Meet the man who created Apple's most iconic sounds — Sosumi, the camera click and the start-up chord

Share

Tech

Meet the man who created Apple's most iconic sounds — Sosumi, the camera click and the start-up chord

Apple users may notice that their computers and phones are filled with well-designed sounds that effortlessly blend into the experience — from the gentle keyboard clicks to the pings that alert you when something is wrong.

But what they may not know, is that three of the most famous Apple sounds — the boot up chord, the camera click and the "Sosumi" beep, all were created by one man, mostly from his San Jose living room.

His name is Jim Reekes. He started working at Apple in the late 1980s as a sound designer.

The story starts with a lawsuit.

The Sosumi Beep

The Beatles' record label was named Apple, so when Steve Jobs decided to name his company Apple, he promised that the budding computer company would never get involved with music. Then, Apple added support for audio recording and Midi, a set of technical standards used to connect musical instruments to computers.

So the Beatles sued.

"The Beatles lawyers started suing because apparently the Beatles didn't have enough money," said Reekes.

As a part of the lawsuit, Reekes was tasked with renaming any sound effect that had a musical-sounding name. One of his beeps, originally called "Xylophone," needed a new name.

"I actually said I'm gonna call it 'let it beep' and of course you can't do anything like that, but I thought yeah, 'so sue me.' And then I thought that's actually the right name," Reekes said. "I'll just have to spell it funny, so I spelled it Sosumi."

He told the lawyers it was a Japanese word that didn't mean anything musical.

"That's how that Sosumi beep came around," Reekes explained. "It was really me making fun of lawyers."

The boot-up sound

An earlier version of the Mac start-up sound, which was a tri-tone, annoyed Reekes immensely.

"At that time, the truth was the computer crashed a lot," Reekes said. "And every time you would hear that sound it was pretty much because you were just rebooting after a crash."

He decided to change it, even though he didn't have permission to do so.

He recorded the c-major chord on a keyboard in his living room, drawing inspiration, ironically, from the Beatles song "A Day in the Life."

He knew the engineers at Apple that were in charge of the ROMs and asked them to sneak it in there right before the computer was released. It made it into the original Quadra computer.

Jim Reekes recorded the Apple start-up sound on this keyboard in his living room.
Jim Reekes recorded the Apple start-up sound on this keyboard in his living room.

Some engineers at Apple were not happy with the change.

"Our excuse was it's too risky to take it back out at this point because something could crash," he said. "We just made up some bulls---."

It stuck, and years later Apple even trademarked the start-up sound. It's one of the few sounds that's trademarked, along with the NBC chimes and the Intel signature sound.

"Kind of silly right?" Reekes smirked. "I'm playing a c-major chord and it's famous and it's a copyright."

But after more than a decade, Apple got rid of the infamous boot-up chord in its latest models. Now when you turn on your laptop, there is silence.

"Now that there's no start-up sound, it's like sitting down at a restaurant and there's no one there to greet you," Reekes said. "It's it just feels strange."

The camera click

Apple's camera click sound is everywhere. It's the sound of a screen grab or the noise your iPhone makes when you snap a photo.

It comes from Reekes' old 1970s Canon AE-1 that he purchased in high school. He recorded his camera and then slowed down the shutter speed in order to build the custom sound.

"Any time you take a photo with the iPhone it's my camera, which kind of freaks me out because, even to this day when I hear people take photos with their iPhone I look to see who stole my camera," Reekes said.

Jim Reekes left Apple in the late 1990s, right before the dot-com crash.
Jim Reekes left Apple in the late 1990s, right before the dot-com crash.

He said he has attempted to use it as a pickup line in a bar as well. "Hey, I made that sound!" But Reekes said it mostly just results in a strange look.

Today, Reekes is a consultant and is out of the sound design business.

He left Apple right before the dotcom crash in the late 1990s.

"Unfortunately, my timing was pretty bad," Reekes sighed. "I walked away from tens of thousands of Apple options that would have made me probably eight million dollars today if I had kept them."