Design

The Dishwasher Sonata: GE Appliances Get Their Own Tunes


The generic beeps, buzzes, and dings made by appliances tend to fall far short of music. Why not replace those machine sounds with a little piano twinkle, maybe, or some light cello?

That’s what General Electric (GE) has done with its series of two-minute musical soundtracks for each of its four appliance lines. “We contracted a sound designer who, working with our design team internally, translated the visual cues and qualities associated with each brand into a soundtrack,” says Lou Lenzi, director of design for GE Appliances.

First to be unveiled on Wednesday will be the Monogram soundtrack. The classically scored pallet resembles “almost an Aaron Copland ballad,” says Lenzi. Take a listen for yourself:

The forthcoming theme for the GE line will have a proud American feel featuring, says Lenzi, “a full orchestral sound, but modernized.” Artistry, GE’s value line, gets a garage band feel. The Café brand, which Lenzi called “our pro line,” will have a techno soundtrack, “because it’s kind of a technology-oriented line.”

The longer versions of the appliance themes are likely be played in commercials and incorporated into online applications, but Lenzi says that washing machines, ovens, and other appliances won’t play the full two-minute musical numbers. Instead, short snippets from the musical theme will replace those generic beeps and hair-raising buzzers.

Here, for example, is the soon-to-be released Monogram dishwasher’s “power on” ditty:

And now, a dishwasher sounding its “cycle complete” alert:

Sound design is increasingly used to augment or influence the consumer experience of inanimate objects. Automakers, for example, have carefully studied the sound produced by a closing car door and found that it greatly affects the consumer’s perception of quality. Even otherwise quiet machines can have artificial sounds added to alter perceptions. Toyota (TM) tinkered with its popular Prius for safety reasons in 2010, adding a humming sound to help warn pedestrians of the hybrid’s stealthy approach.

GE claims to be the first manufacturer to create soundtracks for its appliances, and the innovation brings with it obvious risks. What if these everyday tunes prove grating? Lenzi is careful to promise that the musical snippets emitted by the devices won’t be overbearing—and he hopes the tunes come as a welcome relief from the unlovely status quo. “Say you set the kitchen timer to 20 minutes for your meal,” he says. “At the end of those 20 minutes, instead of a buzzer—that harsh sound—you’ll hear this little melody from the product.”

Cwinter
Winter is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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