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Behind the Scenes of the Windows Vista Sound Schemes

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Behind the Scenes of the Windows Vista Sound Schemes
I'm posting this on behalf of my colleague Steve Ball. Hi, my name is Steve Ball and I'm a Principal Program Manager Lead on the Windows Sound Team. I'd like to take a moment and give some background on sound schemes in Windows as well as the new sound schemes released as Ultimate Extras and their relationship with the default Windows Vista scheme.
Default Windows Vista Sound Scheme
The default Windows Vista sound scheme was designed with the same principles that were used in designing the Windows Vista visual elements and desktop experience. In contrast, the Windows XP sounds, while appropriate at the time and for that product design, were very ‘Western' and literal, using pianos and western orchestral instruments. The XP sounds were designed to complement the ‘photo-realistic' Bliss desktop (blue sky, green grass photo.) The Windows XP sounds can also be rather percussive and jarring in the context of day to day PC use, so it was an explicit goal to re-orchestrate the default Windows Vista sounds to complement the softer, cleaner theme and user interface elements in Windows Vista.
For Windows Vista, it was an intentional design goal to avoid ‘reinventing' the User Interface language for sound. For example, the "new mail" sound in Windows XP and in Windows Vista consist of the same pitches, interval, and timing.

New Mail (Notify)
The Windows Vista ‘new mail' sound has simply been re-orchestrated to match the softer, more -rounded Windows Vista Startup Sound whose ‘sonic palette' was derived from the gentle and flowing Robert Fripp Soundscapes sessions that were recorded at Microsoft Studios in 2005 and 2006.
Session 1:
Session 2:
Fan Fact: The shutdown sounds for both of the new UE Sound Schemes are pulled directly from these Fripp sessions. There are in fact two shutdown sounds included with each of these UE schemes - for each scheme, there is also longer shutdown sound in the %windir%/media/%scheme_name% folder that is actually too long to use as a Windows Vista shutdown sound -- but we included it anyway so Fripp fans could get a greater sense of context about where this shorter sound came from - or map it manually to a different sound event if they wish.
Here is some additional background about each of the new schemes:
Ultimate Extras Glass Sound Scheme
The "Ultimate Extras Glass" sound scheme utilizes the same design language and principles as the default Windows Vista sound scheme, however, this set has an additional glassy ‘edge' that can be heard as a more percussive envelope applied to each of the sounds. From one point of view, the sounds in this set feel like they are made with ‘glass' instruments. The sounds in this set have a sort of clinking glass root with a polished or ‘frosted' haze effect applied to their outer surface - this is intended to be directly analogous to the transparent ‘glassy' window effects that are built-in to the Windows Vista chrome.
Ultimate Extras Pearl Sound Scheme
The Pearl sound scheme further extends the intentionally-subtle design attributes of both the Windows Vista default sound scheme and the Ultimate Extras Glass scheme, with less focus on reverberant, sometimes clinking ‘glassy' sounds in exchange for a richer, milky, more percussive sonic palate. The Pearl sounds are harder and less reflective and reverberant, more like the rich and rounded surface of a pearl in contrast to the fragile resonance of a wine glass. More concretely, the Pearl sounds are cleaner, clearer, and brighter than the ‘Glass' sound scheme.
Both of the new Ultimate Extras sound schemes embody more percussive elements in contrast to the soft edges of default Windows Vista sound scheme and they extend of the existing sound design language established by XP and Windows Vista. Functionally, the percussive elements of these sound schemes may also help users hear Windows events from a greater distance, if that is desired. They are intended to provide an extended personalization option for users who wish to differentiate their Windows Vista experience from the default experience.
Occasionally, people stop me in coffee shops and cafes and ask: did the Robert Fripp sounds make it into Windows Vista? There is a long answer and a short answer. Here is the short: the Windows Vista Startup Sound is the primary "Fripp" appearance in Windows Vista, although many of the new inbox sounds were orchestrated based upon the sound and feel of the hours of Fripp Soundscapes we recorded at our Windows Vista sessions.
For some additional background on the Windows Vista sounds, click here to check out our Windows Vista Sounds Q&A.
If there is interest, I can go deeper in future posts about any of these areas.
- Steve

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