OMT in San Francisco #3: ‘Let it beep’ from One More Thing on Vimeo.

The legend of the early sounds of the Mac remains, apparently, an alluring one. Here, Jim Reekes talks to a Dutch documentary crew (though in English) about his thought process in designing sounds for the Mac, including the famous Mac startup sound.

If you haven’t heard the story, it’s a great tale. But there’s more to why Jim Reekes matters. For one, his insight into how sound design impacts the way people feel about a product is telling. Years later, following an onslaught of still more microcontroller-packed gear and hideous cellphone ringtones, that lesson seems ignored by designers. I know countless phone users who find the traditional phone ring sound. They do so not out of habit (like those people I know who are too young to even remember pre-digital phones), but because it’s the least offensive choice. With all of the growth in sound, you might imagine we’d be finding smart, new interactions, not struggling to cover the basics.

No surprise, then, that Keith Lang at UI&us, a blog centered on user experience, picks this up – it’s as interesting a question of design as it is Mac nostalgia. (I agree with the commenter there – tritone? The original sound doesn’t sound like a tritone to me.)

More importantly, though, Jim Reekes is worth revisiting because of the amount he contributed to sound on the Mac platform. That should be a reminder of how important it is to value the contributions of people who build intelligent sound into platforms, especially at a time when new platforms (iPhone, Android, Chrome) are emerging. Jim is credited (by his site and Wikipedia) for key engineering in QuickTime, he single-handedly created the Mac’s original Sound Manager, build early standalone radio appliances, helped support software on which the Mac multimedia revolution relied (from SoundEdit to Vision to HyperCard to Final Cut to Myst), and even built a jog wheel and hierarchical menu before the iPod.

I like to believe that forward progress is still possible in computing and sound, not only in sexy apps and hardware, but in the decidedly un-sexy plumbing that lies inside our computing platforms. It often comes down to individual men and women who make it happen. And lest you think challenges are insurmountable or the process is glamorous and magical, here’s a good quote from Jim:

The people on the outside think that, you know, it’s like this wonderful world of Oz or Disney going on and all of us are just all these brilliant amazing happy people and like ‘it’s not’ it’s like a sausage factory, I mean, you really don’t want to know how this stuff happens. A lot of it is just bad arguments and politics and working around the rules and, and and not doing the right thing and apologizing for it later and getting fired a few times, I mean, that’s how things got done. It’s definitely like “Don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain.” Jim Reekes.

Source: ProfCast blog (ProfCast, incidentally, a great little tool for making enhanced podcasts and lectures on Mac and Windows)

And that’s to say nothing of the days during which Apple Corps was going after Apple Computer for making products that could make music. (Jim to Boing Boing: “I was getting really tired of this whole thing when the laywers told me I had to change an API from the “noteCmd” to “frequencyCmd.” Good thing they didn’t make 440Hz off-limits.) Now, all that is history, and The Beatles are in a video game.

With that in mind, here’s more on the creation of Mac sound – and its signature sounds.

TINY MUSIC MAKERS: Pt 4: The Mac Startup Sound [Music thing – we miss you, you great blog – 2005]

Jim Reekes at Wikipedia (a degree in composition and theory? What use could that ever possibl— oh.)

Early Apple sound designer Jim Reekes corrects Sosumi myth [Boing Boing, 2005]

Jim Reekes homepage