In the near future, drivers will be able to choose how their vehicles sound like thanks to a new collaborative movement that is being orchestrated by several big automobile manufacturers for their electric vehicles (EV).
With the world swiftly moving towards electrification, this creates a unique selling point for some of these vehicles with big name artistes and musicians composing sounds for these cars. And although it may seem like a marketing gimmick, the initiative extends well beyond just branding and bragging rights.
Silence: Not Quite Golden
The good thing about EVs is that they’re green and quiet, too quiet in fact due to the lack of a combustible engine. Similar to a battery-operated remote control car, EVs generally produce a humming or whirring sound when they’re being driven.
For other road users and pedestrians, this creates a safety issue as the most noise an EV would create will likely be from wind resistance or tyre noises at moderate and higher speeds.
As such, European Union regulators as well as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the US are now making it a requirement that both hybrids and EVs must have a minimum sound requirement in order to provide adequate audible warning to pedestrians and other road users.
With electrification being viewed as a primary mode of transportation in the near future, especially as major cities like London and Paris are set to enforce a ban on internal combustion engine cars by 2040, some manufacturers have already begun to make provisions to equip their electric cars with their own distinctive sounds.
Caption: Hans Zimmer (right) is giving BMW electric cars a noteworthy voice. Photo: Press BMW Group
Time To Make Some Noise
Several manufacturers have already begun to equip their electric cars with artificial sounds. Although safety remains the primary concern, there is no denying that the use of these sounds will also help set the vehicle apart from its competitors, similar in a way to how the Turbos and V8s of the 1980s and 90s.
German auto brand Mercedes-Benz already has an artificial humming sound ready for its electric EQC line-up. Porsche is also installing an Electric Sport Sound option for its all-electric Taycan sports car, which was released recently.
However, some automakers are looking beyond the confines of just creating artificial noises for their cars. Some have begun looking to the recording studio for inspiration in order to create the sound for their cars of the future.
In 2017, Nissan hired renowned sound studio, Man Made Music, to design the future sound for the brand’s electrified vehicles. The result was “Canto”, a resonant hum with a rising pitch for when the car accelerates. Debuting in the Leaf model, it marked Nissan’s intent to brand how its future EVs would sound.
Composing For Cars
Nissan isn’t the only one who has gone into the recording studio to find their unique sound. Brands such as Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz and BMW have already begun working with some of the world’s most talented musicians to help craft the sound of their EVs.
Mercedes-Benz for one, has enlisted rock band Linkin Park to create a more distinctive sound for their range of Mercedes-AMG performance electrics.
Jaguar has tapped the mind of Atlanta-based electronic sound designer Richard Devine to create the engine and interface sounds for the Jaguar I-Pace, the brand’s first all-electric car. Devine, along with Jaguar Land Rover NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) Technical Specialist, Iain Suffield, developed the full audio language of its new electric car.
The duo not only collaborated on creating sounds for the exterior sound for the I-Pace but also the tones for the interior of the car, specifically the user interface as well as the interior engine sound.
The primary task for Devine was to create specific sounds that would allow drivers to react sonically to the vehicle, whenever it was being driven. From a technical standpoint, both Devine and Iain had to work around specific speaker specifications on both the inside, as well as the outside of the car.
Crafting A Vehicular Soundtrack
Perhaps one of the most interesting collaborations is being orchestrated by BMW, who has hired Hollywood film composer Hans Zimmer to create the sounds for its BMW Vision M Next Hybrid Supercar Concept.
Zimmer, famous for his scores for the Dark Knight Trilogy, and The Lion King, which garnered him an Academy Award in 1995 is adding his own unique touch to BMW’s concept sports car.
Zimmer’s work is part of BMW IconicSounds Electric, an initiative launched by the German luxury automotive brand to stimulate the audio senses of drivers in order to make the driving experience of future models more emotionally engaging. BMW says the feature will form an integral part of the future of its electrified models.
So what can an Oscar-winning composer bring to the world of automotive production? Well, the short answer to that is providing a unique engine soundtrack for an electric vehicle, akin to a cinematic crescendo when the engine starts.
However, the soundscape is more than just an artificial replication of an engine. It is meant to provide distinctive audio patterns and stimulation whenever the driver interacts with the car, especially when it involves performance.
According to BMW, the gradually morphing sound textures are meant to create harmony between the driver and the electrically driven vehicle.
In a way, it is what composers like Zimmer do best – which is creating an emotive experience for audiences, except this time for the greater good of transportation instead of film. But the similarities are indeed shared.
In the near future, that rising electronic crescendo that your car produces when revving, may well be similar to those pod racers from Star Wars or the cycle bikes from Tron. In fact it may even result in consumers having the option of crafting their own playlist of sounds for their cars.
As a result, tomorrow’s cars will not only sound drastically different and distinctive but it will also change how the world perceives driving music in the not too distant future.
Cover Image: BMW
Writer | Richard Augustin
Two decades in journalism but Richard believes he has barely scraped the surface in the field. He loves the scent of a good story and the art of storytelling, two elements that constantly fuel his passion for writing.