At the beginning of 2006, we learned that legendary guitarist Robert Fripp would create a musical theme for Windows Vista, following in the footsteps of the likes of Brian Eno. Well, after a brief joke that circulated about what the sound set would sound like, here’s the real sound theme, at least as far as critical Windows sounds:

Windows Vista system sounds [istartedsomething, via the awesome downloadsquad]

The sounds for Windows Vista may be the most important sound design gig on the face of the planet, because, thanks to the fact that most of the planet runs Windows and doesn’t know how to turn the theme off, you’ll be hearing these sounds repeatedly in offices and Starbucks locations for the next ten years. And, I’m surprised to say, I like the results! Fripp and the Vista audio team clearly erred on the side of subtlety, and given the fact that a lot of us jump every time we hear that piano theme that plays as someone starts up and shuts down, that’s a truly great thing.

But, wait — still not convinced this is the most important sound design on Earth?

The Sounds of Vista, in which Microsoft’s Larry Osterman reports that TV and radio crews jumped on the story hours after the announcement

Microsoft Vista chief Jim Allchin explains the new sounds

NPR jumps into the story and talks to Steve Ball

I expect you’ll get more Fripp when Vista ships — after all that time in the studio, surely they’ll have a little Vista theme that plays when you install, right? And, of course, shortly after that you’ll get someone’s Battlestar Galactica sound theme.

What I really want to talk about, though, is not a few sound effects in Vista — I want to hear more about the actual sound engine underneath the new OS. You know, the part of the operating system Windows audio and music users will depend on daily for their careers, their love, their creative output. More on that soon.

In the meantime, let’s relive the hilarious exchange between Fripp and marketing in trying to capture Vista as a soundscape:

â€Å“Why don’t you build up a 5 to 7 minute loop â€â€? you find the theme, the texture, the context that goes back to . . . the idea that Vista embodies the Aero principles. It’s clear, confident, and connected.â€Â?

[Fripp interrupts] â€Å“And there’s plenty of green and blue.â€Â?


There’s round criticism of these sounds, because there’s not much Fripp in them, even after all the hype over the original recording session (thanks, Matrix!) :

Not Frippertronics, on Alec Saunders .LOG:

The new sounds, while very nice, are not Frippertronics. Their pedigree is simply not evident. Unbelievably, Microsoft has taken a very cool indie composer, and made his artistry into pablum.

Another committee takes the “soul” out of Robert Fripp on Scobleizer:

By trying to make it please everyone they miss exactly what the user generated world is all about. Piss me off, Microsoft, please! Get rid of your committees. Show some SOUL.

That’s fair, and I’ll agree, it’s disappointing, but I want to know why everyone is so keen to have the default Windows sound theme be a musical composition in the first place. If anything, that theme should be unobtrusive. If I want to listen to music, I want to actually put in an album, not be bombarded by eight sound cues over and over again each day.

In fact, I notice that most of the coverage of Vista has been focused on these kinds of issues: will it be exciting? Will it enhance the experience? A lot of that is coming from Microsoft. But to me, and to many entry-level consumers and pros alike, an operating system isn’t supposed to be exciting. (Hell, most of the time they are exciting — and that’s the problem. How many heart-stopping moments have you had with your OS?) I hope that Vista, and upcoming operating systems on other platforms, succeeds in being transparent, in getting out of our way and letting us do the things we really care about, none of which include “using an operating system.”

That said, these posts underly the bottom line: what people want is choice. Fortunately, Vista, like XP, supports themes. Now it’s just a matter of releasing some of the sounds that hit the cutting-room — erm, committee — floor. That, I’ll admit, is a very good idea.

[tags]marketing, Microsoft, music, oddities, operating systems, Vista, sound-design, composing[/tags]