10.30.2008

I was sitting at my desk the other day, minding my own billings, when I heard two electronic beeps go off at the same time. The first was the printer in the copy room, beeping to indicate the job it was printing was finished; the second was the microwave in the kitchen down the hall, beeping to indicate the food it was cooking was finished. In any case, they beeped at the same time. The interval between the two beeps was a minor second (e.g. the distance between C and C-sharp), but it was a very small one–the notes were closer together than a half-step. A minor second is defined as 100 cents; I don’t really know, but maybe this was 70 cents. (For prior TLB discussions of tuning and temperament, click here.) It was a very small interval, and a very shrill and displeasing sound.

I wonder who creates the beeps in machines like that. Do the engineers or manufacturers know what note their beep will be? Do they design it with a particular note in mind? Does anyone other than me care?

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