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NASDAQ redesigned its opening bell, and it isn’t a bell at all

Listen closely. The new bell was made from hundreds of sounds, like coins spinning, glasses clinking, and even Tibetan bowls humming.

When the $10-trillion Nasdaq stock market opened its trading session today at 9:30 a.m., it rang a very different bell from the iconic one you’re used to hearing. This new bell is like none other–because there’s no actual bell involved. Instead, it’s the result of months of audio experimentation by a team of sound designers and engineers.

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The new bell–which will replace the original Nasdaq bell put in place 18 years ago–was designed by Grammy Award-winning producer Giles Martin in collaboration with Academy Award-winning sound designer Chris Jenkins and the in-house sound experience team at Sonos. Created to mark Sonos’s entry onto the Nasdaq Global Select Market, Martin and Jenkins approached the project much in the same way they approach film production: They wanted the sound to provoke an emotion in the audience.

[Photo: Sonos]

Nasdaq wanted a bell that sounded completely new and futuristic to reflect its brand. “The sound of the bell ringing to open the stock market, is one of the most iconic and enduring moments in the financial world,” says Nelson Griggs, Executive Vice President and Corporate Services & President at Nasdaq, over email. Sonos entering the Nasdaq was a good opportunity to redefine that sound, make it more exciting and memorable for clients and partners.

In response, Martin, Jenkins, and the Sonos audio engineers decided to create a bell sound without any bells involved. To build it, they went on a sound-hunting adventure that lasted for months, during which they recorded hundreds of different audio waves produced by many combinations of objects clanging, brushing, and crashing against each other.

“Creating a sound is more complex than people realize,” Martin says over email. “When you want to capture a feeling, the creative process isn’t about recording the literal sound. It’s a lot of experimentation.”

The search for the right components was like finding the right ingredients to make the best recipe, as Martin puts it: “It all needs to blend together. You don’t want something too obscure that would stand out.” They tried everything: Glasses, chains, mallets, coins, wooden drumsticks, timpani mallets, brushes, screwdrivers, brushes, egg beaters, pestles, and cutlery of all kinds. “If I had to pick a few stand-outs, I loved the spinning coins and clinking glasses,” Martin says. “The screwdriver and banging the side of the piano were probably the most unexpected.”

But the most important sound in the mix was an accident. After a few weeks of bouncing ideas around, Martin says that Jenkins’s dog provided the key noise: “One day when his dog was barking and his Tibetan bowls starting vibrating. When he sent me a file with the idea, I thought he was cheating and using a real bell.”

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They ended up using Tibetan bowls in combination with dozens of other sounds created by objects–a dense layering of audio. After months of dog barking, sound recording, and audio mixing, Nasdaq debuted the bell this morning–and none of the hundred different sounds that went into its creation included a bell. It’s an apt metaphor of the times we live in and even the idea of the stock market itself: Nothing is what it seems.

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