Deep Note

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Deep Note in audio editing software Audacity

Deep Note is the name of THX's audio logo, a distinctive synthesized crescendo sound. It was created by Dr. James A. Moorer,[1] then an employee of the Lucasfilm Computer Division, in late 1982.[2] The sound is used on trailers for THX-certified movie theatres, home video releases, video games and in-car entertainment; it debuted in the THX trailer shown before the 1983 premiere of Return of the Jedi in Los Angeles.[2]


The U.S. trademark registration for the first version of the sound contains this description of it:[3]

The THX logo theme consists of 30 voices over seven measures, starting in a narrow range, 200 to 400 Hz, and slowly diverting to preselected pitches encompassing three octaves. The 30 voices begin at pitches between 200 Hz and 400 Hz and arrive at pre-selected pitches spanning three octaves by the fourth measure. The highest pitch is slightly detuned while there are double the number of voices of the lowest two pitches.

Spectogram made using Spek

First version (1983-2015)[edit]

The first version of the Deep Note made its debut before the first THX trailer, Wings, that played before Return of the Jedi. As well, two different interpretations of the note ran concurrently with the 1983 version in both the Grand trailer and the mid-90s reorchestration of the Cimmaron trailer. While the Deep Note had originally been from a soft to loud pitch from its debut, the Deep Note over the years had been remixed digitally, with then-new technology. Most notably, in 1993 the Deep Note was cut short and pitched higher (ending in an E chord rather than a D), to save time for Laserdisc (1995 for VHS). In 1996, with the debut of Tex, the Deep Note had been low-pitched and cut short which was different than other versions (it was later used in the DVD version of the digitally mastered variant of the iconic Broadway trailer in 1997 then later with the Ziegfeld trailer in 2006). In 2007, for the Amazing Life trailer, the Deep Note had been cut short to the single note (where both sounds stay in one pitch), in favor of other sound effects; however, in the last two trailers to use the 1983 note, both based on the famous Broadway trailer, the sound was played in full.

The sound is perceived as louder than it actually is; sound designer Gary Rydstrom explains that, "from a technical standpoint, 'Deep Note' just feels loud because it has a spectrum of frequencies that grows from small to large."[2]

James A. Moorer said in a 2005 interview, "I like to say that the THX sound is the most widely-recognized piece of computer-generated music in the world. This may or may not be true, but it sounds cool!"[4]

Although Moorer had initially claimed that the score consisted of about 20,000 lines of code,[4] he subsequently corrected the statement and elaborated:[5]

The original 30-year-old C program is 325 lines, and the “patch” file for the synthesizer was 298 more lines. I guess it just felt like 20,000 lines when I did it.

Given that it was written and debugged in 4 days, I can’t claim the programming chops to make 20,000 lines of working code that quickly. But, to synthesize it in real time, in 1983, took 2 years to design and build a 19” rack full of digital hardware and 200,000 lines of system code to run the synthesizer. All that was already done, so I was building on a large foundation of audio processing horsepower, both hardware and software. Consequently, a mere 325 lines of C code and 298 lines of audio patching setup for the 30 voices was enough to invoke the audio horsepower to make the piece.

Second version (2015-)[edit]

In April 2015, THX introduced a new trailer named Eclipse, which was accompanied by a updated, more powerful version of the Deep Note, also created by Moorer. It is described as being "intensely more complex, taking the audience on an epic sensory journey unlike anything they've experienced before."[6] This version of the Deep Note was created entirely digitally so it could play on Dolby Digital 7.1 and Dolby Atmos systems, and Moorer created 30-second, 45-second and 60-second versions of it. Moorer used around eighty voices in the remake, as opposed to thirty in the original 1982 version. In an interview with Yahoo, Moorer said "I kept thinking: "That’s the way I wanted it to sound originally". I think it’s as far as you can take it."[7]

Previous works[edit]

Prior to the creation of Deep Note, several other works made use of similar techniques of frequency spread.

In their book Analog Days, Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco point to the track "Spaced," from the 1970 Beaver & Krause album In a Wild Sanctuary as the source for Deep Note. They quote synthesizer builder Tom Oberheim as saying the original analog form is much richer than the "digital perfection" used in movie theatres.

Another recognized predecessor to the Deep Note is a part in The Beatles' song, "A Day in the Life", using a full orchestra. However, unlike the Deep Note, the resolving high chord is never held, but instead brought to a stop.

A very similar sound occurred in the Styx song "Krakatoa" on their album The Serpent is Rising,[8] as well as in the soundtrack to the 1979 movie When a Stranger Calls.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Asia used Deep Note as the opening for the song "Countdown to Zero" from their 1985 album Astra.[9]
  • In 2000, rapper Dr. Dre was sued by Lucasfilm, then-owner of THX, for using an unauthorized sample of Deep Note on his album 2001.[10] The sample is used at the very beginning of his intro song and is almost entirely unedited and played in full.
  • The logo was ironically spoofed in the 1992 film Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation, as "THUD, a division of Mucasfilm".
  • The deep note was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Movie Trend.[citation needed]
  • In the DreamWorks animated film Over the Hedge, the three Porcupine kids are trying to set up a spy camera system using a television, but accidentally tune the TV to a film opening with the Deep Note.
  • In the 1994 episode of The Simpsons "Burns' Heir", the Deep Note is played at the beginning of a movie screening, which physically pushes the viewers back in their seats, causes the room to shake, a viewer's teeth shatter, the fire exit sign breaks and a person's head explodes. Around four months after the episode aired, THX used the scene as a trailer.
  • The Deep Note appeared in the episode "The White Asparagus Triangulation" of The Big Bang Theory, in which Sheldon uses it as a guideline for what cinema seats he should be sitting at.


External links[edit]