Fearful harmonies: composing and decomposing the PlayStation startup sound

Newman, J (2021) Fearful harmonies: composing and decomposing the PlayStation startup sound. In: Ludo2021, 23 - 25 April 2021, [online].

Official URL: https://www.ludomusicology.org/calendar/ludo2021-p...


Much has been written about videogame ‘platforms’ (e.g. Montfort and Bogost’s influential volume (2009) and MIT series) with important work such as Altice’s (2015) drawing attention to the role of hardware and software in shaping distinctive sonic identity. Where this work tends to concentrate on the implementation of in-game sound, this paper seeks to move forward by rewinding in order to focus on perhaps the most iconic, identifiable and most oft-heard sound of a gaming platform – the system startup chime. The particular focus here centres on the Sony PlayStation (1994) boot sound designed by Takafumi Fujisawa (Cork 2019a). The paper begins with an analysis of the design and function of the sound. This might be presumed to stream from the CD-ROM drive so typically understood as a defining feature of the PlayStation platform. However, the sound is actually the product of a highly complex, highly efficient combination of code and composition that is performed in real time using a custom sequencer and three extremely short samples stored in the PlayStation’s BIOS. In addition to providing the PlayStation with an immediately recognisable sonic fingerprint and acting as an anticipatory cue for the forthcoming gameplay, the sound also has important communicative and diagnostic functions that are signalled by the sequential playback of different audio elements (Cork 2019b). Just as crucial is the potentially agonising pause as the PlayStation performs disc region, readability and compatibility checks and exercises its inestimable power as the gatekeeper of gameplay. The paper concludes by exploring the ‘afterlife’ (Guins 2014) of the PlayStation startup sequence and how recent player/hacker practices have transformed it into an unexpectedly creative site of audiovisual expression and experimentation. With specific configurations of glitched startup sounds documented, codified and given hauntingly evocative names such as ‘Personified Fear’ and ‘Fearful Harmony’ (Llamas 2018) perhaps recalling the dreaded possibility of startup failure, these re/de-compositions are the result of the injection of malformed data into the PlayStation BIOS and the deliberate and playful use of incompatible or damaged discs.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Divisions: Bath School of Design
Date Deposited: 19 Apr 2022 18:13
Last Modified: 21 Dec 2023 19:16
URI / Page ID: https://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/id/eprint/14184
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