Deep Note is the name of THX's audio logo, a distinctive synthesized crescendo sound that glissandos from a rumbling low pitch to a high pitch. It was created by Dr. James A. Moorer, then an employee of the Lucasfilm Computer Division, in late 1982. 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.
The U.S. trademark registration for the first version of the sound contains this description of it:
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.
First version (Lucasfilm Version) (1983-2015)
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."
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!"
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 (Regenerated Version) (2015-)
In April 2015, THX introduced a new trailer named Eclipse, which was accompanied by an 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." 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."
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. Moorer has admitted that both "A Day in the Life" and Bach's "Fugue in B Minor" were sources of inspiration for the Note.
In popular culture
The perceived loudness of the Deep Note is frequently depicted as having actual destructive effects:
- The 1992 direct-to-video film Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation shows a Deep Note–like trailer (which features a hand holding a baton) quite literally blow the audience away, sending many people flying and wrecking the theater, concluding with the text, "THUD Sound System, A division of Mucasfilm Ltd. The Audience Is Now Deaf." This was a reference to the Cirammon trailer.
- The episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy called "Sound" parodied the logo, replacing "THX" with "SOUND, the Audience is listening". Instead of the Deep Note playing, an orchestra tunes up.
- In a 1994 episode of The Simpsons entitled "Burns' Heir", a THX trailer plays before a film, literally sending the audience to the edge of their seats, shattering eyeglasses, teeth, and even causing one person's head to explode; the audience whoops in response. Grampa Simpson shouts, "Turn it up! Turn it up!" This segment was later turned into a THX theatrical trailer.
- In Sesame Street, there was a parody of the THX logo and it reads "ABC: The Audience is Learning" before a Letter of the Day segment starts. The Deep Note sounded like kids singing along with the THX sound and some kids laugh in the background when the logo appeared. Above the logo is "Nucasfilm," another parody of Lucasfilm.
- In the 2006 film Over the Hedge, Deep Note is featured as the animals perform a raid on Gladys Sharp's house. Penny and the three porcupine kids are tasked with setting up a camera system. Meanwhile, a porcupine turns on the television to the THX logo as well as Deep Note playing at full volume, with the force of it blowing off his quills. Outside, Sharp's Persian grows suspicious, but Stella insists that it's the beating of her heart, holds him close, and harmonizes with the Deep Note.
- In the very beginning of the 2006 film Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny, Deep Note is parodied in the beginning by Jack Black and Kyle Gass with cartoon versions of themselves flying via flatulence propulsion, and the words "THC: The Audience is baking" appear on the screen.
- The LucasArts adventure game The Curse of Monkey Island opens with a large 'CMI' logo with a Deep Note made by the sound of monkeys, accompanied by the caption "The Monkeys are Listening."
- Promos for the Cartoon Network block Flicks featured a parody of the Deep Note.
- A documentary on "The IT Crowd" Series One DVD has various male voices vocalise the Deep Note sound. As they reach the end, some of the voices in the background end up screaming. The first captions state that the video is "mastered for minimal sound and picture quality." This is followed by the logo where "THX" is replaced by "KEN", which when fully read in the context of the captions on the screen reads "Mastered by KEN using a VCR."
- The New Jersey Nets and other teams use the Deep Note when there is about 10 seconds left in warm-ups. At the end of the Deep Note, the buzzers go off.
- A similar sound can be heard as an Easter egg in μTorrent.
- IGT video slot machines make the Deep Note as its startup sound when turned on.
- In an episode of Back at the Barnyard, when Otis and Pip watch a DVD, at the beginning there is a parody of the THX logo that reads "BYX", and the Deep Note is sung by a choir.
- When you start the Europe levels in Doritos Crash Course, there's a parody of the deep note.
- 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.
- In Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III, during a skit involving a gathering of bounty hunters, the assassin droid IG-88 introduces his cousin THX-1138, who greets the room with the Deep Note which ends up shaking the foundation of the house.
- The Brown Derbies, a collegiate a cappella group from Brown University, replicated Deep Note using only human male voices. The first track of their 1997 CD Nightcap is entitled "THX."
- Another collegiate a cappella group, Redefined, from UW-Madison, replicated Deep Note with both male and female human voices as the first track on their self-titled 2002 debut album.
- Rapper Dr. Dre was sued in 2000 by Lucasfilm, then-owner of THX, for using an unauthorized cover of Deep Note on his album 2001.
- The "Mega Lo Mania Remix" of Mylène Farmer's song "California" begins with Deep Note.
- Rock band Asia used Deep Note as the opening for the song "Countdown to Zero" from their 1985 album Astra.
- Timbaland used Deep Note as the opening for the song "Intro with DJ Felli Fel" from the album Shock Value II.
- Amberian Dawn used the Deep Note in the introduction for their song Incubus on their album The Clouds of Northland Thunder.
- Hell Is living Without You by Alice Cooper from the 1989 album Trash starts out playing Deep Note.
- Drum and Bass artist Delta Heavy used the Deep Note in their song titled "Space Time".
- Progressive metal band Dream Theater used a modified version of Deep Note during the Chaos in Motion tour.
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- Dansby, Andrew (2000-04-21). "LucasFilm (sic) Taking Dr. Dre to Court". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2006-12-03.