The move to electric cars will quiet the familiar rumbling sounds of internal combustion engines, which are music to the ears of many.
Automakers are not only working to determine what the future of mobility will sound like, they also want to make it brand-distinctive and give customers the chance to personalize it.
For BMW, that means tapping Oscar-winning film music composer Hans Zimmer to craft unique driving sounds for the iX and the high-performance M version of the i4.
To do this, Zimmer collaborated with the automaker's creative director of sound, Renzo Vitale, to create the BMW IconicSounds Electric function. The feature allows new sound variants to be added to the acoustic repertoire of the cars.
"We begin from the brand I.D.: What is BMW? Who is BMW? What has it been in the past? Where will it be in five to 10 years?" Vitale told Automotive News Europe. "We have to make sure the sound we produce meets all the expectations for the image the brand represents."
From there, Vitale builds what he refers to as the "sound genetics," a framework with certain properties of reference that allows him to build a procedure from which to navigate through the research of certain sounds.
"If you close your eyes and listen to the sound, you picture the feeling the car wants to give to you," he said. "That is why we work closely with the exterior and interior designers. I take the sketches and use those lines to change the parameters to change the sounds."
Working in close collaboration with Zimmer, the two artists treat the sound as if it were music -- the core aim is to transmit an emotion.
"We are projected into a condition of joy, of being thrilled, of elegance, and other aspects," Vitale said. "We aim to be visionary with sounds, creating something that is iconic and remains a reference for the future."
The driving sounds also take their cues from the driving situation, the driver's personal preferences, ranging from the low-key timbre of Comfort mode to a more dominant and powerful Sport mode.
Drive system processes are registered within milliseconds and acceleration, load changes or recuperation given a suitable acoustic accompaniment. In the version developed specifically for the BMW i4 M50, the drive sound is correspondingly amplified, with additional differentiation between Comfort and Sport modes.
When the vehicle travels in Eco Pro mode, the acoustic feedback is reduced to nothing, and the silence of the drive system is meant to underscore the driver's decision to adopt a more efficient driving style.
"What we have to do is define a set of sonic instances in all the behaviors you can have so that we provide those goosebump moments, where we couple the emotional layer of the sound with the performance of the car," Vitale said.
BMW is also making the new sounds available to existing models via over-the-air updates.
Vitale sees an exciting new world filled with other musical collaborators. "These are people who have also showed a different way of understanding sound and instruments," he said. "I would love to see how other creative minds are capable of interacting with this four-wheeled instrument in the future."