THX–That familiar, twisting, slowly deafening sound takes center stage this Memorial Day weekend for its 35th anniversary

You can expect to hear a familiar tune at every other instrumental band concert and from keyboard artists and other musical groups this year beginning this Memorial Day weekend.  For the annual anniversary of the release of Star Wars on May 25, 2018, and the celebration of the 35th anniversary of the first time most of us first heard of George Lucas’s sound company, THX Ltd. publicly released its sheet music for its theater ad promo with the theatrical release of Solo: A Star Wars Story.  It’s hard to believe that sound, which appears to most like a twisting, slowly deafening noise, has been around so long.  If you were around in 1983 you probably first heard it along with the movie trailers before screenings of Return of the Jedi starting May 25, 1983.

The music, a “synthesized crescendo that glissandos from a low rumble to a high pitch,” is called Deep Note.  First recorded by Lucasfilm employee Dr. James A. Moorer in 1982, it’s a trademark of the THX brand.  Categorized as a federal sensory trademark first filed in 1992, the original U.S Patent and Trademark Office registration defines Deep Note in more technical terms: “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.”  The sound aired before all movies from June 1, 1983, until August 31, 1996.  Here is the post from THX on social media:

Back in the early 1980s George Lucas created THX (named for sound engineer Tomlinson Holman and an homage to Lucas’s film THX-1138, which was said to have been derived from a Lucas phone number: 849-1138) when attempting to perfect the movie-going experience along with his Skywalker Sound company.  So what’s the difference between THX and Skywalker Sound?  THX is a standards company first created to ensure the vision (err… the ear) of a filmmaker made it to the audience’s final in-theater experience (more recently branching out to car stereos, video games, and home theaters).  Skywalker Sound is a Lucasfilm/Disney company that specializes in the sound effects, sound editing, sound design, sound mixing and music recording for various award-winning projects.  THX was spun-off before Disney acquired Lucasfilm.

Here is a brief YouTube history of the THX Deep Note recording and trailer:

And don’t miss this classic homage from The Simpsons, which sums up decades of the filmgoing experience for many:

Be aware that this social media release doesn’t convey the right to publicly perform or sell the tune (Dr. Dre was sued in 2000 for trying that on his album called 2001), although you can probably expect to hear your local high school marching band insert it into its half-time playlist this Fall alongside or displacing the similarly brief tone poem and frequent show opener, “Sunrise” from Also sprach Zarathustra.  Put that with Alfred Newman’s famous 20th Century Fox Fanfare from 1933, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” writer Harold Arlen’s The March of Time Theme from 1930, and replicate the sound of the spinning globe and transmitter emblem from the classic promo from RKO Pictures, and you have the beginning of a different kind of “history of film” concert.  Over time this “front matter” of the movie-going experience has become part of the cinema experience itself. Actor/director/producer Orson Welles recognized the value of these images, remarking of the RKO promo that it was his favorite: “It reminds us to listen.”  Were he still around you could see him saying the same thing about the THX sound promo.

With the simple selling point of telling the public a theater had “gone digital” in the 1990s, many theaters discontinued getting THX certification.  But you can still find theaters, including Cinemark, with THX certification across the U.S.  You can find them listed at the company’s website here.

C.J. Bunce

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