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Who Created the Windows Start-Up Sound?


Hint: It wasn't Bill Gates.

You've never heard 1988's "Bring Me Edelweiss" by Austrian band Edelweiss, but every five seconds, someone, somewhere in the world hears a piece by the same composer: the four-note chime that always accompanies the "Intel Inside" logo at the end of a commercial, known in the "sound logo" industry as the "Intel Bong."

49-year-old Walter Werzowa, an Austrian now living in Los Angeles, does this sort of thing full-time after unwittingly creating a brand-new industry by stringing together what is actually five notes -- D flat major, d flat, g flat, d flat, a flat -- however most people don't associate the opening D major with the "Bong" itself because it's the "blang" that separates the end of the commercial and the more famous four notes that follow.

Werzova was paid a flat fee for those five notes described by an Intel (INTC) SEC filing as "the approved three (3) second, five (5) tone melody to create, or used in connection with the creation, of an auditory only Intel logo or an audio-visual Intel logo."

Had Werzowa known his composition would become what is arguably the world's most recognizable piece of music, he might have negotiated royalties -- "[I]f I would have kept the copyright [to the audio mark], I'd be a millionaire right now," says Werzowa.

Brian Eno, on the other hand, may be a millionaire, but not from royalties he receives from stringing together the six-second sound one hears when starting up Microsoft (MSFT) Windows 95.

Microsoft designers Mark Malamud and Erik Gavriluk approached Eno to create the Windows 95 start-up sound, which ultimately helped Eno break through a personal creative impasse.

"The idea came up at the time when I was completely bereft of ideas," he told a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle. "I'd been working on my own music for a while and was quite lost, actually. And I really appreciated someone coming along and saying, "Here's a specific problem -- solve it."

Eno was asked for a piece of music that was "inspiring," "universal," "optimistic,' "futuristic," "sentimental," "sexy," and "emotional" -- but no more than 3.25 seconds long.

"In fact, I made 84 pieces," he said. "I got completely into this world of tiny, tiny little pieces of music. I was so sensitive to microseconds at the end of this that it really broke a logjam in my own work. Then when I'd finished that and I went back to working with pieces that were like three minutes long, it seemed like oceans of time."

When Microsoft was developing the Vista operating system, the company brought in former King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp who recorded, according to an internal Microsoft blog, "six hours of multi-channel raw tracks including hundreds of melodies, textures, soundscapes, and orchestrations."

After three months of "iteration, remixing, and refinement" a four-second snippet was chosen as the final Windows Vista start-up sound: melody by Fripp, harmony by longtime Fripp collaborator and Seattle guitarist Steve Ball, and a "Win-dows Vis-ta" rhythm by Tucker Martine, a Grammy-nominated musician/producer who has worked with R.E.M., Spoon, and Mudhoney.

Not to be outdone, Research In Motion (RIMM) commissioned Stewart Copeland, drummer and founder of the Police, to come up with the five-note "theme" one hears when turning on a BlackBerry Bold -- which was composed on a Mac.

The Mac start-up sound itself was composed by a software developer at Apple (AAPL) named Jim Reekes, and first used on the Quadra 700, which launched in 1991.

He told tech blog BoingBoing:

The startup sound was done in my home studio on a Korg Wavestation. It's a C Major chord, played with both hands stretched out as wide as possible (with 3rd at the top, if I recall). This just sounded right to me. I wanted something really fat, heavy bass, high notes, and a sharp attack. The chiffy sound was from pan pipes and something like a stick hit (I'm testing my memory here). I wanted lots of evolving timbres, stereo phasing, and reverb for further richness.

Engineers at Apple began using a variation of Reekes' start-up sound with each new model introduced, but, according to legend, Steve Jobs stepped in and demanded that only "the good one" be used for all machines -- the "good one" being the one created by Reekes.

Many unique sounds are trademarked, but Harley-Davidson (HOG) filed perhaps the most audacious application to protect a sound the US Patent and Trademark Office had ever seen.

On February 1, 1994, Harley tried to trademark the sound of the uneven idle produced by its V-twin motorcycle engines, which sounds sort of like a person mumbling "potato-potato-potato…".

The description in the filing read:

The mark consists of the exhaust sound of applicant's motorcycles, produced by V-twin, common crankpin motorcycle engines when the goods are in use.

David Makous, a lawyer who represented Honda Motor Company (HMC), said at the time, "It's very difficult to imagine a world where the sound of a running engine is an exclusive property right."

Nine of Harley's competitors filed oppositions against the application, as all crankpin V-twin engines used on cruiser-style cycles produce the same sound.

After six years of expensive, fruitless litigation, Harley Davidson withdrew its application.

One can almost hear Harley's lawyers slapping their foreheads and exclaiming "D'oh!" a la Homer Simpson -- a sound which happens to be a trademark of the Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
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