Saturday Evening Post 1930-05-10
Couple in Barber Chairs
(E. M. Jackson)

Most people firmly believe that electronic and experimental music are ephemeral activities that have little to do with the real world. Sooner rather than later, everyone who’s involved in these particular genres of music will encounter along their life path  a peculiar character: the self-assured friend – or, in all likelihood, the “know-it-all” guy. During a conversation about life (and your actual job), the self-assured  friend will be dialectically armed with the most exquisite clichés about the uselessness of this-and-that. Almost all the time, this kind of conversations end with a suggestion that sounds, more or less, like the timeless sentence: “cut your hair and get a job“.
I hope you can use the following information to silence that peer once and for all: electronic music has been everywhere – since ever – and it has even proved useful to your daddy’s beloved company.

Even if you’ve never called them with their proper name, I assure you that every day your ears absorb dozens and dozens of sound logos shaped by the best contemporary composers: when you turn on your mobile phone or start your computer, these devious and tender musical parasites slip into your brain and carve on the walls of your neural pathways the indelible name of a brand. As David Byrne wrote in his book “How music works”:

A region of the brain seems to be devoted primarily to sonic memory, and that includes not just ringtones, dog growls, and ambulance sirens, but also snippets of songs, mainly recordings, that we’ve heard as well. These sonic fragments function as nodes in a network of related memories that stretch beyond their acoustic triggers. (…) A slew of musical associations bounce around in our heads, linking to recurring memories and feelings that, after a while, facilitate the creation and reinforcement of specific neural pathways. These pathways help us to make sense of those experiences.

Acoustics- sonic phenomena and music instruments_Coloured engraving by J. Emslie, 1850, after himself
Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Let’s do an experiment: close your eyes and imagine Netflix’s red N appearing on your computer’s black screen. Ta-taa-nnnnnnn. Have you heard it in your brain? There it is, that coward of a sound logo!

Let’s get started with a definition: a sound logo is a musical composition generally created by using 3 or 4 sounds to convey the identity of a brand in a maximum length of 5 seconds. Together with other sound branding elements – as a jingle or the sound of an engine – the sound logo creates the Acoustic or Sound Identity of a brand and it’s used to complete the communication of a product, thus contributing to its immediate recognition.

At first sight, sound logos seem to be a recent marketing practice… but their story began at the dawn of the last century, with the birth of radio stations and electronic music studios. It was 1924 when the BBC first broadcast its time signal, a great iconic classic obtained with the use of an oscillator inspired by the tolling of the Big Ben’s clock.
The BBC’s monolithic time signal will forever distinguish the English broadcaster from all others.

When it was still called EIAR, the Italian RAI – the national public broadcasting company – also had its distinctive element: the famous radio bird. The chirping was not emitted from an electronic device but from a diabolical wooden box made in 1924 containing a bellows, some complex gears, wheels and other obscure mechanisms. The Rai bird chirping triggers an immediate identity between its sound and its evoked object; when listening to the bird signal, you no longer think about the beauty of nature or the animal kingdom: you are expecting the RAI radio news.

In the 1950s, in New York, the sound logo wizards were Raymond Scott and Eric Siday, fearsome rivals in the advertising industry and among the first in the world to found private electronic music studios to carry on their work.
Because of the sound logos, numerous electronic devices were invented (such as Scott’s primitive four tracks recorder or the gigantic Karloff protosynthesizer) and thanks to sound logos, electronic music entered the homes of earthlings, gradually becoming a sound object no longer alien to our ears. Siday, for example, was the first to bring the sound of a Moog system into the living rooms of American viewers in 1966, when he created the sound logo for CBS color broadcasts.

In that same year, Daphne Oram created the sound logo of Lego Builds, a space chorus of children voices scattered in the reverberations of distant galaxies, which was designed to promote the new line of bricks dedicated to space exploration: Mission Moon / Star Lego.

In the early 1970s, Suzanne Ciani created the iconic Pop & Pour, the sound logo of a famous cola.

Moving forward in time, we get to another famous sound logo composer – Brian Eno – behind the scene inventor of the Windows ’95 iconic start-up sound.
In an interview with Joe Selvin in June 1996 for SF Gate, Eno recounts that adventure as follows:

The idea came up at the time when I was completely bereft of ideas. I’d been working on my own music for a while and was quite lost, actually. And I really appreciated someone coming along and saying, “Here’s a specific problem — solve it.”

The thing from the agency said, “We want a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah- blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional,” this whole list of adjectives, and then at the bottom it said “and it must be 3 1/4 seconds long.”I thought this was so funny and an amazing thought to actually try to make a little piece of music. It’s like making a tiny little jewel. In fact, I made 84 pieces. I got completely into this world of tiny, tiny little pieces of music. I was so sensitive to microseconds at the end of this that it really broke a logjam in my own work. Then when I’d finished that and I went back to working with pieces that were like three minutes long, it seemed like oceans of time.

A small curiosity about that story: to create the Windows logo, Eno used a Mac. 🙂

For some time, Apple has stopped focusing on sound logos and has turned the starting-up silence into a distinctive feature.
Jim Reeks, who has been composing sounds for Apple devices for more than twelve years, said in this regard:

“Now that there’s no start-up sound, it’s like sitting down at a restaurant and there’s no one there to greet you. It just feels strange.”

I hope this story will help you to shut down your self-assured friends when they ask you: “So, you’re a musician but … what’s your real job?”

Homepage pic: Sound waves – Paul Griggs. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Johann Merrich @Bar Lento
CC Gabirele Nastro

Johann Merrich is an experimental musician and a researcher on women’s contributions to electroacoustic and electronic music.
Her 2012 book “Le Pioniere della Musica Elettronica” (Pioneering Women in electronic music) was followed by “Breve storia della musica elettronica e delle sue protagoniste” (A short history of electronic music and its women protagonists), an English version of which will be available starting from June 2021.
Articles of her appeared in Thomann International’s blog and Red Bull Music Academy Daily and since 2019 her work has been published by
Since 2020 she has been part of the European project Key Change dedicated to gender equality in the music industry.
Her musical compositions have been hosted by institutions such as the Venice Art Biennale (France Pavilion, 2017) and international festivals such as Santarcangelo Festival (Sleep Concert, Imbosco 2018) and Venice International Performance Art Week (2017). 
She’s part of L’Impero della Luce, an experimental project on the sounds of electromagnetic fields.