5 Recognisable Sounds and the Stories Behind Them

Our individual lives are made of personal soundscapes, like the chirping of the traffic lights in your country or the chime of the train or your favourite ice-cream van. While those sounds are mostly local, there are a few sounds that have spread far and wide, usually because they happen to be inextricably linked to an everyday brand or product. We pull out and examine 5 sounds that might have been a mainstay in your past or present soundscapes and trace them back to their fascinating origins. 

1) Nokia Ringtone: Gran Vals, Francesca Tarrega

The age of Nokia may be over but many of us still have a place in our hearts set aside for their indestructible phones and signature ringtone. 

The Nokia ringtone was one of the most ubiquitous sounds in the 2000s, being heard almost 1.9 billion times a day in 2009. What’s less known though, is that this 4-second loop which formed the base of handphone culture and inspired years of meme content and spinoffs after had its roots in a piece of classical music from the early, early 1900s

More specifically Spanish Composer Francesca Tarrega’s 1902 Guitar piece Gran Vals (The Grand Waltz). You can hear it here played by Greek Guitarist George Sakellariou on the exact same guitar Tarrega used.

The well-known leitmotif appears at 0:16 and 2:36

Written on the classically Waltzy 3/4 signature, the Gran Vals was composed to take advantage of the natural merits of a guitar. It’s well-known for sounding remarkably orchestral for a guitar piece, this is due to the melody sounding almost like two voices in conversation, one questioning and one answering, a technique also found in the introduction of the Blue Danube Waltz.

Tarrega was a private person when it came to his music, despite eventually being recognised as one of the most influential guitar composers of the Romantic Era, Tarrega far preferred playing for tiny audiences, mostly composed of friends and family, it might then be an ironic fact that his music was rediscovered and repurposed into one of the most commonly heard sounds in modern history,

2) The Intel Bong: Walter Werzowa, 1994

"When I created the bong, I had no idea it'd become so successful, it became the emperor of mnemonics." Says composer Walter Werzowa in a 2018 interview, and not for lack of humility: Hailed as one of the most successful examples of audio branding, Intel's 5-note bong is unmistakeable and ubiquitous.

But on the off chance you’ve forgotten how it sounds, we’ve got your back! Listen to it below.

In case you wanted to listen to it again, here's a version played by Intel's Finnish Engineers firing themselves out of a cannon at a set of oversized chimes (with the help of some movie magic). 

According the Werzowa, he was inspired by Intel’s slogan “Intel Inside” eventually arriving at 5 notes, D Sharp, D Sharp, G Sharp D Sharp and A Sharp to represent the syllables within the tagline.

In 2018, Intel embarked on a project to

Werzowa was previously a member of successful Austrian Electronic Band, Edelweiss’ old electronica music below for a sampling of Werzowa’s sound pre-bong.

3) Windows 95 Startup Sound: Brian Eno, 1995

The Widows 95 Startup Sound evades description, it’s. not a tune with any discernible melody, neither is it a chime, it’s ethereal and almost intangible

But that’s probably how it was meant to be, especially since it was composed by the English King of Ambient Music, Brian Eno. You might recognise him better for hir work as producer for Coldplay, U2 and may other bands. 

Eno recounts the brief given to him in this cheeky little anecdote, “the thing from the agency said, “we want a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic. sentimental, emotional" this whole list of adjectives, and then at the bottom it said "and it must be 3 1/4 seconds long"

Eno was intrigued by the brief "it's like making a tiny little jewel" he said, before making a staggering 84 variations of the windows chime, 83 of which remain unheard today.

Also , legend has it that if you slow down the Windows 95 chime, it'd actually sound like a Brian Eno Song, a legend we now know is true.

Just take a look at "Hi Stranger" a short, strange animated film with an ambient music background that was later found to be the slowed down version of the chime itself.

You can experience Eno's other ambient soundscapes here:

Fun Fact: The Iconic windows 95 chime was, in fact, created with a Mac, in Eno’s words “I’ve never used a PC in my life, I don’t like them”

4) 20th Century Fox Fanfare: Alfred Newman, 1933

Inspiring numerous memes and terrible covers, the 22 second 20th Century Fox fanfare might be one of the most recognisable fanfares in the world.

The piece was composed by Alfred Newman in 1933. While not an exceptionally recognisable name, Newman was immensely influential in the way modern film scores are composed. This Wikipedia page listing films he's composed for contains links to 153 film pages.

When the fanfare first used in 1933, it was used against a stationery image of the now iconic 20th Century Fox logo. This was painted by Emil Kosa Jr, a set painter for the studio that was renowed for his large, detailed paintings, including the Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes.

The fanfare was well received until the 1970s where it was all but phased out. It only made a return to theaters in 1977, when Sci-Fi and Spaghetti Western buff turned filmaker George Lucas decided that he liked it so much that he wanted it played before his new film, Star Wars, rocketing the theme back to relevance.

Alfred Newman was also known for conducting the music from Rodger and Hammerstein's The King and I. 

5) Super Mario Overland: Koji Kondo, 1985

Almost anyone can hum the Super Mario Overland theme, the beloved mushroom-eating plumber has brought children from the East and West together as far back as 1985: Making his theme a fixture in the childhood of many Gen X-ers and Milennials.

Composer Koji Kondo, the man behind much of the music heard in Nintendo's other franchises says that the catchy tune was specially designed to harmonise with the way Mario ran, jumped and bopped his head on blocks across the screen.

Kondo had to innovate to come out with the original version of the theme, especially since the 8 and 16 bit systems at the time was woefully limited when it came to music. He settled for using the systems' white noise channel for drums, laying down the foundation for the iconic melody that would eventually go on it.



Building Personal Soundscapes With final Audio

We're a fan of Japanese Audio brand final Audio, it's a brand that's been up and running since 1971, going through the years with an uncompromising, clean aesthetic, quality build and sound signatures for everyone. 

There's a lot to choose from when we talk about final Audio: A pair of good binaural earphones can cost you as low as $39 for the E1000, although the more ambitious and opt for their current Flagship, the A8000

Either way, the point is that, whether you prefer to chill to Lo-Fi tunes or let out your post-day job woes Aggretsuko style--with a healthy dose of Heavy Metal. final Audio probably has what you're looking for. Especially with some 15 products over a variety of budgets in their current lineup. Which you can view in all its glory here

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published