How Mickey Mouse and Mr. Q Manufactured Emotion

Former Disney audio experience engineer, Mr. Q, reveals how he assisted in developing a complex algorithm to arrange over 15,000 speakers around the Disney World theme park. All to achieve the ideal ambient music for "manufacturing emotion."

The last time I visited Disney World, I was a bit distracted by the nausea that followed one too many rides after five too many scoops of ice cream. The visits before that though, I was entirely clearheaded. Yet not a single time did I notice the always present background music switch tunes.

Mr. Q would be laughing maniacally if he read those words. That's because those words mean that his baby, the project he worked on in the 1990s, grew up to be a success.

Apparently the original Disney World speaker system, set up in 1968, had an unnoticeable flaw: minuscule variations in sound volume along pathways. As someone walked closer to a speaker, music would seem louder than a few steps away. Despite not a single visitor ever complaining about this common sound effect, twenty years later good ol' Mickey decided to do something about it. Some work and a team effort later, they had Mr. Q's system and algorithm:

The system he built can slowly change the style of the music across a distance without the visitor noticing. As a person walks from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland, for example, each of the hundreds of speakers slowly fades in different melodies at different frequencies so that at any point you can stop and enjoy a fully accurate piece of music, but by the time you walk 400 feet, the entire song has changed and no one has noticed.

So how is a system which strives to be unnoticed manufacturing emotion? According to Mr. Q, the "life is sucked out of" the park when the speakers fail. Even a slightly flawed speaker system could lead to frowns, while perfect music ambiance only leaves Goofy's creepiness to achieve that. [Dustin Curtis via Boing Boing]