Beedle dum dum, beedle dum dum (a capo)
February 23, 2010 10:50 AM   Subscribe

In 1902, Francisco Tárrega wrote a very nice waltz. Little did he realize that 91 years later, a few bars in the middle would be plucked from obscurity to become the most-frequently heard tune in the world. And now, the beguilingly irksome Nokia Tune has begotten its own subgenre of pieces - some silly, some lovely - that take its theme as a starting point. Fugues! Improvisations! Orchestrations! Parodies! And perhaps my favourite: A whole new waltz.

The "Nokia tune" was adopted by the Finnish cellphone company in 1993, lifted from a (then) 91-year old piece called Gran Vals, which in later years has become a favourite of sensitive-looking guitarists on YouTube.

But it's also inspired Impromptus! More fugues! Emo kids! And too many remixes. And inevitably, even Nokia has been creating whole new settings for the tune. The company might be getting thrashed in the smartphone wars, but it will always have its waltz.
posted by bicyclefish (23 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
I await Variations on a Theme by T-Mobile, op. 32.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:55 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is a fascinating sequence of events and a good post.

But you could not pay me enough to click on any of the links that might expose me to sound.
posted by gurple at 10:58 AM on February 23, 2010

What a bizarre little subculture. I love it.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:01 AM on February 23, 2010

Featured as well in the wonderful Helsinki Complaints Choir.
posted by Skot at 11:05 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

'The tune, which Nokia claims as a sound trademark...'
Does that mean sensitive-looking YouTube guitarists have to pay a royalty to Nokia for bars 14-17 (and 142)?
posted by MtDewd at 11:05 AM on February 23, 2010

This post was worth the awful case of earworm you've given me.
posted by gladly at 11:06 AM on February 23, 2010

Agh! I wish this little tidbit about it being "the most heard tune in the world" would just die. There is nothing even remotely scientific about the claim and I feel sure it is wrong. It was probably put about by Nokia for a nice piece of PR, and then the QI people came along and have made it into a sound bite, and now everyone's repeating it without any thought to reality.

Not that it's not an interesting tune and worthy of interest for being adopted by Nokia as the first recognizeable ringtone. But the claim that it is "the most heard" is so annoying. (Yes, I am one of those people, why do you ask?)
posted by marginaliana at 11:13 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

MtDewd: "'The tune, which Nokia claims as a sound trademark..."

I had a hard time believing that you could claim a melody in the public domain as a trademark. But Wikipedia says that the Harlem Globetrotters have successfully done it with "Sweet Georgia Brown", as an example.

This angries my up blood considerable.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:13 AM on February 23, 2010

Metafilter: bullshitters get on too well in life.
posted by chavenet at 11:14 AM on February 23, 2010

I'm not sure I've ever heard this but I don't think I've ever known anyone with a Nokia phone. Do any US carriers sell them?
posted by octothorpe at 11:18 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nokia phones have my business for as long as T-Mobile continues to sell them. You can whack them with a hammer and they'll still work, in my experience.
posted by Skot at 11:25 AM on February 23, 2010

You can whack them with a hammer and they'll still work, in my experience.

Indeed, that's how most owners cope with the music.
posted by bicyclefish at 11:30 AM on February 23, 2010

Here's the perspective from Montenegro.
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 11:49 AM on February 23, 2010

posted by MrMoonPie at 11:50 AM on February 23, 2010

Oh, I like Tárrega's music. I just downloaded an albumful. Thanks!
posted by lysdexic at 11:59 AM on February 23, 2010

Well, there's a difference between claiming something as a trademark and claiming copyright. Claiming it's a trademark just means that you're claiming an association between the whatever and your brand and that someone else isn't allowed to try to associate their brand with something already associated with yours. It doesn't imply any copyright or ownership.

If it's not in the public domain, than a copyright holder could refuse to license use necessary to create the association that is a prerequisite of a trademark claim.

Not that companies don't sometimes abuse trademark rights, but I don't think this is very offensive.
posted by Ickster at 12:12 PM on February 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

I don't think I've heard that tune once since I moved back to Canada from the UK. There, indeed you hear it all the time, but in North America maybe they don't sell Nokia phones?
I think it's a great ringtone; it's distinctive but still sounds like a normal phone, rather than say Crazy Frog or the guitar solo from Layla (an ex-boss, in Essex of course).
The ringtones in my current Sony Ericsson are surprisingly crap; for a while I was using the obnoxious phone sound from the movie Brazil which I recorded myself (I still get requests from time to time for a copy from that post), then it was real bird songs but that gets a bit confusing in the summertime when there are actual birds around, and right now I'm using the ringtone from 24 which is actual very good and phone-like.
Anyway, here is my favourite picture of an indestructible Nokia phone. I wonder what ringtone the insurgents prefer.
posted by Flashman at 12:29 PM on February 23, 2010

Interesting, I knew about Nokia lifting a bit of Tárrega, but I had no idea that there were so many versions of this. It's apropos of nothing, but I'm distantly related to Tárrega and I'm a composer too, but I don't write for classical guitar and my music sounds nothing like his.
posted by ob at 12:37 PM on February 23, 2010

Anyway, here is my favourite picture of an indestructible Nokia phone.

You know, I could probably now build a cell phone operated detonator from the information in that picture. I can clearly see the markings on the chip, the relay, even the resistor color codes. Just saying.
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:26 PM on February 23, 2010

I'm picturing a Joseph Heller-esque novella, in which an ordinary Joe is catapulted to riches, when Nokia realise that they've made a snafu with the copyright, and owe him billions of dollars in back royalties.

He moves to Monaco & sets himself up for the highlife, with a grand mansion, luxury yacht, and a stable of sports cars. But the Eurotrash society subtly snubs & frustrates him at every turn, in a series of darkly comic events, deeming the source of his wealth to be beneath them.

Finally, spurned in love by a great grand niece (three times removed) of the King of Belgium, he wanders the streets alone in despair, with Nokia ringtones calling out randomly around him from cozy homes, rubbing salt into the wounds of his heart, until he can stand it no longer & he hurls himself off a cliff.

His Nokia, naturally, survives the fall, and a never-to-be-answered call from we-don't-know-who sounds out from the phone next to his battered corpse.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:33 PM on February 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

Sweet post!
posted by carping demon at 10:24 PM on February 23, 2010

The Origin of the Nokia Ringtone.
posted by bonefish at 11:05 AM on February 24, 2010

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