Posted by: soundlounge | August 11, 2009

Overtones: The Secret Spices of Musical Sauce

musical_spiceIn sonic branding, much thought and effort goes into finding the perfect sounds to fit a brand’s style. Part of this process involves breaking these sounds into their essential ingredients and critiquing them: “That trumpet is a shade too mellow. Can we find one with more punch?” or “We need to decide if we want a brighter voice or a darker voice.”

Every musical detail counts in the advertising world. Think of the Intel Inside sound, one of the most memorable audio logos of all time – only three seconds long. Creator Walter Werzowa needed a keen ear to carefully design each sound. In the first note alone, he used over 20 different instruments and sounds!


Did you hear the anvil, tambourine, and electric spark? If you’re like most listeners, probably not (we’ll get to the reason for this later). But Werzowa hand-picked each of these sounds for a reason. He knew their unique sound “flavours” and was able to mix them perfectly into a memorable audio logo.

We can all tell when an instrument sounds right or wrong in a certain context. This is the “I’ll know it when I hear it” approach, which drives many sound branding decisions. But when it comes down to a few seconds of sound design, it’s important to understand why an instrument sounds mellow, punchy, bright, or dark.

With a little science and an open ear, we’ll explore some of the basic “spices” of sound undiscovered by the average listener – overtones.

Can you sing more than one note at the same time?

Tuvan musician Kongar-ol Ondar employs an age-old Tuvan tradition of overtone singing to sing two, three, or four notes at the same time in this clip from the Late Show with David Letterman:

“How did he do that?!” you might be thinking. Let’s take a closer look at overtones  – read on

Charlie McCarron
Sound Consultant

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