Philip Tagg on the Intel bong

Available on YouTube and blogged at Loose Poodle comes this video by University of Montréal musicologist Philip Tagg.

It’s a neat video looking at a number of semiotic layers in the music and sounds of a 1996 Intel ad, and a large part of the video is devoted to the ‘Intel bong’ at the end of the clip that is, according to some, the most recognised audio signature ID in the world. I took a cheap shot at Philip in a comment on the Loose Poodle post, pointing out that although he devotes several minutes of his analysis to the bong as four notes, it’s actually got five notes, as legally defined by Intel themselves (here’s one example I could find of such a definition. Unrelated to this post, I heard a while ago that according to Intel’s in-house counsel it’s very common for people to ignore the first chime).

Phil has a good answer for me

I’m not dealing with that “blang” because (a) as Peter D Kaye says, it’s more of an episodic marker to break from the preceding ad; and (b) anyhow it’s a complex of timbres and of several more notes, not just one more. It’s polyphonic and the four notes aren’t, unless you count what can be heard in the reverb. I decided to deal with the four notes of the actual jingle/transscansion itself, not with the three or four notes involved in the episodic marker. There’s enough in the four notes of the transcanssion on its own for a 15-minute edutainment clip (more IOCM, more commutations, etc.).

but I’m still interested in that first chime, because I think it does actually change the musical interpretation of what follows. Yes, it’s a complex aggregate of sounds and pitches, but still basically within the same tonal field as the rest of the jingle (D flat major as Phil’s analysis shows). And the note that I hear most clearly from that aggregate is D flat itself, an octave above the first of the four bongs. And it’s only a subtle thing, but to my ears that changes the cadence (in a rhythmic, poetic sense, rather than a strictly tonal sense) of the bong from ‘masculine’ to ‘feminine’. Phil finds echoes of the four notes in Handel arias and even the Marseillaise, fair enough, but that suggests a triumphalist, forward drive to those notes. But add the first chime, and I suggest that the opposite is the case (and, interestingly, this locks more closely with Phil’s analysis of the rest of the ad) – a softer, reassuring ‘landing’ onto something familiar, rather than a springboard forward into the unknown.


3 thoughts on “Philip Tagg on the Intel bong

  1. I am flattered that my melody is mentioned with G.F. Händel in one breath. – My concept was quiet simple – use the world’s most commonly appreciated music-intervals ….


  2. Cheers, Walter, and Mr. Rambler, too! Glad to be of service for a good discussion about musical meaning. No flattery was intended, Walter. I just come from a childhood place where Händel’s Messiah was performed every year so that “Rejoice greatly” is as lodged in my head as your Intel jingle . There’s a better (and longer) version of the “analysis” on YouTube where I also deal with timbre. I still don’t touch the blang, though. Mr Rambler’s comments deal nicely with that aspect of it all.
    Happy 2013 to both of you
    Phil T

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