Monday, 25 August 2008

Music to my ear

I first noticed it about 10 years ago. It only happens when I'm really tired, but can't sleep, and in the almost complete stillness of night. And it only happens very rarely, but when it does, it's amazing.

I was on a caravan holiday with my parents, and late one night, while I was trying to sleep, amongst all the other night time noises, I could hear a dripping sound coming from the refrigerator. The dripping was very regular, and sounded almost like it was a percussion instrument, setting the beat, setting the rhythm. And then something very strange happened. I started to hear music. Not just a simple tune, or melody, but I could hear the whole damn orchestra. I could hear the percussion. I could hear brass. I could hear strings, first playing legato, then pizzicato. I could hear woodwind. There were changing dynamics. There were melodies and counter melodies. I could hear the whole thing.

I knew it wasn't on a radio or cd player somewhere because the music was in perfect time with the dripping refrigerator. And I noticed something else about it - that I could decide where the music went. I realised that even though I was awake, it was almost as though I was dreaming, but whatever the explanation, the music was going on in my head. While it was happening, I remember feeling as though the music was just inside my ear.

At the time, I was a budding musician - and I was trying to come up with my own pieces. And when I heard this music, I felt that if I could only transfer it to paper, it would be a masterpiece. But I was also aware of the similarity between this music, and any regular dream, and knew that it would all be forgotten soon afterwards. Sure enough, after I woke up, I couldn't remember the themes, the tunes, any of what sounded so amazing at the time.

Over the years since, I've heard similar music, just inside my ear. It normally occurs when I'm really tired, but maybe after I'd been drinking alcohol, or caffeine, and I can't get my body to switch off and go to sleep.

I'd thought about looking it up on the Internet, but had no idea how to go about searching for it. "Music in my ears" seemed a daft thing to search for, so I let it be.

Just last year, I was in a bookshop, and saw a book on display called "Musicophilia - Music and the Brain" and as I was flicking through, I came across a letter to the author from a lady who had been hearing music in her ears when there was no external source of music. You can imagine my excitement when I realised I may have found something that could help me research what I was experiencing. The phrase "Musical Hallucination" was mentioned, and that was all I needed to type into Google.

The explanation that seems right to me is that tinnitus (ringing in your ears) is being picked up, not conciously, but subconciously by your inner ear, and your brain decides to interpret the ringing as music.

I've seen stories of people hearing choirs, christmas carols, and orchestras. There is advice on how to control the sounds and make them fade away - but to be honest, I actually enjoy the music. I only wish I could transcribe it as fast as I hear it!

I last heard the music a few weeks ago. I once got up in the middle of the night to sit at the piano and tried to repeat what I'd heard. I'm going to try to keep that up, and one day, who knows, I might be able to share my masterpiece with everyone else!

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