Still, The Noise Was There

Well this is really quite odd.

A few nights ago, it being time to retire for the evening, I was lying abed as one does, awaiting the traditional going-over by Morpheus, when I became aware of a noise I’d heard before, but to which I’d not paid a great deal of attention. It was a very low, constant hum. One of those sounds so deep in tone that it seems to be coming from everywhere – and it was steady in pitch and volume, but it would stop and start apparently at random.

Although I’d noticed the sound before I’d never really investigated it – I’d always assumed it was just an out-in-the-night-time-world sound and paid it no mind; but this evening, for some reason, it seemed louder than usual and was, for this reason, just over the threshold into “What The Hell Is That” territory.

I listened for a while longer, then got up and started to wander round the house listening for the source. I went into several rooms, listened, opened various windows around the house, listened; and everywhere, at every point, when I stood perfectly still, the noise was there.

Returning to bed and mentioning it to my wife we decided the only logical explanation for a sound that didn’t vary at all as I wandered round the house – only in whether it was on or off, and that apparently with no pattern to it at all – could only be internal to me. I guessed I was noticing a tinnitus symptom I’d never picked up on before. I’d had previous, generally fairly short, episodes of very high-pitched ringing, but that had always been quite distinct from actual, external sound and I’d never assumed that was anything other than a squiggle of my apparently endlessly squiggly brain. But this was something new.

Paying more attention to it, I realised that the sound was stopping every time I moved, or spoke, or every time Suzanne moved, or spoke, and I decided that for some reason any external sound seemed to be enough to quiet the ‘tinnitus’, but a second or two of otherwise absolute silence would see it return: the same low hum, at the same rock-steady pitch and the same volume.

As a last ditch attempt to do something logical about it I download a couple of spectrum analyser apps for my phone and set them to listening for a minute or two. One of them was one I’ve used before and it has a handy waterfall display to show any frequencies it’s picking up. It’s not perfect – by no means a professional piece of kit, and of course mobile phone microphones aren’t exactly sensitive acoustic equipment; so the fact that it registered no low hum didn’t really prove anything much. But at least it didn’t disprove my hypothesis that it was tinnitus of some sort.

Annoying, but that’s tinnitus. There’s not much you can do about it except try to ignore it, distract yourself; and that’s what I did. I just wrote it off as just another of life’s little nuisances, like the floaters in my eyes or my increasingly bad back dear gods but I’m old.

OLD BEFORE MY TIME.

Anyway that was all before tonight.

As you may or may not know, my wife and I do a podcast. A fairly modest affair, it’s called Frithcast and it’s about Heathenry – Norse and Northern European paganism centred on gods like Odin, Thor, Freyja, and so on. Short plug here for Frithcast. Anyway, tonight I was doing the first part of the editing for a new Frithcast. We record – because we can’t afford proper kit yet we’ve only been going 73 episodes give us chance to find our feet at least, hmmmmm? – on two mobile phones, then align the recorded tracks and merge them to create a single stereo track, for which I usually screw up the volume balance entirely.

But tonight I’m sitting in front of my computer with these two tracks lined up, and I’m playing them back before I merge them; and about ten minutes into the recording, I hear a low, steady hum. It starts up and remains continuous, and it is absolutely bang on the same frequency as my ‘tinnitus’. It sounds exactly the same – only the difference this time is I can see it there in the spectrum display. There’s a solid line, right there, indicating a steady, very low-frequency hum. The bastard. And it hums on completely consistently for about ten minutes more, and then… stops. It just stops.

This is the spectrum display zoomed in pretty far, to show frequencies between 0 and ~350Hz. That’s under the normal human vocal range – even my less-than-girlish tones. Our speech, at least the lower ranges of it, is the scattered vertical lines above.

Now I was there when we were doing this recording. Obviously. And I don’t remember hearing anything – but as I mentioned, the ‘tinnitus’ symptom I’d had a few nights ago became inaudible whenever someone spoke: any actual noise in the room at all and it just stopped. Our recording was essentially both of us speaking in turn and over each other pretty constantly throughout the time this tone was sounding – yet there it was.

It was there, and obviously real and external. It was picked up on both Suzanne’s phone and mine at the same time for the same duration; and when I zoomed in and examined the trace more closely, I found that on both phones it was absolutely bang on 100Hz. And that, according to some googling I’ve done this evening, is a pretty strong indicator that the tone is being generated by an “electromagnetic non-rotating device with a winding, like a transformer or contactor”.[1]

This is zoomed in even further to centre on the frequency of the anomalous sound, which as you can see seems to be pretty much bang on 100Hz – a very electrical frequency, by all accounts.

But what the hell round here could be doing that? Constantly at night when I’m trying to get to sleep – except when either of us moves or talks; but intermittently earlier in the evening when we’re trying to record?

IS IT ALIENS WE ASK OURSELVES

And we answer: probably not. Personally I’m still reasonably happy it’s two different things. One is, I suspect, still tinnitus; while the other is probably some transient electrical sound coming from somewhere nearby. But if I think on, and if it won’t annoy Suzanne too much, I might try to do some tone matching with a sound generator app the next time the bedtime hum crops up. If it matches at 100Hz I’ll be a bit more open to the idea that that, too, is something external and probably electrical.

But then why doesn’t it register a trace on one app, if another can pick it up and display it so clearly?

I suppose it COULD be aliens, at that…


[1 – https://www.thehum.info/ewExternalFiles/EXTERNAL%20OR%20INTERNAL%20rev4%20%283%29.doc – Note this is a document file download, not a web page. The hosting page is HERE.]

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