Unwrapped: THX "Deep Note"

In honor of its upcoming 35th anniversary, THX hit Twitter with a post that sent music and movie fans alike into a tizzy. THX just released the written musical score of the THX logo theme, satisfying fans and showing us all how wonderfully simple, yet brilliant the piece is. 35 years ago, in time for the premiere of “Return of the Jedi,” Dr. James “Andy” Moorer created the THX musical icon, and it became one of the most recognizable scores in movie history. Now, we can finally see what they were talking about.

A few years ago, our web-editor Bob Ankosko interviewed Dr. Moorer, the THX employee tasked with creating the iconic music, which Moorer dubbed “Deep Note”, taken from the computer “Deep Thought” in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.The musical logo was created to differentiate movies created within the THX standards. It needed to be big andimpressive, yet match the relatively simple graphic. The video was just a slow fade up on the THX logo. Everything was relying on the sound to set the tone, so to speak, and create the emotional impact required.

Instead of writing a specific score with every note written out, Moorer created a program, just 325 lines (programmed in C) moving 30 computer “voices” (created with 298 more lines of code) that start out as two notes and end in a glorious finale chord. It’s a D chord, with the major 3rd appearing only as the very highest note. As the score depicts, the 30 voices go through a random, chaotic period before slowing transitioning to the final resolution notes.

Anyone familiar with musical psychoacoustics might think that Deep Note is just a glorified Shepard Tone, or more accurately, a Shepard Risset Glissando. A Shepard Tone, named after Roger Shepard, is an auditory illusion with layers of tones that continuously ascend or descend, without ever actually ending. Three rising tones, each separated by an octave are layered. The highest one is fading out as the middle one rises in volume and pitch to replace it, and the lowest one then replaces the middle one. This musical trick is commonly compared to a barber pole for music, or more abstractly as an M.C. Escher staircase. It’s a tool used often to create tension in music and film soundtracks - Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer are known for often using a Shepard Tone. Listen for it in “Dunkirk” and the Batman series.

When asked if Moorer used this in designing Deep Note, he said, “It turned out that it wasn't necessary. The 30 voices all scooting off to make the final chord was enough.” In another tweet, he said, “It is created from a random seed, but that just determines the details. The final chord was hand-programmed. The randomness determines the exact trajectory of each voice in the first part. At some point, all the voices are assigned their final pitches and go scooting away.”

Why all this interest 35 years after it was created? Simple. THX announced that they’ve begun production on a brand new Deep Note trailer that will commemorate their 35th anniversary.

“We are thrilled to team up with some of the most brilliant and imaginative people in the industry to create a new trailer and commemorate 35 years of providing high-quality entertainment to consumers,” said Ruben Mookerjee, SVP Products and Services at THX Ltd. “THX has exciting plans for the future and we look forward to unveiling this trailer this summer.”

We’ll be sure to post about the new trailer as soon as it’s released.