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Former Apple Sound Designer Discusses History Behind 'Sosumi', Mac Startup Tone, and Camera Click

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In the late 1980s Jim Reekes began working as a sound designer for Apple, creating some of the Mac's most iconic sounds like the "Sosumi" beep, startup chord, and camera/screenshot click. In a new interview with CNBC, Reekes discussed the origins behind each of these sound creations, and what he thinks about the current audio design of Apple devices. Reekes has touched upon these topics before, but they remain interesting for anyone who might not have heard about this part of Apple's history.

Reekes explained that the reason for the name "Sosumi" began with a lawsuit from The Beatles' record label, also named Apple. At the time, Steve Jobs promised that his company would stay focused on computers and not get involved with music, so that the two similarly named companies could coexist.


After Macs added support for audio recording and MIDI (a standard that connects musical instruments to computers), The Beatles sued and forced Reekes to rename any sound effect that had a "musical-sounding name."

Reekes' frustration with the lawsuit eventually led him to the name "Sosumi," because it sounded like "so sue me." Today, Sosumi is still available as an alert sound in the Mac System Preferences.
One of his beeps, originally called "Xylophone," needed a new name. "I actually said I'm gonna call it 'let it beep' and of course you can't do anything like that, but I thought yeah, 'so sue me.' And then I thought that's actually the right name," Reekes said. "I'll just have to spell it funny, so I spelled it Sosumi."

He told the lawyers it was a Japanese word that didn't mean anything musical. "That's how that Sosumi beep came around," Reekes explained. "It was really me making fun of lawyers."
Reekes also looked back on the Mac's original startup tone, which annoyed him "immensely" because the Mac crashed so many times that it was easy to equate the tone with a frustrating situation. Although he didn't have permission to change it, he recorded a new c-major chord in his living room and used The Beatles song "A Day in the Life" as inspiration.

Jim Reekes and the keyboard he used to record the original Mac startup sound via CNBC


Eventually, Reekes managed to sneak the sound into the original Macintosh Quadra computer.
Some engineers at Apple were not happy with the change. "Our excuse was it's too risky to take it back out at this point because something could crash," he said. "We just made up some bulls---."

It stuck, and years later Apple even trademarked the start-up sound. It's one of the few sounds that's trademarked, along with the NBC chimes and the Intel signature sound. "Kind of silly right?" Reekes smirked. "I'm playing a c-major chord and it's famous and it's a copyright."
On the topic of startup sounds, Reekes voiced his disappointment in the lack of any startup chimes on most Macs today, and gave his opinion on the company's current overall sound design. "I haven't really seen much interesting audio coming out of Apple for a while," he said. Reekes left Apple in the late 1990s and is now a consultant and "out of the sound design business."


There are plenty of other tidbits from Apple's sound design history in the interview, including the origins of the camera click heard on Mac screenshots and in the iPhone's camera app, taken from Reekes' old 1970s Canon AE-1. To read more from the interview, visit CNBC's website.

Article Link: Former Apple Sound Designer Discusses History Behind 'Sosumi', Mac Startup Tone, and Camera Click
 

AngerDanger

macrumors 603
Dec 9, 2008
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If I recall, the series of Macintosh II's startup sound was a tritone—a combination of notes with three steps between them played simultaneously. The tritone is an example of harmonic and melodic dissonance and was called the "devil's interval" by 18th century music theorists due to how off-putting it sounded.

By contrast, Jim Reekes' C-Major must've been so refreshing to hear.
 
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GrumpyMom

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Sep 11, 2014
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Agreed, the Breathe notification chord especially.
Lol that sound IS beautiful but the effect of hearing it is like waving a red cape at a bull for me. I may be the only person on the planet who finds that whole exercise stressful and infuriating. I think it's because it's got the uncanny knack of popping up right when I'm in the middle of something important and can't take the time out for it. So I've come to associate it with all inopportune things like a call from a telemarketer when I'm already answering the doorbell.
 
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TwoBytes

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Jun 2, 2008
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What a funny guy. I feel a bit sorry he didn't profit from anything. I like his humour though, maybe he could go into dry standup. I laughed during the interview :)
 
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mpavilion

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He doesn’t seem to understand difference btw. trademark & copyright (or what it means to register a sound mark), but that’s ok
 
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Marx55

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Mac startup sound is a must in many instances, including troubleshooting (single-user mode, verbose mode, safe boot, rebuilding PRAM, booting from other booting drive, etc). Now you can do it if you check out when the Mac display changes from off to on with a bit of light, but that is not visible under normal light environments. It is a real pain in the back. Apple, if it ain't broke, don't fix it!
 
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nwcs

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Classic sosumi: worst kept secret back in the day. Reminds me of BHA although Sagan lost that lawsuit.
 
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macaddict06

macrumors regular
The problem I have with Apple now is their products lack heart. The little tiny details (like the startup sound) were what Steve obsessed over and gave the products personality.

The exclusion of the startup chime in new Macs took them from a part of your life to a machine you use when you need it.

Bring back the heart, Apple. Make the machines mean something to people.
 
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mpavilion

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Aug 4, 2014
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My 2013 iMac has a startup chime – did they remove it after that?

The problem w/startup chime is if the volume was left high at last shutdown, it will start up w/ear-splitting chime... not good if someone’s sleeping, etc.
 
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cl516

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May 7, 2008
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My 2013 iMac has a startup chime – did they remove it after that?

The problem w/startup chime is if the volume was left high at last shutdown, it will start up w/ear-splitting chime... not good if someone’s sleeping, etc.

2015 iMac here, I still get the startup chime.
 
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twistedpixel8

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Jun 9, 2017
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Lol that sound IS beautiful but the effect of hearing it is like waving a red cape at a bull for me. I may be the only person on the planet who finds that whole exercise stressful and infuriating. I think it's because it's got the uncanny knack of popping up right when I'm in the middle of something important and can't take the time out for it. So I've come to associate it with all inopportune things like a call from a telemarketer when I'm already answering the doorbell.

Nope, you’re not alone. Same with the “stand up” thing. I’m almost always really trying to concentrate on some complicated bug (software dev) or trying to remember an important series of steps I need to do and then “bump bump - time to stand!”

As much as my Apple Watch has done wonders for my cardio, it infuriates me a surprising amount.
 
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Westside guy

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Oct 15, 2003
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2015 iMac here, I still get the startup chime.

Same with my 2015 MacBook Pro. But, now that I think about it, the 2017 MacBook Pro I was just setting up yesterday for a new work colleague did *not* play a chime - I didn't explicitly notice that, but something just seemed "off". And now with these comments I know why I felt that way.

I like the chime.
 
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