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Taos Hum: What's that sound?
What is the "Taos Hum?"
Normally, when a person thinks of humming, an image comes to mind of a person enjoying a song but he or she cannot remember the lyrics. Humming, however, is not always a pleasant thing. Since the late 1970s, low-frequency persistent humming has been heard (and felt) in various locations around the world. Is this phenomenon simply a simultaneous outbreak of an epidemic of tinnitus? Or, is a mechanical source creating this annoyance? Whatever the cause of this, as yet, unexplained sound may be; one thing is certain, its existence has been validated by people from all over the globe.
The first reports of this mysterious humming sound can be traced to Britain-- circa the late 70s. The “Bristol Hum” became a recurring source of agitation, yet notoriety, for the small English town. The apparent potency which accompanied the sound soon became apparent. In 1977, a British newspaper was inundated with nearly 800 letters from citizens complaining of new-found symptoms which they logically linked to the recent auditory addition to their environment. In the letters, the local populace cited: vertigo, insomnia, headaches, anxiety, difficulty breathing, inability to concentrate for the purpose of reading or study, and a general deterioration of overall health. The story that the write-in campaign generated within the newspaper led to a rather cursory investigation by local authorities…no cause for the mysterious humming sound was ever pinpointed. A decade and a half later, the unidentified hum crossed the Atlantic, arriving in North America in the 1990s.
Most famously, the humming sound began to occur regularly in Taos, New Mexico. As with the citizenry in Bristol, the inhabitants of Taos could only tolerate the irritating hum for a short period of time. In 1993, the town’s residents petitioned congress to assist them in identifying (and potentially eliminating) the source of the “Taos Hum.” This protracted and determined effort by the people of Taos would eventually prove to be fruitful.
In 1997, the congress directed a team of scientists and observers from several of the most prestigious research institutes in the United States (including a contingent from nearby university of New Mexico) to converge on Taos, and endeavor to find the source of the mystifying hum. After thorough interviews with “hearers” of the hum, the scientific team set out to locate potential sources from which such a low-frequency, consistent sound could be generated. However, an intensive investigation of Taos and the surrounding area turned up no potential physical sources for such a sound. Moreover, there had not been a recent incident of even low-level seismic activity. Without an obvious external culprit to pinpoint for the mysterious sound, the team investigating the Taos hum turned to the “hearers” themselves.
Intriguingly, only 2% of the 1,440 residents of Taos were able to hear the humming sound. Similar percentages of populations have been identified as “hearers” in other locations around the world where this phenomenon has occurred. (The Daily Telegraph reported an identical 2% were able to perceive the “Bristol Hum”).This spurred the research team at Taos to direct its energy to a potential anomaly within this select segment of the populace. The scientists, in their final report, theorized that this small sample of subjects have exceptionally sensitive inner ears. The investigators surmise that the “hearers” have developed a specific sensitivity to sounds in the 20 to 100 Hz range. Therefore, the ever-increasing numbers of cordless devices along with electromagnetic transmitters in society may be culminating in a powerful electrical humming sound which these few people are able to pick up.
While the conclusion of the blue-ribbon panel seems plausible; other theories regarding the origin of the “Taos Hum” also possess merit, and deserve further investigation. While all “hearers” concurred that the unexplained noise begins abruptly, never abates, and resembles the sound of a large diesel engine “idling in the distance;” several of the subjects asserted that the sound is more pronounced inside a car or house than it is outside. Aside from the obvious fact that these shelters should provide shelter from electromagnetic sound waves in the atmosphere; the amplification of the sound suggests a source of vibration resonating throughout the sources of metal within the components of these structures. Accordingly, a segment of the “hearers” reported palpable vibrations that can be, at times, felt throughout the body while the sound is ongoing.
Still, there are other physiological explanations that experts have posited for the inexplicable sound. Physicians in the Taos area, along with other locations that have witnessed the event, diagnosed the condition as tinnitus…and treated it accordingly. However, several patients from areas plagued by the sound who were diagnosed with tinnitus previously swear that the curious new hum is qualitatively different from the internal sound that they had been living with.
Another school of thought blames “spontaneous auto-acoustic emissions” for the disturbing noise. Simply put, these are sounds that the human ear, itself, infrequently generates. These internal disruptions are audible to around 30% of the general public. However, the “Taos Hum” and other such events across the globe appear to occur in regional clusters, and rarely within larger-scale metropolitan areas. Although the theory that these distinct humming noises are originating within the listener are in vogue; other, perhaps more tangible, explanations remain on the table.
In support of the prior explanation for the phenomenon, a different conclusion based on additional research suggests that, perhaps, the anomaly within the atmosphere near Taos is simply triggering a reaction within the very small and select population sample that actually "hears" the infamous hum The facet of the ecosystem that is , or could, act as this trigger is unknown; but witness reaction does beg the question.
Several "hearers" of the hum have stated that earplugs actually make the hum louder! This revelation seems to suggest that the hum is contained internally from these individuals who can hear it. As with a subject's breathing and heartbeat, the volume of internal functions increase when the subject installs earplugs, or wears headphones. Since hearers of the hum claim that the volume of the disturbance amplifies when they utilize earplugs; can it be that the "humming" sound is coming from within the person experiencing it?
Alternatively, the “Taos Hum” and other such events across the globe appear to occur in regional clusters, and rarely within larger-scale metropolitan areas. Although the theory that these distinct humming noises are originating within the listener are in vogue; other, perhaps more tangible, explanations remain on the table.
Rearchers have discovered that low-frequency infrasonic “humming” noises can be produced when waves crash together – ricocheting the sound to the ocean floor. Hypothetically, these sounds could then travel in any direction, “coming ashore” anywhere on the globe. To the detriment of this theory, it does not explain the occurrence of the humming phenomena in remote areas nowhere near the coast.
Other observers continue to speculate that these sounds are being created by large, man-made, mechanical apparatuses: massive cooling fans at large factories, mammoth compressors in use, etc. Yet, in cases where such devices were remotely near the affected populations, they were inspected, corrected, and summarily dismissed as a potential source of the disturbance.
Finally, and perhaps most entertainingly, an explanation has been offered which could launch another entry in the "Transformers" movie franchise. The "hum" has been identified as "communication between 'living' rock." Is it possible that those who can hear the Taos Hum are actually privy to conversations between sedimentary bodies that are not as inanimate as was assumed?
Whether these unidentified sounds are originating within the environment or from within the observers themselves, they are an uncomfortable fact of life for the areas involved. Aside from the aforementioned physical symptoms that “hearers” have to endure, three suicides in Britain have been directly linked to the mysterious hum. While skeptics disavow the effects, or even the existence of this sound they cannot themselves hear, an agitating and mystifying event is occurring in these locations…and, as of yet, it has not been adequately explained.