The Deep Note is THX's audio trademark, a distinctive synthesized crescendo that glissandos from a relatively narrow frequency spread (about 200-400Hz) to a broader frequency spread (of about 3 octaves). It was created by Dr. 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, video games, and car infotainment 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 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.
Lucasfilm version (1983–2015)
The first version of the Deep Note made its debut before the second THX trailer, Broadway, that preceded the premiere showing of Return of the Jedi. Two different interpretations of the note ran concurrently with the 1983 version in both the Grand trailer and the mid-90s reorchestration of the Cimarron trailer, composed and conducted by the late James Horner. The original Cimarron trailer debuted in May 1988, with the release of Ron Howard’s Willow. The original sound mix of the Cimarron trailer was recalled in 1992, due to complaints from cinema projectionists, by claiming it “blew up cinema speakers,” which led to the use of the more common symphonic mix by James Horner. Users on YouTube found portions of the original mix, when a user found a bootlegged micro-cassette recording of the original mix of the trailer. The original trailer has yet to found in high quality. The Deep Note originally transitioned from a soft to loud intensity, and over the years has been remixed digitally, as new technology developed.
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 and again in 1995 for VHS. The next trailer; entitled Grand; premiered during the theatrical release of Jurassic Park on June 11, 1993. That logo consists of a Star Wars-esque laser beam cutting to a foggy crimson red background illuminating the screen accompanying with high pitch squealing noises for a few seconds before the corporate logo moves upward in a 90-degree angle in the center of the screen. This trailer, according to The THX Ultimate Demo Disc, was designed by David Slusser and Marco d'Ambrosio; and was supposedly created by Skywalker Sound. On July 3, 1996, with the debut of Tex in the theatrical premiere of Independence Day, the Deep Note was low-pitched and cut short which is 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 both the Ziegfeld and Tex Action trailers in 2006. 2001 would be the year when the Cavalcade trailer unveiled to theaters and home media releases; as seen in prints of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, X-Men, Fight Club, The Incredibles, THX 1138, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Both that logo and the 2007 Amazing Life trailer had the Deep Note been cut short to the single note (where both sounds stay in one pitch), in favor of other sound effects. However, in the last mentioned 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.
Regenerated version (2015–present)
In April 2015, THX introduced a brand-new trailer named Eclipse, which is 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 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.
The classic 1979 horror film When a Stranger Calls employed a frequency spread effect after the killer's line "Why haven't you checked on the children?" The effect, devised by the film's composer Dana Kaproff, sounds remarkably similar to the THX Deep Note that was introduced four years later.
Yellow Magic Orchestra's 1981 track "Loom" begins with an upward slow glissando to crescendo, resembling the Deep Note. A similar sound appeared in Yellow Magic Orchestra member Haruomi Hosono's 1978 album Cochin Moon.
The original score
For its 35th anniversary, THX Ltd. released an image of the original 30-voice score, with notes, on their official Facebook page.
In popular culture
- "James A. Moorer Personal Website". Retrieved December 3, 2006.
- "About THX". THX Ltd. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
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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