One of the things that makes a Mac a Mac is the beautiful startup sound it makes when you turn it on: a soothing, sonorous noise that sounds like electronic harp strings being plucked as you enter the gardens of Zen.
But it wasn’t always this way. When the original Macintosh was released, the startup sound was horrible. Yet it wasn’t Steve Jobs who fixed it. It was an unknown sound engineer who hated it with such a passion that he defied his bosses and literally snuck it onto the Mac.
His name was Jim Reekes. The son of an early Apple employee, Reekes was working at Apple as an engineer in 1988, when he started thinking about how he could improve the sounds: particularly, the original Mac tritone start-up sound, which was made up of a combination of notes that early eighteenth-century music theorists and composers called the devil’s interval,
“It’s not just me that thinks it’s bad. It’s bad,” Reekes told Wired about the tritone. “It’s been bad throughout history. It’s literally the most dissonant sound you can make.”
Soon, Reekes decided he wanted a more meditative sound, which he had to design for every Mac Apple sold, whether the cheapest Macs with dinky speakers, or top-of-the-line music studio Macs.
Eventually, Reekes came up with the sound we all know today. Here’s Wired:
He ended up with a big two-handed C-major chord. It’s in stereo. It fades back and forth, left to right. There’s a bit of reverb in it. It’s played by a bunch of string sounds and even what Jim describes as a “chiffy” bamboo chute sound. “It’s a calm sound. And I knew that people understood C major, even nonmusicians. And it’d still feel interesting to people who are in very good studios. I was trying to reach a very broad audience with the intent and type of emotion I was trying to evoke.”
The Mac start-up sound we all know and love today was first shipped on the Macintosh Quadra 700, after Reekes literally began sneaking it onto prototypes. But for years, executives wanted to change it back, until Steve Jobs came back in 1996, heard it, and fended off any future alterations.
Here’s all of the start-up sounds the Mac has ever had. We sure have come a long way, haven’t we?