Early Apple sound designer Jim Reekes corrects Sosumi myth

Earlier this week on BB, I pointed to Jon Lech Johansen's blog "So Sue Me." Several astute readers reminded us that the blog's title is thought to be a punny reference to "Sosumi," an Apple system sound file with a colorful history. Over time, it became a widely mis-reported bit of computing lore.

Jim Reekes was the engineer on Apple Sound Manager for System 7, and he created the Sosumi sound -- so I asked him to set the record straight. Here's the Wikipedia entry (which is now being updated), and here's Jim's reply to Boing Boing readers!

I avoided telling this story while I was at Apple, but now I love to talk about it. Back in 1989 when Apple Corps (aka the Beatles) sued Apple Computer, System 7 was still under development. One of the new features of System 7 was the new Sound Manager (which I wrote, and have patents for it!). I created a sound called "Chime" (although everyone tells me it was "Xylophone", but I had a large collection and was busy naming them all so maybe it was Xylophone). Anyways, Apples' legal department left a message for the person in charge of the System 7 disks, Sheila Brady. We had spent many late nights on System 7, and sometime after midnight in comes Sheila to tell us we have to change the name of the new sounds I had just added.

But before I get ahead of myself, I was also supplying the legal team with documentation, emails, and even header files of the Sound Manager. I was also very close to the MIDI Manager product development, which Apple Corps considered proof positive. (BTW: I have a postcard invetation to a music conference showing a keyboardist, Apple logo, and the words "Compose yourself", which was also proof positive). Anyways, I was getting really tired of this whole thing when the laywers told me I had to change an API from the "noteCmd" to "frequencyCmd" (and thereby breaking applications). I knew I had to find my revenge.

So, upon hearing I had to change the name of my new beep, I immediately thougth of the perfect name, "Let it Beep". Of course, I was joking but it was brilliant right? As everyone was laughing, someone even took me seriously and said I could never get away with that! I said, "so sue me" and that's when I realized my scheme. I told Sheila the new name would be spelled "s-o-s-u-m-i". I asked she return the message to legal, but not to use voicemail (since she'd have to pronounce it) and instead send an email with some story about it being Japanese and not meaning anything musical. (so I don't know what she actually told them).

I'm very happy the name remains a part of the Mac culture. There's a source of trademark lawsuits that contains a side bar about the Sosumi story. It seems most people have copied this as the source for the myth. At least it's the earlist source I can recall. Back then, see, there wasn't a WWW but I did "leak" the story through Usenet once: Link to PDF file.

PS: I am also responsible for the startup sound that has shipped since 1991, with a few exceptions like the guitar strum from Stanley Jordan heard on the first PowerMacs. Every time I hear a Mac starting, I smile.

PPS: Apple took us to the opening day of Jurassic Park. I jumped in my seat when Steven Spielberg used my sound when they rebooted the park's computers!

PPPS: I love BoingBoing.

Link to a very very long /. thread regarding DVD Jon and PyMusique, which includes a comment spat with Jim over the Sosumi myth. Jim adds, "Funny, it may actually be true. The sosumi beep may have originally came from Crystal Quest!" (Thanks, Apple alum Wayne Correia!)

Update: Boing Boing reader Anna adds,

Just a side note to the "Sosumi"-story: Jim Reekes will recognize a lot of his work in this minimalist song composed solely from Mac System 7 sounds: Link (61 kB .wav-file).
Alex Rosen says,
"The Windows version is WAY better: Link."
Andreas Niemand says,
Here is a song with the start-up sound of all them beloved macs: Link.
Jim Reekes replies:
"After listening to the funky mac song, I remembered where I got the 'quack' sound. It was the file system engineer impersonating a duck."
John Worthington chimes (heh) in:
I wrote the MIDI Manager and an earlier version of the Mac sound manager. Jim Reekes' story of Sosumi is exactly the way I remember it. As an aside, one of the scariest points of my career at Apple was getting a big, bound book of testimony from the Apple Corp suit. It was a very official looking document. There, about half way through was a blown up screen capture of the MIDI Manager "About Box," complete with lots of musical notes and my name in giant letters. The lawyers at Apple were less than thrilled. I've made it a point to avoid Apple lawyers in dark alleys ever since. Can't be too careful.