Creator of Mac startup & iPhone camera sounds talks Apple sound history

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in Current Mac Hardware
In a newly-published interview, former Apple sound designer Jim Reekes discusses the history of the sound cues he created for the company's devices, such as the famous Mac "beep" and startup chords, and the camera shutter used on devices like the iPhone.




The "Sosumi" beep originally started out under the name "Xylophone," but a lawsuit from The Beatles' Apple record label forced the similarly-named computer company to rename any sound effect with a musical-sounding name, Jim Reekes explained to CNBC.

"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."

The designer lied to Apple's lawyers, claiming it was a Japanese word with no musical implications. "It was really me making fun of lawyers," according to Reekes.

As for the best-known Mac startup sound, it was originally a sharper tone that would play often because of the computer's tendency to crash at the time. Reekes decided that the machine needed a "palette cleanser" as a result, and recorded a C-major chord on a synthesizer at home, inspired by the end of the Beatles song "A Day in the Life."

Reekes didn't have permission to change the sound, but happened to know the people in charge of the right ROMs, and asked them to insert his sound late into development so that it wouldn't be caught. The result shipped with the first Quadra.

When some engineers became unhappy with the switch, he made up an excuse.

"Our excuse was it's too risky to take it back out at this point because something could crash," he joked. "We just made up some bulls---." The sound is no longer present on Macs, but was trademarked by Apple.



The Mac screenshot/iPhone camera sound is actually the slowed-down sound of Reekes' Canon AE-1 camera.

"Any time you take a photo with the iPhone it's my camera, which kind of freaks me out because, even to this day when I hear people take photos with their iPhone I look to see who stole my camera," he commented.

Despite being closely linked with Apple history, Reekes is not as rich as some other Apple luminaries, having left the company in the late 1990s while abandoning "tens of thousands of Apple options that would have made me probably $8 million today if I had kept them."

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 10
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,810member
    Good call on changing the startup sound, Jim. 👍
  • Reply 2 of 10
    flaneurflaneur Posts: 4,509member
    And the chord at the end of “A Day in the Life” now sounds great on the HomePod. The recent Sgt. Pepper’s remix by Giles Martin was the first album I tested.

    Thanks for this story. It had occurred to me that the Mac startup sound was inspired by the Beatles’ chord. Maybe I remembered this detail from some piece of Apple lore that was already out there? Now we have the real story. Thanks to Jim Reekes also. I love that startup sound.

    Wish it was still in the system, but I suppose it’s now considered too quaint or something.
  • Reply 3 of 10
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,861member
    I always thought Jim Reeks was a cool guy...kind of a rebel in a way. He did really good work as well. I loved watching his interview he did for I think it was called "Welcome to Macintosh". He always has interesting stories to share while working at Apple. 
  • Reply 4 of 10
    Slight clarification here from a fellow sound designer. On the original CNBC clip, and also in his interview on the "Welcome To Macintosh" podcast, Jim says that the Mac and iPhone camera sound was not a slowed down recording of his AE-1 but just a slow shutter speed on the camera (at normal playback speed). Probably only me who cares but…!
    SpamSandwichrandominternetperson
  • Reply 5 of 10
    analogjackanalogjack Posts: 1,066member
    Slight clarification here from a fellow sound designer. On the original CNBC clip, and also in his interview on the "Welcome To Macintosh" podcast, Jim says that the Mac and iPhone camera sound was not a slowed down recording of his AE-1 but just a slow shutter speed on the camera (at normal playback speed). Probably only me who cares but…!
    That makes more sense. That sound always reminds me of the sound of a Leica M at 1/15 sec which is one of the informal ways to test the camera, it has a very distinctive sound at that shutter speed.
    randominternetperson
  • Reply 6 of 10
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 31,096member
    The “Sosumi” story behind the name is pure chaotic Apple.
  • Reply 7 of 10
    prokipprokip Posts: 148member
    "So sue me" - what Paul Simon said to Athol Guy of the Australian group The Seekers in the in the 1960's when Simon stole one of Guy's songs.
  • Reply 8 of 10
    prokip said:
    "So sue me" - what Paul Simon said to Athol Guy of the Australian group The Seekers in the in the 1960's when Simon stole one of Guy's songs.
    I don't know the incident you're referring to, but I'm pretty sure that that phrase was not coined by either Paul Simon or Jim Reekes.
    edited March 2018
  • Reply 9 of 10
    flaneurflaneur Posts: 4,509member
    macxpress said:
    I always thought Jim Reeks was a cool guy...kind of a rebel in a way. He did really good work as well. I loved watching his interview he did for I think it was called "Welcome to Macintosh". He always has interesting stories to share while working at Apple. 
    Also this interview, a great profile of a sound designer and why it matters:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QkTwNerh1G8

    The startup sound part starts about 13:20. No “day in the life” reference, though. Was that in Welcome to Macintosh?
  • Reply 10 of 10
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 2,838member
    Looks like he’s an HR Giger fan. 
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