by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady explained:
I read your article on Musical Ear Syndrome with interest because although my hearing is normal, I suffer from insomnia because I hear music and singing through the night.
What particularly caught my attention is that a couple of the people you quote have heard exactly the same songs that I have. So my suggestion is the following. Would there be a way to test the homes of a people who claim to have the same symptoms. To me it is as if there were radio waves coming from the vents at different frequencies. If I listen from one angle, I’ll hear a choir singing the back-up. In fact, I remember that this morning I heard the words “addicted to love” and “1 2 3 4” and “Daddy Come Home” in conjunction with the main song(s) that were playing.
I’ve been jotting them down, but I have heard distinctly Amazing Grace, Battle Hymn of the Republic, some John Phillip Sousa march, Bolero, etc. How could so many people experience the same exact songs? I wondered for a while if it wasn’t some kind of terrorist communication or music for our armed forces.
Like one of your interviewees, I had the manager contact the people above and below me to see if he could find out who was doing it. The music or waves or vibrations that I interpret as music seem to be stronger where the vents are located in our apartment.
Most people that hear these phantom sounds have a hearing loss, but a number of people with normal hearing such as yourself contact me because they also hear these phantom sounds.
The reason so many people “hear” the same phantom songs is that these songs were popular when they were younger—so these songs are in all of your collective memories already. When the conditions are right, you, like them, hear these same songs. It is nothing esoteric.
People desperately want to find a rational reason for the phantom music they are “hearing”, because to them, the only other explanation is that they are crazy. Thus they come up with some “interesting” explanations for these phantom sounds. Your explanation, “to me it is as if there were radio waves coming from the vents at different frequencies”, is actually quite near the truth, surprisingly enough.
You have likely hit the nail on the head in that you feel the sounds are coming from the furnace vents. I agree, however, your theory of why this is so is a bit off. Let me explain.
What happens to a number of people is that their brains’ for some reason modulate any continuous background sound (such as the sound produced by a furnace, air conditioner or fan) to sound like music. Then your brain takes a song out of memory and somehow melds the two together into the phantom music you now “hear”. (Other people, including myself, hear the same kind of thing when flying—our brains modulate the continuous drone of the jet engines into what sounds like various pieces of music, although sometimes it just sounds like an orchestra warming up.)
When the furnace, air conditioner or fan stops, the music stops too. Check this out and notice whether it happens in your case too.
It may seem strange that a number of people, including yourself, have contacted the manager in your building about people causing this loud music at ungodly hours.
However, it is not really as strange as it seems. You see, the sounds seem to have directionality. Thus, you “know” they are coming from above you or below you (even though, in actual fact, they are all in your head).
As you have noticed, the phantom music is loudest near the vents in your apartment because that is where the underlying sound from the furnace/air conditioner/fan is coming from.
Your brain then modulates this sound so you “hear” music or singing. I don’t know why sometimes you hear music and other times singing. I suspect it is related to the frequencies of sound and their variability that your ears are picking up at any given time. Then your brain modulates these sounds and adds its own version of “intelligence” to them—thus the music and singing.
Other people have reported “hearing” similar things to what you are experiencing. For them, when the furnace/air conditioner/fan turns itself off, the phantom music also stops. Fascinating, isn’t it?
(Note: this is just one of the many kinds and causes of the phantom sounds that comprise Musical Ear Syndrome. To learn more about this fascinating subject read “Phantom Voices, Ethereal Music & Other Spooky Sounds“.
Addendum: Since I wrote this article I have finally found the underlying reason for this phenomenon. It is called Audio Pareidolia. You would do well to read my article on this subject at https://hearinglosshelp.com/blog/apophenia-audio-pareidolia-and-musical-ear-syndrome/ . Audio pareidolia is not really part of MES, but is a separate phenomenon, although I originally included it as part of MES. It is the reason that most people with normal hearing, and children “hear” these apparently phantom sounds.