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. 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. 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. 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.
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.
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
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 blowing 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 Cimarron 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. Another reference to the Cimarron trailer.
- In a 1994 episode of The Simpsons entitled "Burns' Heir", a THX trailer plays before a film, literally blowing 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.
- The 2006 film Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny parodies the Deep Note and THX in the film's opening sequence. However, the script "THX" has been altered to read THC, a compound found within cannabis. Furthermore, the "Deep Note" is changed to the sound of an orchestra of farting noises.
- 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."
- IGT video slot machines make the Deep Note as its startup sound when turned on.
- In an episode, Home Sweet Hole from 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.
- 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 which cinema seat he should be sitting in.
- 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.
- During the 88th Academy Awards, the Deep Note was heard while presenting the title screen for the Best Sound Mixing.
- Malmö Redhawks of the Swedish Hockey League and Tampa Bay Lightning of the National Hockey League plays the Deep Note right after puck drop, at the beginning or middle of the game.
- In The Boondocks episode "...Or Die Trying", Grandpa mimics the "Deep Note" when reassuring Jazmin that the theater they are going to is a quality theater.
- Mickey Rapkin narrates in his book Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory the live performance of Deep Note by BYU's a cappella group Vocal Point in the 2006 ICCA, included in their award winning set that year.
- 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.
- Team17 used the music for the 1996 logo until 1999. Unlike the DVD version of the Broadway trailer, it’s in a lower pitch than the original DVD trailer.
- Another parody was found in the teaser trailer for Caddyshack II. It looks familiar,but at the other segment, two golf balls zoom in then the text appears as "Caddyshack II" and a voiceover says "A comedy with balls!"
- "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.
- "Trademark Applications and Registrations Retrieval (TARR)". United States Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved December 3, 2006.
- Whitwell, Tom (May 25, 2005). "TINY MUSIC MAKERS: Pt 3: The THX Sound". Music Thing. Retrieved December 3, 2006.
- Kirn, Peter (April 8, 2015). "Q+A: How the THX Deep Note Creator Remade His Iconic Sound". Create Digital Music. Retrieved April 10, 2015.
- "THX Releases Rejuvenated Versions of Iconic 'THX Deep Note' Sound with New 'Eclipse' Trailer" (Press release). THX Ltd. April 3, 2015. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
- Welch, Chris (April 15, 2015). "THX just remade the iconic 'Deep Note' sound you hear before movies". The Verge. Vox Media, Inc. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
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,…
- Walker, Rob (April 2, 2015). "The 'Star Wars'-Inspired History of the Iconic THX Audio Logo". Yahoo! Finance. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
- Murphy, Mekado (April 17, 2015). "As THX Gets a New Trailer, an Interview With Its Composer". The New York Times. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
- Pinch, Trevor; Trocco, Frank (2002). Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 128. ISBN 0-674-01617-3.
- Yellow Magic Orchestra (1981). Loom (CD).
- "In 35 yrs we have NEVER shown this!". May 25, 2018.
- Dansby, Andrew (April 21, 2000). "LucasFilm (sic) Taking Dr. Dre to Court". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on August 4, 2009. Retrieved December 3, 2006.