Electric Symphony: How BMW Created The Sound Of A New Era
The end of “natural” car noises means a new dawn for motoring acoustics—led by BMW.
Cars and sound used to hold an uncomplicated relationship. Take a rumbling engine, add a booming exhaust, and make both as loud as humanly possible. Job done.
But the global EV revolution has forced marques to look for entirely new solutions. With no naturally occurring noise in an electric vehicle, engineers are now tasked with creating their own soundtracks—utilising high-tech studios, orchestras and choirs to build an entirely new aural identity that will define their brands in the years to come.
The man sat at the keys for BMW is Italian pianist, composer, sound designer, acoustic engineer and artist, Renzo Vitale. It’s Vitale, along with award-winning film composer Hans Zimmer, who is literally hand-crafting every new sound for every new BMW.
It’s complicated and passion-filled work. When you hit a BMW’s engine start button, for example, a two-second track plays that seamlessly combines a swelling choir note with an “impact sound” designed to both welcome you to the vehicle, and to let you know your car is activated and ready to roll. Seems simple enough, right?
“That is actually the first sound that I composed together with Hans Zimmer, Vitale says. “When I flew to LA it was the end of February. The two to three weeks before I had prepared the briefing and all these kinds of mood boards, so I had a clear intention. I entered Hans’ studio on a Thursday afternoon, and I left the studio on Monday… Hans actually cancelled my flight home. I was supposed to fly back on Saturday, and I remember Hans saying, ‘No, no, no, we are not done yet.’ Then he called his assistant who moved a meeting he had with Disney the following day.
Once Vitale returned to BMW’s HQ in Munich, the convergence process then began. “We go through all these iterations before we end up with the final sound, which we reached in July, so it was six months in total.” Global travel, cancelled flights, weekend studio lock-ins and Disney meetings dropped—all this to develop two seconds of audio designed just to welcome you to your new BMW.
The results, though, are genuinely spectacular. A drive in the new BMW i7, for example, leaves you feeling like you’re not just in control of the vehicle, but also conducting an onboard orchestra, the sounds swelling and falling with your every input. “It begins from emotion, from a vision, from an intention. And these intentions are to bring emotion to life, but even more so they are to enable you to express your emotions through sound,” says Vitale. “Drivers learn it quickly, and then they discover a world of sound that unfolds with their driving activity, and suddenly they can express their emotions.”
With the BMW Group pledging to make 50 percent of its global car sales electric by 2030, Vitale’s new challenge is possibly his greatest yet—replacing the iconic soundtrack of thumping engines and operatic exhaust notes that has always accompanied BMW’s fire-breathing M Division vehicles. But what form will this take?
“I can tell you, this was the project to scare me the most at BMW. As petrol heads, I can tell you these people were skeptical of electric motors. We’ve done lots of clinics. And we drove lots of combustion engine cars. And we said, ‘Okay, what are the key sonic elements here that will be relevant?’
“So now we are working on the next level, bringing in all the feedback that only someone who has been driving an M car for 20 years will be able to tell you about. And we are breaking them down and translating them into new sonic elements that never existed before. I love that.”
Subscribe to the Newsletter
Recommended for you
The vehicle is powered by a naturally aspirated 5.2-litre V-10 that produces 640 hp.
By Bryan Hood
November 30, 2023
From stealth profiles to surprisingly lavish appointments, launches from Sacs Marine to Lomac are gaining popularity.
By Kevin Koenig
November 27, 2023