SEATTLE — Matthew Bennett has one of the world’s most important ears, “More people will hear the sounds I design for Microsoft then will ever hear anything else I will ever compose or design, and that’s OK.”
As in billions of people … every day. Many times a day. A composer since he was 7, Matthew now makes the music of Microsoft. You know these sounds. The sound your Windows Computer makes when you logon, the notification sounds when you get an email or a text. He created those sounds.
From his soundproof, floating studio in Redmond, he carefully crafts the “surround sound” of life.
“It blows my mind so I can’t think about it too directly. But we do take the responsibility very seriously.”
Microsoft composer Matthew Bennett shows us his process from his Redmond studio.
He was part of the Windows 7 team, and has pioneered the new approach of Windows 10, “The old sounds are very designed to be heard, and to capture your attention. These are designed to be felt and not really to be consciously heard.”
He basks in the subtleties of sound like a “new email” alert, “It’s designed to sit in the background because most people don’t want to feel like there’s an emergency when they get an email dozens of times a day.”
The sound you hear when a text message arrives is purposefully different. “Our messaging sound is designed to pull you forward a little bit, a little more alert, a little more energetic because it’s if it’s an IM or text, you want to know that.”
The calendar reminder will always be controversial, “Some people have told me that no matter how beautiful the sound is, it makes them feel like they’re responding to a fire alarm all day, and I can’t fix people’s lives and their next appointment, but I can try to design a sound that alerts them in a beautiful way.”
Microsoft composer Matthew Bennett has created sounds that billions of people hear every day.
As an ethnomusicologist, he studied how music affects culture at the University of Washington. His background is in psychology, “We try not to provoke people’s startle response.”
These are not trivial tones to his ear, “I don’t think people realize how much the sounds, even the quiet sounds around us, affect our emotional experience.”
We don’t even realize how much sound is a part of our everyday lives, “There isn’t a moment in our lives when we’re not surrounded by sound. That includes before we are born.”
When he’s surrounded by his own work, he still gets a thrill, “It’s awesome. I love walking around and hearing sounds I created in real life because it’s a great opportunity to see what they feel like in real life.”