The Windows XP startup chime is forever etched in my mind, those ringing bells that bring back memories of AIM, Civilization IIIand spent endless hours trying to download music from Napster and Kazaa, followed by endless hours trying to remove the viruses I accidentally downloaded from Napster and Kazaa.
The sounds of Windows are as much a part of computer history as anything else you’ll find, and the Twenty thousand Hertz podcast is doing a two part series on the history of the startup jingle. It starts before computers could even have startup sounds, and it traces their evolution through composers like Brian Eno and musicians like Robert Fripp and the Seattle Symphony. The first episode is out now, and it’s both a good listening experience and a fun time capsule. Once you hear the correct startup chime, you’ll know right away when you’ve started using computers.
The show also makes it clear that startup sounds are about more than just startup sounds. You can tell a lot about the state of the technology from the fidelity of the audio; you can understand how a company saw its products by the atmosphere it tried to communicate, and you can hear computers go from sci-fi funkiness to everyday reality. Windows 98’s sound even changes from mono to stereo, as if to say, “Look what we can do now!”
In case you’re extra nostalgic, here’s a great video of every Windows startup and shutdown sound, back to back. (And don’t miss Microsoft’s slow-fi versions, or the a cappella group that’s scary good at imitating them.)
Some are definitely better than others, but the real lesson here is that you need a startup sound. Windows 8 didn’t have one at all, and you know how Windows 8 came to be.
Twenty thousand Hertz has previously done a few tech episodes, watching Netflix’s “ta-dum” sound, Xbox startup chime, and Minecraft’s unusual sound effects. But nothing brings me back like Windows XP.