Within the last year, two documentaries about Apple have been released. I haven't yet seen MacHEADS, which I understand focuses on Mac users, but I recently watched Welcome to Macintosh: The Documentary for the Rest of Us. It is a fun and informative 80 minute look at the last 20 years of Apple hardware, told through the voices of people with a long history with Apple. Some of the best include Andy Hertzfeld (co-creator of the Mac), Guy Kawasaki (former Apple Evangelist) and Wayne Wenzlaff (who placed the first order to sell Apple II computers at a chain of computer stores).
By far the most amusing interviewee is Jim Reekes, who worked at Apple from 1988 to 1999, during which time he wrote the Mac's Sound Manager and other audio software for Apple. Reekes is perhaps most famous for creating the chime that plays when you start a Mac. It was first used in the Mac Quadra in 1991 and then became standard on all Macs after Steve Jobs returned to Apple. Describing the creation of this chime, Reekes says in the documentary that he realized that a user would hear this sound whenever the computer crashed, so he tried to design a "palate cleanser." He describes the startup sound as a "widespread C major chord with a high E in the upper voice which, to me, just sounds more bright and sort of unresolved, but happy. It's a happy chord." Of course, that sound is now synonymous with the Mac, and I chuckled when I heard it in Pixar's Wall•E movie (it played when Wall•E's solar panels finished charging). Jim Reekes is a good storyteller, and his sarcasm is absolutely hilarious. He was a surprise star of this movie.
There is much to say about Apple history and a lot is, of course, not covered in this movie. There is little discussion of software, no discussion of former Apple CEO John Scully firing Steve Jobs in the 1980s, and a lot of classic stories are left out. One funny law-related story that I was surprised to see omitted was the story of "Sosumi," a sound included with every Mac from the 1990s until today. Fortunately, this story is included in the great DVD extras as part of a 23 minute interview with Reekes. The background to the story is a 1981 settlement between the Beatles' Apple Corps and Apple Computer whereby Apple Computer agreed to stay out of the music business. Ten years later when computers became powerful enough to create pretty good music, Apple Corps sued Apple Computer. At the same time, Reekes was developing new sounds to be included with the upcoming System 7, and one of the lawyers handling the lawsuit brought by the Beatles objected to the titles of some of his sounds as being "too musical." Reekes describes what happened next:
Late at night, we were working, it was literally midnight or later, a few of us were sitting around and I walk into the group and I say, "I can't believe that I just got this e-mail. The lawyers are saying the name of my new beep sound is sounding too musical and we're going to have to take it out." And I was like, "we're not taking it out." So I had to figure out what we would call it. And so I told the group, "I know, I'll call it 'Let it Beep.'" I thought that was actually brilliant. But it was too obvious. And so everyone was laughing, and then they thought I was serious. "No, you can't do that," and I'm like, "No, I'm not serious," I'm like "so sue me." And then, that is when it hit me, hey that would be a good name. I just have to spell it funny. So that's why I said, I could spell it like it's Japanese. Sosumi. And that is literally where it came from, just in the moment, exactly like that.
So then luckily, the director, Sheila Brady, of Software Engineering, was in the room at the time. And I said "Sheila, I need you to contact the lawyer, tell him we're going to change the name of this dumb thing that sounds too musical, and don't tell him what it is, but spell it for him. Because if you say it, he'll get it. And I don't think that lawyers have a sense of humor anyway, so they probably won't get it if you just spell it and just tell him that it's a Japanese word, it doesn't mean anything about music." So she did. She called him and left him a voice mail and said we got this new word, it's a Japanese word, she misunderstood what I said and said it's a Japanese word that literally means nothing musical. And so that actually became one of the urban legends. No, it's just some nonsensical word that I made up.
Reekes says that he never disclosed the true story behind "Sosumi" until after he left Apple in 1999.
There are very few mentions of the iPhone in this movie (although it is discussed somewhat more in the DVD extras), but if you enjoy hearing Apple-related stories like the one about Sosumi, you should definitely watch this movie. You can buy the DVD directly from the filmakers at their website for $19.84. (Cute; the Mac was introduced in 1984.) You can also just rent it through Netflix. Here is the movie trailer: