THE HUM

Smith Journal - - Smith Stuff -

The power of a low-fre­quency hum to drive peo­ple mad is known to any­body who has ever par­tic­i­pated in the com­mon tor­ment of a sub­sti­tute teacher, whereby sev­eral peo­ple in a class­room emit such a sound in uni­son. In dozens of lo­ca­tions around the world, there are peo­ple who live with such a vex­a­tion all the time – or be­lieve that they do. The fact that it’s dif­fi­cult to be cer­tain whether the hum is real or in their heads makes it, of course, all the more in­fu­ri­at­ing. The first Hum seems to have been heard in the English town of Bris­tol in the 1970s, and sub­se­quently in places as scat­tered as Van­cou­ver, Or­lando, the wilds of Scot­land and Her­vey Bay in Queens­land (a full list can be found at the­hum.info). Var­i­ous the­o­ries have been prof­fered, from the plau­si­ble (fac­tory noise) to the in­sane (the tin­foil-hat­ter’s litany of mind-con­trol ex­per­i­ments). Noise is de­bil­i­tat­ing in a way that other in­tru­sions are not: we can­not block our ears as ef­fec­tively as we can close our eyes. The good news is that some Hums have been solved: in Wind­sor, Canada, fac­to­ries on Zug Is­land were the cause; in Sausal­ito, Cal­i­for­nia, it was the mat­ing calls of fish echo­ing against the hulls of house­boats. AM

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