November 13, 2006

microsoft likes fripp and eno. apple likes bono. do the math.


[Disclaimer: I was the biggest Brian Eno/Robert Fripp fanboy back in college. "Here Come The Warm Jets" saved my life etc.]

Good article from the Associated Press about creating the music for Windows Vista, with legendary guitarist Robert Fripp, and MS team leader, Steve Ball:

Fripp, best known for his work with the '70s rock band King Crimson, recorded hours of his signature layered, guitar-driven sound for the project, under the close direction of Ball and others at Microsoft. Then, it was Ball's job to sort through those hours of live recordings to suss out just the right few seconds.

Fripp's involvement is not surprising. His occasional collaborator, Brian Eno, recorded sounds for Windows 95. Also, Ball, the Microsoft group program manager for WAVE — Windows Audio Visual Excellence — has in the past been Fripp's student and business partner.

I had a nice exchange with Steve Ball over on his blog:


Hey Steve, I just heard the four-second VistaFripp for the first time. Congrats! Loved it. Intense stuff.

fyi back in college I was the biggest Fripp/Eno fanboy.

I am still stunned [in a good way] that 18 months could go into writing a four-second piece of music. Then again, no I'm not. I wonder how long it took Beethoven to write the first four notes of the fifth symphony. I guess that was your ultimate competiton? Congrats again =)

Thanks for stopping by, Hugh -

I'm a big fan of your work, so hearing from you is satisfying.

It's actually rather strange to assume that 18 months were 'spent' working on one sound. Actually, a more accurate way to look at it is that over 18 months, 10 people created over 2000 three to six second sounds ('jewels' as Eno used to call them, and "splashes" as RF, David Singleton, and I were calling them at the beginning of this project.)

Many of the thousands of 'rejects' are also intense, provocative, and excellent -- but not right for use as the 'Windows Vista brand sound.

There are many other things that happened during that 18 months: a few dozen people across Microsoft received a first-class education in how to listen and how to speak to each other about sound using the same language.

There are many other things that happened during that 18 months: a few dozen people across Microsoft received a first-class education in how to listen and how to speak to each other about sound using the same language.

We also have ~11 two to twelve minute "themed Soundscapes," and two incredibe videos (only one of which is public, the second is coming soon) that provide an intensse behind the scenes look at this risky (creative) process.

18 months may sound like a long time, but most probably do not realize that this was not even really my 'day job' -- this was really an extra credit project for me as my primary deliverables for Windows Vista were the new desktop Volume Mixer, the Sound CPL, as well as managing the team delivering the Audio Video infrastructure in Windows.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and best wishes,

Like I said earlier, being nice pays off. Microsoft has plenty of naysayers. The best way to beat them at that game is simply by being nicer than them.

I believe very strongly that blogs can make it a lot easier for any company, not just Microsoft, to be nice. Do you?

[Cartoon inspired by Microsoft geek, Keith Combs' recent post, "The Glass is 10% Full".]

Posted by hugh macleod at November 13, 2006 5:29 PM | TrackBack

Holy Spin Hugh,
"Apple likes Bono, Microsoft likes Fripp and Eno." Really? I doubt that would play out in a survey of either their employee or user base. How about "Apple paid for Bono's services, Microsoft for Fripp and Eno's."
Apple is seen as a niche player, and chooses a popular/populist artist to expand their reach; Microsoft seeks respect/substance, and chooses a more substantive, intellectual pair of artists.
Being kind is transformative, sure. But loose talk...
Hope you continue to get on with MS though. I'm sure you could shake things up there.

Posted by: John at November 13, 2006 9:02 PM

Posted by: Dot at November 14, 2006 2:23 AM

It's an improvement over the previous version, I'll give them that.

Would've preferred this one, though. I like some edge to start my day.

Posted by: Mike Abundo at November 14, 2006 5:41 AM

I believe Brian Eno is responsible for U2's success to an extent very few realize. I always saw him as a genius alien parasite who needed a charismatic host band he could express himself through. He produced those of their albums which were considered milestones the day they were released. "Zooropa" is nothing like pre-eno U2 and so much like Eno's earlier experiments. To me, Zooropa's "Numb" is a neatly repackaged "America is Waiting" from Eno's "My life in the Bush of Ghosts". It is worth noting, that an attempt to make Eno a member of the band, rebranded "Passengers", didn't really work out, and they split up. U2 never released a decent album since, even when Eno returned to produce some material in recent years.

Posted by: rafalski at November 14, 2006 12:23 PM

Correction: it's "Mea Culpa", not "America is Waiting", that seems to be the 1981 prototype of 1992's "Numb". Both can be found on this terrific album

Posted by: rafalski at November 14, 2006 12:33 PM

And who does Brian Eno like? Apple, of course. And the Mac.

Posted by: Kaltiki at November 14, 2006 1:44 PM

Kaltiki, that would not surprise me:

Read the part where Doc talks about "Art".

Posted by: hugh macleod at November 14, 2006 1:59 PM

Way cool and fun post Hugh!

And... I LOVE your art here!!

There is much seriousness and feelings of heaviness in this world at times, and this version of one ethos includes certain people taking very mean whacks at Microsoft.

Your drawing and post wonderfully make the point that there are wonderful people within Microsoft with love and passion, and that they work hard (and thoughtfully) about doing some really special and magical stuff!

Rock on you creative dude!

Posted by: Sheamus at November 14, 2006 8:27 PM

Yup, Brian Eno designed the Windows 95 sound...on a Mac. He still uses a Mac.

What was your point?

Posted by: Scott at November 14, 2006 9:15 PM

As to the story behind Beethoven's 5th, the story I heard goes something along the lines of Beethoven saying to his housekeeper:
"You are the inspiration for all my music" to which she laughs "Ha-ha ha ha".

As to Microsoft being "nice", it's very difficult to change people's minds. There's also a factor of credibility. Deeds not words, thanks.

Posted by: Mike Peter Reed at November 15, 2006 12:12 AM


Creating sound icons (aka jewels or splashes) is very hard. I worked on the team that produced 19 sound icons for a mobile operator. It took us 4 months. At that rate 2,000 in 18 months is a sprint.

The shorter the duration of the sound the more difficult it is. Hey, you should be familiar with this. It's a lot harder to write a 4-word banner than a number of paragraphs.


Posted by: Rodrigo Dauster at November 15, 2006 10:23 AM

Not sure you can conclusively say how long it takes to write a four note motif, even if you were the guy who wrote it. It depends how you define what is and isn't part of the process, which can range all the way from "his whole life up to that point" at one extreme, to "within the two seconds it took him to first fart it out while improvising" at the other.

How long did it take you to come up with your "the market for something to believe in is infinite" cartoon? Same answer: your whole life, or a few minutes, depending where you draw the line between creating something and not creating something. There's no right or wrong answer there, unless you want to see blood on the floor.

Posted by: Keith Handy at November 16, 2006 2:19 AM

Hi, I've been following your site for sometime and enjoy very much the clever creative mood here ;)
As a musician, and 7 year web designer, having been a RF student, and being a permanent windows critic, though tied to it for professional reasons...THIS IS SHOCK!!

I've even met Steve Ball!!, and no...I really don't know what to think of the world now...(giggles).

But being logic, it's most likely to have a sort of feeling as "Apple paid for Bono's services, Microsoft for Fripp and Eno's."

And I would say it is JUST AS difficult to compose a long piece of music than a short one, very very subjective, time may always be subdivided so...


Posted by: Hucasys at November 23, 2006 1:06 PM