My take on cellphone ringtones can be summarized best by a misreading of a Rufus Wainwright song. When he sings, “My phone’s on vibrate for you” (off the album Want One), I entirely miss any lascivious innuendo and take it to mean that, out of politeness, he’s turned off his ringer. See, my phone’s been set on a subsonic ringtone — that is, on vibrate — since the previous millennium.
Still, ringtones are one of the most pervasive examples of electronically mediated sound, and judging by the website toneshared.com, they’re also a nifty form of self-expression.
The site is home to a growing collection of freely downloadable ringtones by electronic (and otherwise outward bound) musical luminaries, including Carsten Nicolai (aka Alva Noto), Atom Heart (aka Uwe Schmidt), Chris Herbert and Francisco Lopez — almost 100 individuals and acts as of this writing. They’re available as plain old MP3s, which, according to the site’s brief help section, most phones can treat as ringtones.
The majority of the entries are well under a minute in length, and though most appear to honor the call for ambient/abstract content, some toy with the whole idea of ringtones. There’s a Leafcutter John entry titled “Sunriser” that plays for over a minute, by which point most portables would have moved on to voicemail (MP3); several Telefon Tel Aviv entries (including the pin-drop “Ballito SMS,” MP3) are credited as having originated on an album titled I Hate My Phone; and unharmonious Thomas Brinkmann contributions include a stunted take on “Happy Birthday” (MP3) and a feedback-enriched “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” (MP3).
Among my favorites are Stephen Vitiello‘s glistening “Tone 2” (MP3) and the glitchy, sonar blips of si-cut.db‘s “Glow” (MP3). Perhaps the best way to enjoy the toneshared.com offerings is to just download a few dozen and play them on random. (Thanks to Shawn White, of xtrasauce.com, for the tip.)