5th March 2024

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Technology and Computer

How Brian Eno created the Microsoft Windows 95 startup sound

Brian Eno is the undisputed father of ambient music. Penning discreet music for airports and films, focusing on feeling and meditative minimalism, his work is equally worthy of intricate study and background listening. In between his collaborations with Robert Fripp and production projects for the likes of Talking Heads and John Cale, Eno has delivered some of the most sprawling and atmospheric compositions in music history, with some of his work even pushing past the hour mark. Yet, one of Eno’s most well-known creations is just seconds long.

By the mid-1990s, Eno had cemented his reputation as an in-demand producer and ambient pioneer. In 1993, he released Neroli, an album made up of just one song with a runtime just shy of 60 minutes, marking his second venture into lengthy, continuous ambience. Despite this mammoth feat, Eno found himself stuck in terms of his own creativity.

Rather than continuing to explore the lengthy and limitless possibilities of atmospheric composition, he decided to embark upon a seemingly much smaller task – creating the startup sound for a new operating system called Windows 95. A stark contrast to the immersive expanse of his previous work, this project demanded just seconds of music from Eno, presenting a new challenge entirely.

“The idea came up at the time when I was completely bereft of ideas,” Eno recalled to SF Gate, “I’d been working on my own music for a while and was quite lost, actually. And I really appreciated someone coming along and saying, ‘Here’s a specific problem – solve it.’” Despite pushing him out of his ambient comfort zone, Eno was more than qualified to solve it.

The producer was given a brief for the sound, which contained more adjectives than a thesaurus. “We want a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah-blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional,” Eno recalled, “And then at the bottom it said, ‘and it must be 3¼ seconds long.’”

It seems like an impossible task to contain all of those emotions and qualities into just seconds of sound, but that didn’t deter Eno, rather, he found the task funny and compared it to “like making a tiny little jewel.” After creating 84 potential sounds for the project, Eno found himself just as immersed in miniature music as he was in mammoth composition.

The final sound lasted a little over the specified three-and-a-half seconds but contained all of the prescribed emotions in its dream-like ethereality. More than evoking nostalgia in 1990s kids everywhere, the project even reinvigorated Eno’s own creativity, as he explained, “I was so sensitive to microseconds at the end of this that it really broke a logjam in my own work. Then when I’d finished that and I went back to working with pieces that were like three minutes long, it seemed like oceans of time.”

Revisit the sound below.

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