The Deep Note is the sound trademark of THX Ltd., being a distinctive synthesized crescendo that glissandos from a relatively narrow frequency spread (about 200–400 Hz) to a broader frequency spread (of about three octaves). It was created by James A. Moorer, a former employee of Lucasfilm's Computer Division in late 1982. The sound is used on trailers for THX-certified movie theaters, home video releases, video games, and in-car entertainment systems.
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 diverging 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 is double the number of voices of the lowest two pitches.
The sound is perceived as louder than it actually is; sound designer and re-recording mixer 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."
The original 30-year-old C program is 355 lines, and the “patch” file for the synthesizer was 300 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 355 lines of C code and 300 lines of audio patching set-up for the 30 voices was enough to invoke the audio horsepower to make the piece.
Millennium version (2000)
In fall 1999, THX released the trailer "Broadway 2000" for use of the Dolby Digital Surround EX sound system. As a result, an entirely new Deep Note was made from scratch. In this version of the Deep Note, new voices were made doing the similar process while voices from the previous version can be briefly heard. Aside from the trailer's appearance in theaters as well as on The Adventures of Indiana Jones DVD box set, the only other trailer that also uses this version of the Deep Note was a trailer made specially for the post-2000 home media releases of Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Remastered version (2005–present)
In May 2005, to coincide with the theatrical release of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, THX introduced a new trailer called "The Science of Sensation", which featured a new version of the Deep Note, which is similar to the original, but voices from the "Broadway 2000" trailer were mixed together.
Regenerated version (2015)
In April 2015, THX introduced a new trailer called Eclipse, which was accompanied by an updated, more powerful version of the Deep Note, also created by Moorer. This version of the Deep Note was created entirely digitally so it could play on Dolby Surround 7.1, Dolby Atmos, and DTS:X 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 1983 version. He stated in an interview, "That’s the way I wanted it to sound originally. I think it’s as far as you can take it." Unfortunately, Eclipse would be the only appearance of the regenerated version as starting with trailers Sphere and Genesis (both made to utilize the 4K video resolution), the remastered Deep Note was used instead.
Prior to the creation of the Deep Note, several other works made use of similar techniques of frequency spread. A recognized predecessor is a section in the Beatles' 1967 song "A Day in the Life", using a full orchestra. Unlike in 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 a fugue in B minor by Bach were sources of inspiration for the Deep Note.
In their book Analog Days, Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco say that the track "Spaced", from the 1970 Beaver & Krause album In a Wild Sanctuary, was "copied by a famous Marin County film company" to introduce its film presentations, although they do not identify the company. The authors quote synthesizer builder Tom Oberheim as saying that the original analog form is much richer than the "digital perfection" evident in the sound logo so familiar to cinema-goers.
In 2018, THX released an image of the original 30-voice score, with notes.
In popular culture
- Lucasfilm, then-owner of THX, sued rapper Dr. Dre in 2000 for using an unauthorized cover of Deep Note in the opening track "Lolo (Intro)" on his 1999 album 2001.
- The Deep Note was remixed in Ariana Grande's 2013 single "Baby I".
- The Deep Note was sampled prominently in the track "Cannibals" from Neil Cicierega's 2020 mashup and remix album Mouth Dreams, alongside Fine Young Cannibals' "She Drives Me Crazy" and an assortment of 80s and 90s television logo jingles.
- Because of the loud bass of Deep Note, the sound has been subject to numerous parodies.
- In a 1994 episode of The Simpsons titled "Burns' Heir", there is a parody gag of the THX Deep Note, with the Simpson family in the theater watching Siskel & Ebert: The Movie. The Deep Note causes multiple things in the theater to explode seemingly from acoustic resonance (including one man's head, as a reference to the 1981 horror film Scanners), and ends with Grampa Simpson yelling out "Turn it up! TURN IT UP!" THX executives liked the parody so much that the scene was later remade into an actual THX movie trailer, with the scene being redone in a widescreen aspect ratio.
- The 1988 trailer, Cimarron, was parodied in the 1992 direct-to-video animated film Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation. The "THX" sound system is parodied as "THUD", and the "Lucasfilm Ltd. Sound System" byline was spoofed as "Mucasfilm Ltd. Sound Systems" and the classic slogan "The Audience is Listening" was spoofed as "The Audience is Now Deaf".
- The stop-motion animated sketch comedy series Robot Chicken featured the Deep Note in their third and final Star Wars special. A sketch sees IG-88 introducing his cousin THX-1138 (a nod to George Lucas' film of the same name) to the other bounty hunters hired by the Empire. Upon his cousin's introduction, the Deep Note plays loudly, causing the room to rumble and shake, and causing the walls and ceilings to crumble. Dengar states that he doesn’t mean to be rude, but IG-88's cousin needs to leave.
- In the 2006 film Over the Hedge, the Deep Note is briefly heard when the main characters accidentally turn on a TV while stealing food, with the "THX" logo appearing on the screen; thankfully, they are not discovered and manage to escape.
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THX Deep Note was composed by Lucasfilm sound engineer Dr. James ‘Andy’ Moorer and was screened at the start of the 1983 premiere of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.
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Moorer composed 30-, 45-, and 60-second versions of the new Deep Note, but for now THX is only sharing the shortest cut as part of its new 'Eclipse' trailer,…
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