The Holter Experiment

The Holter Experiment

I spent Christmas in the seaside town of Plymouth, three or four hours west of London. It’s a lovely place—a rugged cove or gorse-covered moor waits around every bend. But I contracted a cold in Plymouth so vicious and devastating that it may in fact be bubonic in origin. I won’t gross you out with the full list of symptoms; the bottom line, for our purposes, is that I have tremendous pressure in both ears and my sense of hearing has taken on some challenging qualities.

As I was relaxing after breakfast with the Gérard Souzay recording of Fauré’s L’Horizon Chimérique, a long-time favorite, I couldn’t help noticing that everything sounded out of tune, both horizontally and vertically. I was expecting not to hear the highest couple hundred Hertz, maybe miss out on some of the dynamic contrasts, but I didn’t anticipate that my hearing loss would translate into misapprehending certain high frequencies as lower ones, which seems to be what’s happening. So I put on Tehillim next, just for kicks, and sure enough, one of those singers always seemed flat enough to stick out. What gives?

If you’ve ever questioned my journalistic commitment, what I’m about to tell you may elevate me to the echelon of such fearless investigators as Geraldo Rivera as I draw a map of the battle in my eustachian tubes in the sand of NewMusicBox.

I wasn’t satisfied by the findings that Fauré and Reich provided, so I arranged a little test. I set up a quick and dirty Pd patch to send two 440Hz sine tones into my MacBook’s left and right channels. Then, risking serious long-term damage to my hearing, I put in some earbuds and listened carefully. As it turns out, my left ear perceived a tone almost a half-step lower than my right ear, which no doubt explains Gérard’s bizarre distortions. Miraculously, my hearing seems no worse after this medically inadvisable test than it was beforehand. Pulitzer material? That’s for you to decide, world. I’m gonna drink some OJ and take my amoxycillin.

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2 thoughts on “The Holter Experiment

  1. atizzo

    You might want to check out Oliver Sachs’
    Musicophilia. You can save your ears from any more experiments while developing an unhealthy paranoia of all fleeting hearing anomaly. Incidentally, your condition is detailed in the book if I’m not mistaken. Feel Better!…

  2. dalgas

    not alone
    Had exactly the same thing happen to me a few years ago. It lasted a couple weeks, and is about as unsettling an experience a composer can have. But it does normally clear up with no lasting effects at all.


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