Banner image by Emel Ernalbant via.
Tinnitus (tinnio for ringing, an onomatopoeia in Latin) is an internal sound which someone hears in the absence of an external sound. You can hear it after a very loud concert or after surviving a car bomb explosion. Waking up to a new day, a tinnn in your ears may remind you of what happened the night before, analogous to an afterimage; the yellowish halo that you perceive just after looking directly at the sun. A stimulus exceeding a certain threshold leaves its trace for a certain amount of time, then fades out.
Tinnitus may occur due to various reasons; exposure to loud or explosive noise, hearing loss, use of certain medication, illness, aging, and stress among other factors. The very common tinnitus is similar to a ringing sound of a single tone or a compound of multiple tones, however, several other types e.g. humming, whistling, clicking do exist. The tone perceived in the left and right ears may be different in terms of amount and duration. In the case of hearing loss oriented tinnitus, the pitches of the heard noises lie primarily in the range of frequency at which the sufferer has the hearing loss. Richard Salvi1 describes this as “a phantom auditory sensation like phantom limb pain when an arm is cut off, and you feel pain in that missing limb.”
Tinnitus is not a sickness but mostly a temporary symptom, but it may persist in particular cases. Beethoven describes his experience with tinnitus as follows: “My ears whistle and buzz continually, day and night…such a condition is truly frightful.” Perhaps tinnitus is more akin to what Lars Ulrich of Metallica confused with the sound of a TV set: “…and I would wake up in the middle of the night to go turn the TV off. Except it wasn’t actually on.” According to reports from the American Tinnitus Association, in North America approximately 12 million people experience chronic tinnitus.
Tarata tinn 1, again
Tinnitus is also the name of a young noise music band from Worcester, Massachusetts. I stumbled upon their myspace page while surfing the web in order to refresh my knowledge on tinnitus. This encounter took me back, to a time when a tape-cassette retailer introduced me to an early release of Napalm Death from Birmingham, UK.  With its dark social content expressed with growling vocals and unique sonic characteristics that influenced noise music in general at the time. Drummer Mick Harris’s use of the blast beat was a very significant component of the band’s sound. A very fast but powerful rendition of a drum set’s main components played in succession or superposition blast, beats create a continuous noise space without any instances of silence or breathers in between rhythmical hits. A simple transcription of one of the few main blast beat types is:
x x x x x x x x cymbal
o o o o o o o o snare drum
o o o o o o o bass drum
Below is how a drummer, pejz64 on YouTube, demonstrates various blast beats played on his electronic drum.
Described as “maniacal percussive explosions, less about rhythm per se than sheer sonic violence”, blast beats have become one of the most stylistic and structural components of the rhythms sections in many sub-genres of extreme live music. Tatatatatatatas, shshshshshshhss, dstdstdstdstdstdsts; human muscles and nerves perform the fastest and hardest possible hits on circular metal alloys and plastic membranes, marking another reflection of passion towards continuous man-made noise as a translation of extreme energies into sounds, and a love of blasts in the sonic context.
Tarata tinn 2
“… what a joy to hear to smell completely taratatata of the machine guns screaming a breathlessness under the stings slaps traak-traak whips pic-pac-pum-tumb weirdness leaps 200 meters range …”
wrote Marinetti when he was reporting from the siege of Adrianopolis (now the city of Edirne, within Turkish borders) during the Balkan War in 1912. Russolo, in his very inspirational ‘Art of Noises‘, celebrates Marinetti’s praising of the new sounds of war. Since then, numerous artists have been borrowing, imitating or re-creating the soundscapes of wars. In particular some genres of music and sound art dealing with or fetishizing noise.
U.S. Army doctors report that thirty percent of soldiers deployed in Iraq return with tinnitus. Jordan Lite reports that “among those exposed to roadside bomb blasts, 50% have tinnitus.” 9 This makes tinnitus, including the hearing loss, the 3rd largest disability among U.S. Troops Iraq and Afghan conflicts. I haven’t come across any numbers regarding the hearing damage or tinnitus in surviving civilians or fighters in the region.
are the lyrics for Tinnitus’s 22-second track ‘Lifeless’. The track starts with two syncopations, and then the vocals shout the words on a stormy background of guitar, bass blends with the blast beating drums. It finishes right after the last word is uttered. I asked a few questions to the band over an e-mail exchange to gain an impression of how they reflect on what they do:
CE — Your music, is it a struggle with silence, with music in general? Or is it just noise for noise’s sake?
Tinnitus — It is more of a struggle with how most people conceptualize music, it just seems so structured and predictable. So I like to think of it as playing music that really has no theory behind it, just kind of arbitrary noise meshing together to make “music.”
CE -Where do you live? In a noisy urban setting?”
Tinnitus — We all live in different cities, all of which are pretty noisy places, I live in Boston, Mass, Ryan lives in Worcester Mass, and Kaivan lives in Amherst, Mass”
CE — Do you ever experience tinnitus after gigs? Ever protect ears? How does it feel the next morning?
Tinnitus — Definitely, all the time, we generally protect our ears at practice, and try to remember at shows but it usually goes to shit, the morning after varies by show at times it is like nothing happened and at other times you just feel like you want to kill yourself so the ringing will stop.
Constant tinnitus may lead to suicide. It is a serious aural issue as it can lead to depression, stress or, typically, insomnia. In order to isolate themselves from external sound sources, people mostly prefer silent places to sleep and use curtains, doors, earplugs. However, if someone suffers from tinnitus, and is not yet used to living with it, they do not prefer silent environments to sleep in. For instance, they sleep with music or TV on in order to cancel the internal tone, a state which makes their ringing inaudible. In acoustics this is called masking, the perception of one sound being transformed or cancelled by the existence of another sound. In the sufferer’s case, if there is no river or fountain close by, a non-natural and controllable sound source, such as a music player will do the job.
When silence is subjected to a sudden or continuous disturbance, the rest position could be thrown off balance and silence may be permanently eliminated; this results in a need for a particular form of natural or artificial sound, or alternately – demands for a quietude that is not completely muted.
Among many types of tinnitus-aids, two products that British Tinnitus Organization provides are enough to exemplify distraction-based solutions. Each of the CDs in the series are titled as “Noise CDs”, dedicated to various types of noises, i.e., white and pink noise, or a specially recorded volume, “The Sound of the Sea on Deal Beach.” 10
A Robert’s Pillowtalk Pillow Speaker  is another recommended product by the same institution. It is described as “ideal to use with a sound therapy system [and you can] listen to the radio or a CD without disturbing your partner.” In this case, a pillow is no longer a friendly object that isolates the sufferer’s ear from external sounds; it becomes the home for a loudspeaker transmitting a friendly noise directly into the ear of the person suffering from tinnitus while sparing the person sleeping on the other side of the bed. It seems that the creative world of providing sonic solutions to temporarily deactivate tinnitus is following the very creative worlds of producing noise as art and military technologies for deactivating people.
Tarata tinn 3
Notes on Tarata Tinn variations:
Taratatinn 1 starts with an explosion with crash cymbals, followed by a mid tempo blast beat and concludes with 2 sine waves to resemble tinnitus in both ears.
Taratatinn 2 is the remake on previous variation, in which a bomb explosion and machine gun fire replaces the crash cymbals and the drum beat. In this instance, the 2 symettrically panned sine waves resembling the tinnitus are a semitone apart. The conclusion is made with the layering of white noise which makes the tinnitus inaudible.
In Taratatinn 3, drum and war noises are played in sync. The conclusion is is made by the sound of the sea waving on a concrete slope, which randomly can and cannot mask the tinnitus.
Drums, sea recording and mixing by Cevdet Erek
Drum recording engineer: Berk Kula, 101, Istanbul, September 2010
Sea: Belem, Portugal, April 2010
War: Cut from an American WWII movie
1. Richard Salvi is director of the Center For Hearing and Wellness at the University at Buffalo in New York
2. Jordan Lite, “Iraq & Afghanistan war vets suffer from hearing loss tinnitus” New York Daily News, 11.11.2007
3. Stephanie Smith, “Metallica drummer struggles with ringing in ears” CNN Health, 12.28.2009
5. Napalm Death, “From Enslavement to Obliteration”
6. Whitney Strub, “Behind the Key Club: An Interview with Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway of Napalm Death”. PopMatters, 05.11.2006
7. Luigi Russolo, The Art of Noises (Hillsdale, N.Y: Pendragon Press, 1986), p. 26.
9. Jordan Lite, “Iraq & Afghanistan war vets suffer from hearing loss tinnitus” New York Daily News, 11.11.2007, http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/health/2007/11/11/2007-11-11_iraq__afghanistan_war_vets_suffer_from_h.html
10. British Tinnitus Association Shop web page: http://www.tinnitus.org.uk/index.php?q=node/158