERY TIME I see the THX intro, without fail.
posted by Malor at 9:40 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Man, I gotta say.... trying to listen to THX sound on YouTube is an exercise in frustration. It's like going to see the Mona Lisa, and getting a watercolor version instead.
posted by Malor at 9:44 PM on July 31, 2009 [3 favorites]

Scary? No. I love that original. I was sad when they changed it.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:47 PM on July 31, 2009

I love it. I get yelled at because I turn the sound up really loud just to hear it do it's magic thing. It makes my stomach flip.
posted by cccorlew at 10:06 PM on July 31, 2009

What Malor said. Thanks for reminding me how crappy my computer speakers really are (weeping).
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 10:07 PM on July 31, 2009

From the supercollider link: sctwitting is a kickass idea.
posted by idiopath at 10:18 PM on July 31, 2009

I agree with Askiba; I find the THX sound horrifying on a really deep level that I don't fully understand. I've been known to drop what I'm holding and cover my ears if I hear it unexpectedly start (say, someone is watching a DVD in the next room). I know, I'm a baby, but it's scary.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 10:26 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can you imagine being one of those thirty voices? Having to put that on your resume, or include it in your portfolio?

HR: "So, can you provide some examples of past work?"
Artist: "I was one of the 30 "voices" that got broken down into a particular oscillation that eventually became the THX sound!"
HR: "Great! Got a demo?"
Artist: "Yeah - Imagine this thirty times slower, in conjunction with other sources: Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhmmmmmmmmmmmmm..."
posted by Graygorey at 11:26 PM on July 31, 2009

posted by beegull at 11:27 PM on July 31, 2009

THX for the Eyes (previously)
posted by Rhaomi at 11:27 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

damn, I even previewed
posted by Rhaomi at 11:27 PM on July 31, 2009

Another Tiny Toon fan here, and yep my good friends and I would always say that to each other after the THX deal ran. Still funny to this day and always will be.
posted by GavinR at 11:29 PM on July 31, 2009

This is one of those links that I keep meaning to post - particularly the program your own version which isn't shabby. But I'm not saying that like it's a bad thing. As usual my procrastination wins because hippybear did it way better than I would. Thanks, hippybear!
posted by loquacious at 11:40 PM on July 31, 2009

Every time I see "The Audience Is Listening," I think "uh yeah, BY DEFINITION."
posted by ottereroticist at 12:30 AM on August 1, 2009 [7 favorites]

The THX logo was certainly the best part or the Start Wars prequels.
posted by mattoxic at 12:34 AM on August 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

The THX logo was certainly the best part or the Start Wars prequels.

I agree! In fact, by putting it at the start of each film, they set expectations way too high.
posted by vanar sena at 1:08 AM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I missed the THX intro when they changed it. I always wanted to crank it up. Rhaomi's link on the other hand? Scares the piss outta me. Go fig.
posted by cavalier at 1:11 AM on August 1, 2009

Graygorey: "Can you imagine being one of those thirty voices? Having to put that on your resume, or include it in your portfolio?"

They're not actually people's voices. We talk about an individual sound produced by a synthesiser as a voice... The sounds in Deep Note are entirely computer generated.
posted by benzo8 at 1:24 AM on August 1, 2009

In the mid-90s I was unfortunate enough to have an old 286 with a monochrome amber monitor. I was fortunate enough, though, to have a good sound card hooked into a good stereo system complete with 12" subwoofer. I managed to get a high-quality .WAV file of the THX Deep Note, and made it so when the computer booted up, I was greeted with the awe-inspiring, thunderous Deep Note sound, and, upon its conclusion, simply: C:\>_
posted by zsazsa at 2:00 AM on August 1, 2009 [21 favorites]

I think this has always been my favorite "amateur" version, done by the guy who does Songs to Wear Pants To, by request: The THX Sound with one guy's voice. Probably not for those who are creeped out by the thing already, though.

Great post!
posted by miratime at 2:41 AM on August 1, 2009 [10 favorites]

It never seemed creepy to me--more triumphal and, well, sexy. Perhaps that was the "blue" tone they were capturing in the name Deep Note, as alluded to in the bonus TiVo video. *Outstanding post!
posted by njbradburn at 4:42 AM on August 1, 2009

Wah, miratime beat me to posting StWPt's version. I love that one as well.
posted by vaghjar at 4:52 AM on August 1, 2009

Whenever I hear Deep Note, I always think of the monolith theme from 2001. I've always equated that music with the sound of bees swarming, to which I attribute its primal ability to border on achieving Brown Notedness. Don't touch it! It's made of bees!
posted by steef at 5:40 AM on August 1, 2009 [4 favorites]

Ooo, excellent call, steef.
posted by njbradburn at 5:44 AM on August 1, 2009

I admit that one of the things I do to justify my home theater system is turning up the THX promo really loud.
posted by Fleebnork at 5:49 AM on August 1, 2009

I despise the THX logo. There's just something really wrong about it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:04 AM on August 1, 2009

Rad post!
posted by Liver at 6:11 AM on August 1, 2009

The THX logo always hit me as being a perfect representation of a Lucas production...Loud, pristine noise.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:18 AM on August 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

They're not actually people's voices. We talk about an individual sound produced by a synthesiser as a voice... The sounds in Deep Note are entirely computer generated.

Sure, but how sweet would it be if we recorded one with people humming? I'd do it. I should go find a college a cappella group in need of a gimmick.
posted by pemberkins at 6:30 AM on August 1, 2009

steef: as explained in the supercollider implementation link, he is using texturing techniques pioneered by the Greek composer / mathematician / architect Iannis Xenakis. These same techniques were also used by Gy├Ârgy Ligeti in the piece Atmospheres, which was used by Kubrick for the monolith scene. The compositional technique is actually based on a stochastic analysis of the behavior of water particles in clouds (where the frequency/amplitude/duration of each pitch are mapped to x/y/z position of a particle in a mathematical simulation of a cloud). Of course Ligeti would take the tones and let them stay in one general place, or even (IIUC) pull them through a 12 tone series, and Xenakis would start with consonance and pull through dissonance on to microtonality, while THX transitions toward something more like consonance.

When folks ask me what kind of music I listen to, I tell them that if they have ever heard it before, they probably heard some of it in the soundtrack of a Kubrick film (then I heave to explain no, I don't mean Wagner...). Oddly enough, Ligeti sued Kubrik over his use of Atmospheres, not because he didn't properly acquire the rights to use the piece, but rather Ligeti asserted that Kubrik didn't have the right to edit the piece, and he wanted it used unedited or not at all.
posted by idiopath at 6:56 AM on August 1, 2009 [4 favorites]

pemberkins: vocal groups, in particular a-capella groups, hate hate hate microtonal and atonal music. Not that there are no exceptions, but the kind of discipline it takes to work microtonally is pretty much against everything their training and technique stands for. To them, it just seems like they are being forced to sing out of tune. This is actually a huge problem for experimental composers in general, that gets worse with choruses / vocalists. We have to deal with passive aggressive attempts to ruin the piece, apathetic refusal to attempt to perform it properly, and even outright sabotage. This is another reason for experimental composers to love working with computer synthesis as much as we do.
posted by idiopath at 7:04 AM on August 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm a musician with perfect pitch and I frickin hate this theme. I wouldn't say I find it scary, but it makes me kind of nauseous. I don't mind microtonal music but these slow glides really disconcert me.
posted by dfan at 7:40 AM on August 1, 2009

I find it interesting that for the most part people feel strongly about the recording but in such opposite ways. In this corner, you have people like me who will turn it up to play it, decide it wasn't turned up enough, and turn it up some more and play it again before letting the feature begin. To these folks it's a powerful, loud, triumphant, orchestral sound. In the other corner you have people roughly like 50% of my household who will literally jump up and run from the room if they see the associated logo, and then yell from outside the room to turn it off. To someone in this category the recording apparently seems to evoke a strong fear response as though it were scary.

You have a small handful of people who don't have one of these strong reactions, but anecdotally speaking it seems to me that most people fall into one bucket or the other: either it's awesome and needs to be louder, or it's reallyreally scary and needs to go away.
posted by majick at 8:35 AM on August 1, 2009

there's no Wagner in 2001. Richard Strauss.
posted by mr.marx at 9:17 AM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

mr.marx: when I mention Kubric film soundtrack, people think Flight of the Valkyries. Ligeti also had music in The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut, and possibly other films I have not seen.
posted by idiopath at 9:24 AM on August 1, 2009

Wikipedia quotes an authoritative source that says "The score consists of a C program of about 20,000 lines of code." I get how you need 500 lines of code to describe this sound; what are the other 19,500 lines for?
posted by Nelson at 9:33 AM on August 1, 2009

When I mention Kubric film soundtrack, people think Flight of the Valkyries.

But the Ride of the Valkyries helicopter scene is from Apocalypse Now, which was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Or do you mean your friends confuse Kubrick and Coppola?
posted by letourneau at 9:45 AM on August 1, 2009

Nelson: it takes more than 500 lines of code to make sound come out of a speaker or store onto a playable digital tape with the technology of that era. It is not out of the question that he could have had to write his own device drivers. Most likely every shift of amplitude or frequency was represented by individual lines of code. On top of that, he most likely implemented his own interpolating oscillator, and given the issues they had with making the same piece happen again, it sounds like he probably implemented his own RNG too, because any real RNG library has the capacity for being seeded, and anybody doing stochastic music for hire would be foolish not to use a seed for the RNG.

The mentor who taught me computer aided composition showed me his setup from the 1970's once, he had a calculator for figuring out things like the correct period length for a waveform of a particular frequency, which he would then write down in his hand-written computer code, which would then be transcribed to punch cards. He had the Rand Corporation book of random numbers (check it out on amazon, there are some hilarious reviews), which he used when he wanted stochastic data. Using computers back in the day was much much different.

one preview -
letourneau: yeah, pretty much
posted by idiopath at 9:47 AM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Things have changed a lot in the last 20 years, Nelson. You may only need to write 500 lines of code for what you consider 'simple' functions, but for those functions to be simple, you're dependent on millions of lines of code in your operating system, and possibly millions more in your standard language libraries. We've had an entire generation to build abstractions, so a line of code today draws on layers and layers and layers of resources underneath.

In 1984, the IBM PC was only two years old. He was working on a mainframe, so he was apparently already in the C language, way before it would trickle down to micros, but he was probably doing almost exactly what you'd do on an eight-bit computer: twiddle the bits directly to get sound out of the machine. His special mainframe had enough power to compute and play thirty separate voices at once (staggeringly powerful for the time!), and he was probably writing a lot of code just to do stuff like "create a sine wave" and "modulate this sine wave with this function". It's not like there were standard sound libraries in Unix in 1982. :-)

We're used to modern languages like Python. With one or two lines of code, we can do astonishing things, because we're sitting on top of thirty years of tool creation. He wasn't.
posted by Malor at 9:58 AM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ah, so 500 lines describe the score. The other 19,500 lines describe the piano.
posted by Nelson at 10:05 AM on August 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, further: note that he wasn't working directly in the language the mainframe understood. Rather, his 20,000 lines of C code generated special machine code to talk to the mainframe -- out of his 20,000 lines came about 250,000 lines of whatever language the mainframe used.

In other words, he wasn't just writing a program to make sounds, he was writing a program to make many different possible programs to make sounds. After experimenting, presumably, with a lot of them, he hit on one he liked.
posted by Malor at 10:14 AM on August 1, 2009

It's dissonant, kind of an ugly sound, but there's nothing scary about it. I'm not sure why anyone would want an unpleasant sound for a logo.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 12:32 PM on August 1, 2009

You ever play it backwards, man? It's pretty trippy, man, sounds kind of like the "leaping" sound effect from Quantum Leap, man.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:56 PM on August 1, 2009

Actually, his own description of what the code does:

"The score consists of a C program of about 20,000 lines of code. The output of this program is not the sound itself, but is the sequence of parameters that drives the oscillators on the ASP. That 20,000 lines of code produce about 250,000 lines of statements of the form "set frequency of oscillator X to Y Hertz".

So, basically, every microtonal shift in each of those 30 voices had to be separately told to exist by one of the resulting, generated statements. If you take a pitch and microtonally glissando it downwards for 2 octaves, you have way more than the 24 pitch changes you'd find on a piano in that process... let's be conservative and say it had 100 pitch changes. that would be 100 pitch changes for each of 30 voices... already we're at 3000 statements. And that's a smooth slide, without all the randomness he programmed in to create a more organic sound.

The machine he was doing all this on was a piece of custom sound-creating machinery which was invented for Return Of The Jedi sound mastering.
posted by hippybear at 4:23 PM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

For some reason it always reminds me of another cool sound: The flying pyramid logo for "A Current Affair." I tried, but I couldn't find a link to video (or even audio) of that sucker.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 5:47 PM on August 1, 2009

...another cool sound: The flying pyramid logo for "A Current Affair."

posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:19 PM on August 1, 2009

My favorite was when I put on Bambi for some kids I was babysitting. And we got a version in THX! So it starts up, and it's all WhiirrrrrrrrrrrrrEEEEEEEAN! ...Bambi.
posted by cashman at 7:31 PM on August 1, 2009

Mister Moofoo: A Current Affair
posted by artychoke at 11:41 PM on August 1, 2009

That first bit actually reminded me somewhat of the very creepy Lux Aeterna by Ligeti, featured in 2001.
posted by Harry at 2:20 AM on August 2, 2009

Oh, and Ligeti's Atmospheres mentioned above is pretty strange too. What is it about many, apparently discordant, voices combining into a single 'sound' that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up?
posted by Harry at 2:22 AM on August 2, 2009

"The score consists of a C program of about 20,000 lines of code. The output of this program is not the sound itself, but is the sequence of parameters that drives the oscillators on the ASP. That 20,000 lines of code produce about 250,000 lines of statements of the form "set frequency of oscillator X to Y Hertz".

I'm curious to see the code. I can't believe that a bunch of for() statements couldn't do this in less than 20,000 lines.
posted by RockCorpse at 3:52 AM on August 2, 2009

Huge clusters of tones tend to overwhelm, they could be considered a sonic analog to the sort of optical art that is all made out of black/white or red/green juxtapositions, where half of what you are seeing is illusions and distortions caused by the limitations of your eyes. The ear tries to assign pitches to sounds, to help us estimate something's size, and to differentiate position (higher pitches localize well). With dense enough clusters, you befuddle the ear's attempt to assign location or size or to imagine the thing which could have made the sound. This works in odd ways though, because, for example, we don't really get overwhelmed by the sound of falling rain or a seashore either, which are both so extremely clustered that they turn into an innocuous wash. I hypothesize that there is some borderline behavior between where we identify something as a huge undifferentiated wash and where it is a group of identifiable and separate things, and things that skip around on that border tend to make us uneasy.

I also like to compare it to hot peppers, which are of a completely separate category from flavor*. I found a video from BBC recently that demonstrated chimps' preference for traditionally consonant music. And I like to imagine that one thing that distinguishes us from chimps is our aesthetic adaptability, to continue my analogy, chimps also hate spicy food, but that is not reason enough for me reject spicy food, or discourage others from trying it.

Certain kinds of timbral clusterings and microtonal combinations are so intense that they seem to be no longer quite in the category of musical any more, or they stand on the border of some alien definition of musical that is counter-instinctive and counter-intuitive, perhaps best described as inhuman. Which is why they are so useful for evoking raw terrifying power, or some incomprehensible alien intellect (or, as with the usage of Atmospheres in 2001, both together). Personally, as a composer, I would love the opportunity to compose an imaginary music that some fictional alien civilization listens to.

*And similarly to hot peppers, you can slowly introduce yourself to this sort of acoustic sensation in order to appreciate it aesthetically rather than letting it have power over you, scare you, disturb you, annoy you, or whatever. I can't tell you how many ex girlfriends went from hating my music to being able to criticize it constructively and enjoy it over an extended period of many months of exposure.
posted by idiopath at 4:04 AM on August 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

RockCorpse: This is my speculation for why there were 20,000 lines:

for() statements could not do this if the progression of values was not mathematically generated. I imagine that the composer/programmer plotted out the base pitch/amplitude envelopes (before the randomized jitter) by hand (most likely with a pencil on graph paper), and then transcribed those curves into c code. He could have saved file size by simplifying the curves into some mathematical function, but this would probably be a loose match, and would be a bunch of extra computational work transforming the hand-drawn curve into an algorithm just so the program could then interpret and unroll it later anyway.

Figuring that the piece is 7 seconds long, and parameters need to be updated at least 20 times a second in order to sound like continuous slides rather than sounding like discrete notes, and we have 30 voices being modulated, we have 30x7x20, or about 4200 changes for amplitude, and 4200 changes for frequency, totaling 8400 changes which would mean an average of approximately three lines of code per parameter change. Another consideration is that he may have modulated other synthesis parameters over time as well (ie. filter sweeps or tweaking a reverb parameter over time).

This is just speculation, and I wonder why he wouldn't have used loops to at least interpolate between nearby points, but perhaps he was using a non-optimizing compiler and unrolling his loops by hand. Another speculative possibility is that it is not unheard of for a programmer to secretly use a higher level language to generate code, and generated code tends to be extremely verbose.
posted by idiopath at 5:00 AM on August 2, 2009

Well, remember, all this was being done on a mainframe with a piece of custom equipment attached to it, years before C became the mainstreamed programming language everyone today knows and loves.

I would be curious to know what the version of C available to someone in 1983 looked like compared to what is currently used.

And good luck getting a copy of the score. Apparently THX guards that pretty carefully. The score itself is the C code, not a piece of sheet music.
posted by hippybear at 6:23 AM on August 2, 2009

My two sons grew up watching Tiny Toons. The whole family automatically intones "The audience is now deaf" after the THX intro, even in movie theaters. And then we all giggle at each other.
posted by lhauser at 3:28 PM on August 3, 2009

« Older Katie is a vampire. And?   |   Parkinson's Law Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments