If you haven’t heard of The Hum, allow me to introduce the phenomenon. It’s a persistent, very low frequency sound, a “HUM” if you will, rather like diesel engines idling off in the distance. I’ll link to a YouTube video that has a recording of what is the closest to what I hear, sometimes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
A few things:
If your speakers are not capable of reproducing very low frequencies, you won’t hear anything. Use headphones or appropriate audio equipment.
My home audio system has an amplified subwoofer. This does not cause me to augment what I hear in this video, rather I can reproduce what I hear. If it marginally plays on a tablet computer, you won’t understand what I hear.
The inclusion of Taos is a reference to Taos, New Mexico, one place of occurrence where residents tried to have the local govt resolve the issue, but to no success. Except in limited occurrences, it’s not a local issue. It’s heard around the world. Another video you might encounter is the Bristol Hum (in England) or Kokomo Hum (Indiana in the U.S.), or many more. But this purported Taos Hum recording is closest, to this date, of what I hear.
As I started writing this, in lulls in the T.V. volume on a cartoon my grandson is watching, the HUM is coming through strongly. My wife and I first started to hear it about 10 years ago, as my wife and I approached 50, the age when it seems to most commonly start to occur, from my reading at least. We rented a home full time in a country setting, for use on weekends, and we were sitting on the back, screened-in patio. The noise had been in the back of my mind, while distracted about other interests, and she asked if I heard a noise, like an idling engine. Wham, I realized I had been hearing it for a long time that day and just ignoring it. And I had read about the HUM before, but didn’t think I’d be; or in our case; we’d be, hearing it. This began our experience, we did the usual self questioning, local industry or rail roads. But, the home we rented in the country was about an 1 hr and 20 min north of Pittsburgh, and we continued to hear the identical HUM in Pittsburgh, and points 50 miles north and west of the country home, we just didn’t travel east so I can’t truthfully say we heard it there, but I’m sure we would have.
The HUM is always in the background, when it’s present. It doesn’t block hearing whispers, or subtle noises. My wife has tinnitus, and hearing loss in one ear. Me, even with industrial exposures for 25+ years, and an interest in shooting sports, I’d had yearly hearing exams at work, I had no occupational loss of hearing over my career, the result of wearing ear plugs, ear muffs, and occasionally both. For my wife and I to both experience the onset, at the same time, is astounding. She perceived it as a constant tone, myself as a wavering one, but I quickly concluded my waverings were, in fact, subtle environmental noises that briefly suppressed hearing the Hum as the ear drum and structures processed the noise. Just slightly rubbing my index finger and thumb ever so gently together near my ear would cause the hum to briefly diminish, or on a quiet day, each bird chirp, or noise of rustling leaves, would do the same.
A note on location, it’s far more common for us to hear the HUM indoors than outdoors, and I think the issue is competing noises, it’s often quieter indoors. When heard outdoors, it was more common for us to hear the HUM outdoors in the country because the city has greater ambient noise levels, even if you aren’t really aware of them, traffic, horns, kids yelling, dogs barking.
I mentioned the HUM to my ENT, but he said it was Tinnitus. My wife was with me, we told him we hear it in the same areas, don’t hear it in the same areas, and hear it louder and quieter in the same areas; as it is wont to do indoors, some areas it’s concentrated; he looked at us strangely and moved onto the next topic of my visit.
My wife stopped hearing it about 2 years ago. I’ve went, once, nearly a year without hearing it, and even rued its absence. That was a mistake, it’s back with a vengeance, kind of. Remember I said I had industrial noise exposure, the place was awash with sounds, and when I’d work turns, in the middle of the night, have been known to fall asleep even with those noises. We were there more to handle emergencies than engage in routine maintenance, and the telephone, or radio, would awaken us. My point is my periodic irritation with hearing the HUM is more due to my loss of control over the situation than due to the volume of the HUM, because truth be known, I slept, at work, in much noiser conditions, and even room AC units are louder. In fact, at this writing, room quiet, HUM loud, the furnace came on, it’s rather anemic, the fan blows gently, and it instantly overrode the HUM.
I’m sure different people perceive it in different ways, I’m not suggesting our experience is universal. I used to hear it in both ears, equally, and I not only preserved my hearing as discussed above, but have very good hearing. I kept a wind up pocket watch on my side of the bed, it had a loud tick and I like listening to it. I could actually hear it, in both ears, halfway down the steps to the lower floor. One day, from across the room, I could no longer hear it, I must have forgotten to wind it, but when I turned, I could hear it. Long story short, I had an infection in my right ear, I could no longer hear the ticking from far away but could from up close. The infection resolved, my ability to hear the ticking from far away returned, but I no longer hear the HUM in that ear, mostly.
Since I only hear it in the left ear, it sounds like the HUM is coming from my left. As I turn, that relationship holds true. If I extend my left arm, hand, and index finger, pointing, that’s where the HUM seems to be coming from. If I turn in a circle, pointing, I point to what seems to be the source, but the sound, properly, when I could hear it with my right ear as well, is ubiquitous, it comes from everywhere. With my left ear only perception of the HUM, when I lie in bed at night, left side down, it sounds like it’s coming from in the bed. There was one day, recently, that it was so loud (remember, in my case, loud HUM is not the same as loud local noises, as the HUM does not mask other noises) that I could hear it in the right and left ears.
So, myself, my wife, and recently, one of my sons, were/are HUM hearers. The reason that’s valuable is I’m not related by blood line to my wife, so inherited traits are ruled out. She has diminished hearing in one ear, with tinnitus, producing the very high pitched noises, I have documented normal hearing, perhaps on the better side of normal. We couldn’t be farther apart in traits, yet we both unerringly confirmed each time the HUM was occurring, when it wasn’t occurring, and parts of the home where it was accentuated or attenuated. One of my sons, 36 years old, recently called and inquired about a noise he was hearing at work that no one else could hear. I asked if he was currently hearing it (now at home), he replied yes. He lives nearby, so I jumped in my car and visited him. Upon entering the home (his son and wife were out and the TV off) I could hear the HUM very loud. He has become a HUM hearer too. And one day, a few weeks ago, the temperature outside went fairly high for this time of year. I didn’t hear it at all that day. Talking to him on the phone that day (texting), I asked how the HUM has been. He replied he hadn’t heard it at all that day.
So, as far as I can tell, it’s a real world event, about 5% of the people hear it, and I’ll bet more, but some people are tolerant of distracting noises. The planet is dynamic, turning at 1,000 per hour, travelling through space at 66,000 per hour, with strong magnetic fields, magma core, moving continental plates, and the jet stream. It’s not odd that some of us hear the HUM, it’s odd most don’t.
The human mind is a beautiful structure in that it adapts. Arteries near the ear drum should cause us to hear our pulse, yet most of us don’t. It’s filtered by the brain as superfluous noise, in most people. Though hearing it all the time might be a sign of a medical issue, it’s not necessarily so (but visit your doctor if you do start to hear it frequently). Among other theories, I wonder if the brain doesn’t filter out the HUM in most people? Those of us that hear it have at least temporarily lost that ability.
In addition, training in Tech School as an Optician (years ago), I became aware of Presbyopia, the loss of the ability to adjust our eyes for reading as we age (in our 40s), necessitating reading glasses. The Crystalline Lens, a Bi-Convex lens below our cornea, loses elasticity with age. In order to read, the lens must thicken. With loss of elasticity, it ceases to be able to do that. With the age, near 50, that most people start to hear the HUM, I wonder if a similar change in the elasticity of the ear drum and related structures doesn’t contribute to some of us hearing it?
Well, if there’s interest in this blog entry, I can discuss more.