Making Windows Vista Sing: Robert Fripp and the Vista Melody

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Description

On May 4th, 2006, Steve Ball invited Robert Fripp back to the Microsoft campus for a second full day of work on Windows Vista following up on his first visit in the Fall of 2005.   This time we get an even deeper glimpse into the creative process as the Windows Product team continued to refine their search for melodies, rhythms, and orchestrations that could become the new Windows Vista startup sound. 

Before the session, Steve Ball, Jenny Lam, and Jim Allchin gave Fripp a demo of the most recent Windows Vista builds and reviewed the goals for the product and the sound.  The purpose of this session was to search for textures, melodies, and orchestrations for a sound that could

   a) brand Windows in a timeless way 
   b) ‘work’ with the Pearl Animation
   c) be gentle, positive, uplifting, translucent
   d) embody the AERO design principles

This 63 minute Vista Week video begins mid-stream with some extremely rare footage of Fripp Soundscapes being created in real time.  This is followed by Q&A from the Windows product team members in the Soundscapes audience, an overview of Fripp’s gear, and some details about the recording equipment used at Microsoft Studios.  This is then followed with another rare and intimate interview with Fripp and members of the core team working on Windows Vista UX.
  

This single session resulted in over six hours of multi-channel raw tracks including hundreds of melodies, textures, soundscapes, and orchestrations.  After this session, it took another three months of orchestration, iteration, remixing and refinement to select the final four seconds that became the final Windows Vista startup sound:  a “glassy” Fripp melody, a harmony by Steve Ball, and a “Win-dows Vis-ta” rhythm contributed by composer, Tucker Martine.  This all on top of a brief Fripp Soundscape that fades out as the user lands on the Windows Vista log-on screen.   The flowing Soundscape ‘textures’ from the session also inspired the sonic  palette that was used for the default Windows Vista sound scheme.
      

Like the previous Fripp video, this is a very different kind of Channel 9 video.  Fripp talks candidly with us about music, his approach to creativity, making music for Windows Vista, shares his thoughts on Vista, and much more.  


About Robert Fripp: for close to forty years, Robert Fripp has been a world-renowned pioneer driving innovation in both music and technology.   For more details about his history and recent work, check out Fripp's web site!

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    The Discussion

    • User profile image
      jsampsonPC
      All I need is a couple hours of this on my iPod...this stuff is beautiful.
    • User profile image
      dentaku

      I never realized how much Jenny and Tjeerd where involved in the audio part of the UX.

      I'd love to see what kind of sounds the members of Mùm would create for an OS.

      Steve Ball is a calm reflective person, in a marketing type person kinda way. He's a bit too "slick" for C9 videos Smiley

    • User profile image
      Charles
      dentaku wrote:
      

      I never realized how much Jenny and Tjeerd where involved in the audio part of the UX.

      I'd love to see what kind of sounds the members of Mùm would create for an OS.

      Steve Ball is a calm reflective person, in a marketing type person kinda way. He's a bit too "slick" for C9 videos Smiley



      You can think of sounds in Vista as sonic UE, so you better believe Jenny and Tjeerd would be involved (and Jim Allchin, Steve Ball and many others...)

      Steve is not in Marketing. He's a product guy and runs the Vista audio team... He's also a great musician and long time friend of Fripp.

      C
    • User profile image
      Deactivated User
      Wow, good stuff. Sounds nothing like a guitar.
    • User profile image
      Chadk
      Is this video old?

      Theres a scoble interview in it. Is he back to C9, or?
    • User profile image
      Charles
      Chadk wrote:
      Is this video old?

      Theres a scoble interview in it. Is he back to C9, or?


      This was shot in May '06...
      C
    • User profile image
      Chadk
      Charles wrote:
      
      Chadk wrote: Is this video old?

      Theres a scoble interview in it. Is he back to C9, or?


      This was shot in May '06...
      C

      Oh i see.
      Whats the reason for not pushing this video out before now? Big Smile
    • User profile image
      Charles
      Chadk wrote:
      
      Charles wrote: 
      Chadk wrote: Is this video old?

      Theres a scoble interview in it. Is he back to C9, or?


      This was shot in May '06...
      C

      Oh i see.
      Whats the reason for not pushing this video out before now? Big Smile


      We couldn't release until after Vista shipped... This is a historical video that is as pertinent now and into the future as it was when it was shot... Of course, there's the fact that Scoble lost the original source tape so finding this footage (he managed to rip a low quality WMV - the one you're watching- from the tape and store it on an obscure share) was both lucky and surprising Smiley
      C
    • User profile image
      Minh
      This is a great revelation into one particular aspect of Vista that I find inspirational. I get to see the people who try to put "soul" into Vista. But the thing about the Vista audio experience is...

      There is NO Vista audio experience.

      The various system sounds are much too short & too generic (all applications share the same sounds) to be emotional. The much talked-about start-up sound, while interesting, doesn't make enough of an appearance to be noticed. I don't reboot my computers anymore. I simply close my laptop, causing it to go to sleep, to be awaken (not rebooted) later.

      I think that an audio experience was planned, but it can only come from the applications themselves (the shows), not the O/S (NBC). I'm guessing that it got cut so that Vista can make its release date.

      I'm hopping to see all the hard work seen here makes it into the next version of Windows, Vienna.
    • User profile image
      briankel
      Minh wrote:
      There is NO Vista audio experience.

      The various system sounds are much too short & too generic (all applications share the same sounds) to be emotional. The much talked-about start-up sound, while interesting, doesn't make enough of an appearance to be noticed.


      I know what you're saying, Minh - but it is better than the alternative. Big Smile

      Brian
    • User profile image
      Chadk
      Minh wrote:
      This is a great revelation into one particular aspect of Vista that I find inspirational. I get to see the people who try to put "soul" into Vista. But the thing about the Vista audio experience is...

      There is NO Vista audio experience.

      The various system sounds are much too short & too generic (all applications share the same sounds) to be emotional. The much talked-about start-up sound, while interesting, doesn't make enough of an appearance to be noticed. I don't reboot my computers anymore. I simply close my laptop, causing it to go to sleep, to be awaken (not rebooted) later.

      I think that an audio experience was planned, but it can only come from the applications themselves (the shows), not the O/S (NBC). I'm guessing that it got cut so that Vista can make its release date.

      I'm hopping to see all the hard work seen here makes it into the next version of Windows, Vienna.

      Sadly i agree.
      I didnt notice any sounds before i heard this sound when theres an error, which got really annoying.

      Such a shame. I really liked the sound in this video.
    • User profile image
      gatesof
      Outstanding material here. First Eno with Win 95, now Robert Fripp. Amazing. These soundscapes are pure Fripp. For anyone interested in more ambient work like this by Fripp, check out Fripp & Enos Evening Star LP. Very similar in texture and composition to some of this.
    • User profile image
      cwilliams11​45
      Just a quick note: This might be a more appropriate wikipedia link for Soundscapes.
    • User profile image
      ZippyV

      I saw that video a year ago, was it pulled?

      Is that Don Box in the public?

    • User profile image
      SteveBall
      This video accompanies the first video from first the Nov session: http://channel9.msdn.com/Showpost.aspx?postid=151853  

      This second video was never posted and 'pulled' as suggested above.

      And yes, that's Don Box among a number of other people from across Windows and Microsoft product teams who I invited over to give Robert Fripp an audience of listeners to play to for during these sessions. 

      The presence of an audience for part of the day, among other things, helped us keep the energy up during the session.  

      * * *
    • User profile image
      SteveBall
      "Posted by Minh // Sat, Mar 3, 2007 1:40 PM

      This is a great revelation into one particular aspect of Vista that I find inspirational. I get to see the people who try to put "soul" into Vista. But the thing about the Vista audio experience is...

      There is NO Vista audio experience."

      Thanks Minh - this is actually by design.

      It was our goal for the default inbox sounds to be just noticeable enough that if they weren’t there you would notice, but when you do hear them, they don’t get in your way.  

      Like the the rest of the AERO interface, then new sounds in Windows Vista are glassy, ”rounded” and “translucent.”  The default sound scheme in Windows Vista is much gentler and softer than the more literal pianos and orchestral sounds used in previous versions of Windows.  

      We also tried to get some of these beautiful Fripp soundscapes into the product in other places, but it was too late in the produt cycle to add sonic content so, for example, you could listen to a soothing Soundscape during the install or upgrade process.  In the end, shipping Vista on time was (obviously) the more important goal.
      This also does not mean that we don't have aspirations to do something significant with the additional music and sounds from these sessions in future releases.      

      * * *  
    • User profile image
      Massif
      You don't appear to have answered the Personalisation vs. Branding question.

      I can understand the need not to create the most homogenised lowest common denominator sound, but that doesn't mean leaving everyone with a single soundscape.

      Couldn't the same sounds be recorded in a slightly different set of instruments / styles just to give a bit of leeway for users to customise their experience? e.g. using the same micro-compositions throughout, but giving people 2 or 3 versions of each sound using different instruments.

      It does appear to me that Vista's veered too close to the apple "one-size-damn-well-better-fit-all" approach. Strong branding's alright, but I'd like a few more knobs to fiddle with (all around the UX, not just on the sounds front.)
    • User profile image
      SteveBall
      "Posted by Massif // Thu, Mar 8, 2007 7:11 AM

      You don't appear to have answered the Personalisation vs. Branding question.

      I can understand the need not to create the most homogenised lowest common denominator sound, but that doesn't mean leaving everyone with a single soundscape.

      Couldn't the same sounds be recorded in a slightly different set of instruments / styles just to give a bit of leeway for users to customise their experience? e.g. using the same micro-compositions throughout, but giving people 2 or 3 versions of each sound using different instruments.

      It does appear to me that Vista's veered too close to the apple "one-size-damn-well-better-fit-all" approach. Strong branding's alright, but I'd like a few more knobs to fiddle with (all around the UX, not just on the sounds front.)"

      Good observation, Massif -- we wanted to provide additional inbox Sound Schemes besides the default set, but in the end, that plan did not fit into ship schedule.    Of course, it is still relatively easy for users who really wish to create their own Personalized sound schemes using their own sounds.  

      In our original Sound Scheme plan, recommended that we ship a 'minimalist' scheme, a 'home' scheme a 'Fripp' scheme, and a 'Classic XP' scheme along side the default Windows Vista sound scheme -- although these sounds and sound schemes exist, it was not considered to a priority to get these inbox relative to the very hard task of sticking to the RTM date. 

      So these remain an available aspiration for future releases.     

      Also, I would not necessarily characterize the default sounds we chose as 'homogenised lowest common denominator.'    IMHO, 'lowest common denominator' would be silence.   As I've mentioned elsewhere, the primary driving influence for the design of the default sounds was to offer a subtle compliment the translucent, rounded, AERO glass UI.  

      I hope this helps provide some context for this default sound UX (and I also hope that we'll find an appropriate ship vehicle for some of the other great stuff we captured in these sessions.)     

      * * *
    • User profile image
      Massif
      SteveBall wrote:


      Good observation, Massif -- we wanted to provide additional inbox Sound Schemes besides the default set, but in the end, that plan did not fit into ship schedule.    Of course, it is still relatively easy for users who really wish to create their own Personalized sound schemes using their own sounds.  

      In our original Sound Scheme plan, recommended that we ship a 'minimalist' scheme, a 'home' scheme a 'Fripp' scheme, and a 'Classic XP' scheme along side the default Windows Vista sound scheme -- although these sounds and sound schemes exist, it was not considered to a priority to get these inbox relative to the very hard task of sticking to the RTM date. 

      So these remain an available aspiration for future releases.     



      Fair enough, you don't have infinite resources.

      SteveBall wrote:


      Also, I would not necessarily characterize the default sounds we chose as 'homogenised lowest common denominator.'    IMHO, 'lowest common denominator' would be silence.   As I've mentioned elsewhere, the primary driving influence for the design of the default sounds was to offer a subtle compliment the translucent, rounded, AERO glass UI.  



      Absolutely, I wasn't trying to imply that you had created a lowest common denominator soundscape. In fact I really like the Vista sounds (if only the speakers on my tablet worked. sigh...) I apologise if that appeared to be what I was saying.
    • User profile image
      asharism
      jsampsonPC wrote:
      All I need is a couple hours of this on my iPod...this stuff is beautiful.


      Now how do you plan to get it on your iPod?

      I know you can download and convert... however, that just takes insanely long Sad Just wondering if there is a better trick....
    • User profile image
      Minh
      Is it me or is trying to brand an open platform like trying to herd cats?

      And even more so when it comes to something as ethereal as audio.

      Just face it, you'll never see a glowing Vista decal on the back of a laptop Smiley
    • User profile image
      pauldvalente

      - an excellent window into a very interesting process.  I am an owner of Vista and have been enjoying much of the experience, most notably the UX.

      It is fascinating between the two videos - at least from my chair it seems to have evolved from something I would describe as precarious but hopefull into a healthy, workable creative process.

      It seems you have beaten the two year mark in at least building your internal audience.

       - one brief but significant correction if I may - designing "chairs" and "car washers (was it?)" is anything but trivial Smiley .

      Anyway, nice work on the O/S and the video.

      paul 

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