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Why Is That Thing Beeping? A Sound Design Primer (31 Aug 2004)
Consider the evolution of the telephone ringer from an electro-mechanical bell to a plastic mini-computer that can chirp the Mexican Hat Dance. Though the modern possibilities for ringtones are astounding, itís helpful to think about what was so striking about the way telephones used to ring. A mechanical telephone receives a voltage on its line that tells it to ring, and provides just enough power to repeatedly slap a tiny hammer against a metal bell to produce a ringing sound. The familiar telephone ring is all about producing the maximum sound pressure level in the air from minimum voltage. The bell produces a torrent of energy in the frequencies that our ears are most sensitive to. Itís likely that no one will ever get to invent something this elegant or pervasive again. Old hand-cranked air raid sirens, church bells, and organ pipes were designed based on the energy one person could deliver by cranking, shaking, or blowing. The qualities of these historical sounds were entirely dependent upon how they were produced. Listen to the four different telephone rings in the sidebar and note how the sound production technology influences the tone of each ring.
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