Apples Iconic Sounds Blog
Date

30/04/24

Author

Lucy Willis

The Creative Mind Behind Apple's Iconic Sounds

Does the name Jim Reekes mean anything to you? Would it surprise you to know that whilst working at Apple as a Sound Engineer, he created three of the most iconic Apple sounds of our time, which have become synonymous with the Apple experience?

In the ever-evolving saga of Apple's innovations, some tales remain veiled in mystery, stories whispered among tech enthusiasts like cherished secrets. Jim’s creations are one such story.

Who is Jim Reekes?

Born in Ohio, his first interaction with a Mac, was with the one his dad had, in 1969. These interactions were constant throughout his early teens, as his dad worked for Apple, running a support centre. As a boy, he built his own Mac using spare parts!

Young Jim was also very musical. He played the piano from age 8, and, whilst in High School, he played in bands, learning to play many different instruments. His aspirations lay in composing, and his dream, after college, was to become a composer of soundtracks in Hollywood. Things didn’t go quite to plan. Whilst self-funding his college journey, as a Record Store Manager, he got the sack, was evicted from his flat, and quit his studies.

What happened next was remarkable.

In 1982, Jim started working in an Apple dealership, quickly making his mark, and becoming a respected repairer and troubleshooter. During his time there, even Apple Corp went to him when there were issues they couldn’t fix. He went on to work for Apple itself in 1988, where he freely admits in an interview shared on his website that he was a bit of a troublemaker, and nearly got fired a couple of times. In that same interview, Jim said:

“Sound engineering isn’t engineering, it’s an art and craft, not done by engineers”.

For years, Jim kept his role in crafting these melodic signatures under wraps, fearing that revealing the truth might spell their demise. Yet, against all odds, these sounds persist, a testament to their enduring impact.

It’s rare to be able to trademark a sound, but Apple has managed to secure this for their alert sound “Sosumi”, created by Jim, which is up there with other sound trademarks, such as the 20th Century Fox orchestral fanfare, and NBC’s chimes.

Where did the word “Sosumi” come from?

Explained in an interview with Jeniece Pettitt of NBC in March 2018 Jim tells the story about when Steve Jobs decided to name his company Apple, which was also the name of The Beatles’ record label. He had promised them that he “would never get involved with music”. However, Apple then added “support for audio recording, and Midi, a set of technical standards used to connect musical instruments to computers”. The Beatles sued!

The article goes on to say that “Reekes was tasked with renaming any sound effect that had a musical-sounding name. One of his beeps, originally called Xylophone needed a new name”.

Originally, Jim was going to call it “let it beep”, (could that be another nod to The Beatles’ hit ‘Let it Be’?) but of course that wasn’t used. So, as a nod to the lawyers suing he renamed it “Sosumi”! He followed this up, by telling those same lawyers that “it was a Japanese word that didn’t mean anything musical”!

But Jim's creative journey doesn't end there

There are two other well-known sounds, which can be put down to Jim’s creativity.

Although no longer used on the new Macs, do you remember the original Mac start-up sound? You might think it sounds familiar, as it’s the final few chords of the Beatles' "A Day In The Life".

A less well-known one is the shutter sound on iPhones. We all know it’s an added sound. Who doesn’t like the sound of a shutter when taking a photo? It’s not a sound that is there because it does something, but because it’s a sound that we want to hear when taking our photo.

Jim recorded that sound, from the shutter of his trusty Canon AE-1 camera, which then found its way into the repertoire of Apple's auditory identity. The symbiotic relationship between innovation and tradition is palpable, as the sounds of yesteryear find resonance in the digital age.

So, the next time you hear the familiar chime of a Mac startup, the “Sosumi” beep, or the subtle click of a screenshot, remember Jim and the journey behind those sounds. For, in their simplicity, lies a complexity that speaks volumes about the intersection of technology and humanity. As these sounds endure, so too does the legacy of those who crafted them, forever etched in the history of innovation.