Where does the Mac startup sound come from? Its creator responds

If you’ve owned a few generations of Macs, and whatever their technical differences, or their design, one thing has always been a sort of common thread: the sound they make when they start up. Not that of the operating system, as on Windows PCs – in fact much more focused on this kind of sound feedback (weren’t the startup and shutdown sounds of Windows 95 composed by Brian Eno himself ?).

But rather directly when you launch the system. For the rest, Apple has always remained minimalist: there has never been a system shutdown sound, and there remains roughly only one configurable (alert) sound – until this day. The actual startup sound cannot be changed by the user. On recent Macs, you can just activate or deactivate it via a command in the Terminal. As simple as it is, this agreement has become an integral part of the firm’s computer line. So much so that Apple made it a registered trademark in 2012 (USPTO #4,257,783).

Why the startup sound of Macs is so special

But it should never have existed. From Apple )(, without a graphical interface, the firm introduced a basic startup sound, continued until the last phases of the development of the Macintosh. We are in 1988, the very first and a key engineer of the operating system, Jim Reekes , can no longer stand hearing this shrill chord repeatedly while the bugs causing the machine to crash are still particularly numerous.

Passionate about music and having assembled a recording studio in his house, he recorded the alternative that we know on a Korg Wavestation EX – a fairly avant-garde synth, which subsequently becomes typical of many productions, notably of dance music,towards the end of the 1980s. As he feared that his idea would be ousted by various echelons, and motivated by his aversion to the startup sound of the time, Jim Reekes arranged with one of the teams to have his version integrated into the very latest moment.

Enough to present the disgruntled (and Apple’s management) with a fait accompli: faced with the risk of creating a bug just before the launch of the next Macintosh, no one dares to modify the startup sound anymore. Which will remain (despite some minor adjustments) the same on subsequent generations, well after the departure of Jim Reekes in 1999. For the record, he says that Apple then refused to let him work on what would become the foundations of iTunes and the iPod in the most complicated period for Apple’s very survival at the end of the 1990s.

Technologies that he continued to develop alone until 2001 – before Apple entered into an agreement to use his technologies upon the return of Steve Jobs – making it possible to quickly launch the first major success attributed to his return: the iPod. Note that if Jim Reekes’ initiative was rather well received, it is because of one last little detail: in addition to being a talented software engineer, this accomplished music lover then held a degree in music theory. and composition (California State University Fullerton, 1978-1981). We invite you to watch Jim Reekes return to this story in the video below:

Jim Reekes who worked as Apple’s sound designer in the 1980’s with a backstory on how and why the sound was chosen. pic.twitter.com/PYPvy1uVZf

— Historic Vids (@historyinmemes) May 13, 2024

  • Macs owe their startup sound to a key engineer, music enthusiast Jim Reekes.
  • The latter could not stand the shrill sound that sounded when the Macintoshes of the time were turned on.
  • Afraid that his idea would be rejected, he managed to find his way into a finalized ROM, presenting the hierarchy with a fait accompli.

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