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Pondering whether our very ears can be trusted!

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    Pondering whether our very ears can be trusted!

    Like many of you, I use my ears every day to make judgments about sound. Out on a service call, I have to try to hear what the customer doesn't like about the organ, or wants changed. On an installation/voicing I make critical decisions about the level of each stop, sometimes note by note, as well as about timbre. I listen to speakers to try to spot defective drivers producing distortion. And at church I listen all the time to adjust my playing as needed, to the choir so I can give meaningful direction, to the worship leaders so I can stay on track.

    Now, much like last year, a debilitating ear infection has struck, and at nearly the same time of year. In 2017, I was almost totally deaf when I played the organ and directed the choir on Easter Sunday morning. This year, I sensed a bit of muffling on Easter, though at the time I laid it off on the huge crowd in the room. Then the full blow of it hit me the day after, when I woke up once again nearly deaf, with a loud roaring in my head. Searching through old prescription bottles, I see that I often seem to get sick right around Easter, which really messes with one's hearing and possibly even other senses, including "common" sense!

    This time around, thank God, the infection seems to be responding quickly to the Z-Pack, and I've recovered enough that I believe I'll manage to play and sing on Sunday, or at least play. And the biggest day of the year at church came and went without incident, so it could be much worse. But my fear is that it may well be worse next time, and time after that!

    So I will make a concerted effort over the next year to try out the various preventatives that friends have been telling me about -- eating raw local honey every day, wearing a mask when working inside old churches (like the one where we repaired the ADC Classic just 10 or 12 days ago), taking certain supplements. I don't know, there are lots of suggestions, few of them scientifically proven. A couple of friends here have had ear tubes inserted, which seems like a last resort, but there is some evidence this really cuts down on ear troubles.

    Worries me though to realize how drastically my perception of sound is altered by this. Even today -- with the fever and pain nearly gone, hearing level still below par but definitely on the mend, some tinnitus and roaring still going on -- I just tried practicing the organ and found it quite unsatisfactory. My lovely Allen R-230 sounds as granular and rough as the worst MOS I've ever heard. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that the speaker drivers are all shot, judging by the ragged, crude, buzzy tone in my ears.

    Which brings up the question -- can I ever truly trust my ears? I actually remember that near the end of the repair job on the Classic Allen I was starting to hear ugly things that I didn't want to believe were actually coming from that organ. When I said it out loud, my associate, who is 30 years younger and has superb hearing, said he didn't hear any such thing. And perhaps I was "hearing things" that weren't there. When I backed away and listening as he played, I didn't hear any of the annoying artifacts and distortion.

    So here's another of the many things we have to consider every day in this business. Can I really believe what I "think" I'm hearing? Or do my ears deceive me? It's especially worrisome during the usual allergy and cold seasons, when we're all prone to having hearing issues. Makes me wonder how good some of my favorite voicing jobs might sound to me if I went back and re-heard them under different conditions and with different hearing.
    John
    ----------
    Church: Allen MDS-45 with Allen MIDI-DIVISION-II expander
    Home: Allen Renaissance R-230 with expanded four-channel audio and MIDI-DIVISION-II
    Shop: Bunch of organs in varying conditions, some good, some not...
    Half of an incredible two-man organ service team -- servicing all the major digitals in Arkansas churches
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

    #2
    Like all human senses the ears can be deceived and be deceiving. At least you seem aware when your hearing isn't quite right and under those circumstances I suggest not doing any voicing or sound-critical work. Certainly having someone with you with good hearing is always a safeguard against major mis-voicing!

    I am also aware when my hearing is off, but with me it is usually a cold, and not an ear infection. But I wear hearing aids for a noise induced hearing loss in addition to congenital reduced overall hearing sensitivity--the hearing aids make my hearing closer to "flat", and I do have a limited selection of frequency response patterns to choose from with my aids.

    Comment


      #3
      John, two leading questions...
      How soon before Easter did you start having symptoms, and were there Easter lilies in the church or anywhere you were working? A lot of people seem to be allergic to Easter lilies, and that congestion might contribute to an ear or sinus infection.

      Comment


        #4
        I was just thinking last night how every year round this time I am scheduled for a required hearing test at work, and the last few years I always have a sinus infection when I'm scheduled. This year for some reason though I passed the test and didn't have to be scheduled for a re-test.

        Comment


          #5
          There may be a number of causes for ear infection. The most common of course is the common cold or flu etc but another is that water enters the ear canal and causes an external canal infection. This causes swelling and a very painful lump often blocking the ear canal. The outer ear produces wax which accumulates behind the lump and exacerbates the pressure and pain. I once had such an experience ant the ENT specialist had to resort to some rather drastic measures: Firstly he peered into my ear (as most good doctors do) and announced that he could not see my eardrum.... He then proceeded to dig around my ear with a tool that looks like a dentist's probe but with a loop on the end - scraping out what felt like half of my brain! Afterwards he put a funnel in my ear and proceeded to suck out the rest of my brain with a vacuum cleaner! Really!

          I have been blessed with very narrow ear canals and the slightest amount of water entering there cannot come out so I have to dry them out with ear buds. Every now and then I would get the warning symptoms of some infection coming on and my remedy is very simple: Dip the end of an ear bud in surgical alcohol or methylated spirits and rub into the ear canal as far as bearable. It burns like heck for a few seconds and one cleaning normally does the job. Never had an infection after that unpleasant first - and last- one about 40 years ago....

          Try it - its inexpensive and in my case very effective. However, be careful if you have tubes in your ears or a "burst" eardrum. Any alcohol that gets inside from the ear canal may be undesirable. Rather take the alcohol in the more conventional manner.

          Whenever I do one ear canal with the earbud-alcohol thing I reverse the earbud and do the other ear as well - cannot do any harm to have sterilized ear canals once in a while. And yes, I also have the tinnitus thing - but that comes from added years to the head in general....

          Nico
          "Don't make war, make music!" Hammonds, Lowreys, Yamaha's, Gulbransens, Baldwin, Technics, Johannus. Reed organs. Details on request...

          Comment


            #6
            Be careful flooding your ear canals with alcohol. It can lead to instant temporary drunkenness.

            Comment


              #7
              That is not my main problem - I need to be careful not to push the earbud in too deep. It sometimes comes out the other side of mine head...
              "Don't make war, make music!" Hammonds, Lowreys, Yamaha's, Gulbransens, Baldwin, Technics, Johannus. Reed organs. Details on request...

              Comment


                #8
                I'm surprised at how common it is for musicians (and other people too) to get ear infections. I used to think that was a childhood problem, because kids' eustachian tubes are not fully developed, and they're prone to getting germs trapped in their middle ear region. I know my kids had that a few times when they were growing up, but not after they got to be 10 years old or so. And I never remember having one until just the past few years.

                It's not Easter lilies. My infection must have started during Holy Week, before the lilies came out, though the deafness didn't hit until Sunday night. And the lilies were silk this year anyway. But we had a very rainy few weeks in February and March, so lots of trees and outdoor plants pollinating heavily this year. That could be a large part of it.

                When the doc looked in my ear, he seemed quite shocked. He said it looked like "bullous myringitis" and showed me some pics of that on Google. A very scary situation, looks like it could permanently damage an ear drum. But he felt the Z-pack was the right medicine, and it seemed to work.

                Today I'm quite a bit better, even planning to do a couple of easy local service calls. Been listening to some music on my headphones (I'm awake very early and didn't want to disturb my wife's sleep), and it sounds far more normal than it did yesterday. So I seem to have dodged the bullet again.

                Nico, I'm assuming that in South Africa an "ear bud" is what we call a "Q-tip" or "cotton swab" here -- short flexible sticks about 3" long with small cotton balls wrapped around each end. In the US, an "ear bud" is a very small device, normally used in pairs, one for each ear, connected to a phone or ipad for listening to music on the go. I had a hard time seeing one dipped in alcohol and shoved deep into your ear!
                John
                ----------
                Church: Allen MDS-45 with Allen MIDI-DIVISION-II expander
                Home: Allen Renaissance R-230 with expanded four-channel audio and MIDI-DIVISION-II
                Shop: Bunch of organs in varying conditions, some good, some not...
                Half of an incredible two-man organ service team -- servicing all the major digitals in Arkansas churches
                https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

                Comment


                  #9
                  Originally posted by jbird604 View Post
                  Nico, I'm assuming that in South Africa an "ear bud" is what we call a "Q-tip" or "cotton swab" here -- short flexible sticks about 3" long with small cotton balls wrapped around each end. In the US, an "ear bud" is a very small device, normally used in pairs, one for each ear, connected to a phone or ipad for listening to music on the go. I had a hard time seeing one dipped in alcohol and shoved deep into your ear!
                  Exactly right - our "ear buds" are the same as your "Q-tips" or "cotton swabs" - interestingly I believe some brands are even imported from the US.... Just goes to show how languages sometimes have interesting quirks. What you would call "ear buds" are called "ear phones" over here...

                  Sounds as though your ear problem is not allergy related, otherwise it would infect the middle ear due to fluid build-up. Might of course be where it started but that bulbous thing the doctor mentioned indicates that it is outside of the ear drum - a very painful affair! Good luck. Glad to hear that the medicine worked!

                  Nico
                  "Don't make war, make music!" Hammonds, Lowreys, Yamaha's, Gulbransens, Baldwin, Technics, Johannus. Reed organs. Details on request...

                  Comment


                    #10
                    Originally posted by jbird604 View Post
                    Like many of you, I use my ears every day to make judgments about sound. Out on a service call, I have to try to hear what the customer doesn't like about the organ, or wants changed. On an installation/voicing I make critical decisions about the level of each stop, sometimes note by note, as well as about timbre. I listen to speakers to try to spot defective drivers producing distortion. And at church I listen all the time to adjust my playing as needed, to the choir so I can give meaningful direction, to the worship leaders so I can stay on track.

                    Now, much like last year, a debilitating ear infection has struck, and at nearly the same time of year. In 2017, I was almost totally deaf when I played the organ and directed the choir on Easter Sunday morning. This year, I sensed a bit of muffling on Easter, though at the time I laid it off on the huge crowd in the room. Then the full blow of it hit me the day after, when I woke up once again nearly deaf, with a loud roaring in my head. Searching through old prescription bottles, I see that I often seem to get sick right around Easter, which really messes with one's hearing and possibly even other senses, including "common" sense!

                    This time around, thank God, the infection seems to be responding quickly to the Z-Pack, and I've recovered enough that I believe I'll manage to play and sing on Sunday, or at least play. And the biggest day of the year at church came and went without incident, so it could be much worse. But my fear is that it may well be worse next time, and time after that!

                    So I will make a concerted effort over the next year to try out the various preventatives that friends have been telling me about -- eating raw local honey every day, wearing a mask when working inside old churches (like the one where we repaired the ADC Classic just 10 or 12 days ago), taking certain supplements. I don't know, there are lots of suggestions, few of them scientifically proven. A couple of friends here have had ear tubes inserted, which seems like a last resort, but there is some evidence this really cuts down on ear troubles.

                    Worries me though to realize how drastically my perception of sound is altered by this. Even today -- with the fever and pain nearly gone, hearing level still below par but definitely on the mend, some tinnitus and roaring still going on -- I just tried practicing the organ and found it quite unsatisfactory. My lovely Allen R-230 sounds as granular and rough as the worst MOS I've ever heard. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that the speaker drivers are all shot, judging by the ragged, crude, buzzy tone in my ears.

                    Which brings up the question -- can I ever truly trust my ears? I actually remember that near the end of the repair job on the Classic Allen I was starting to hear ugly things that I didn't want to believe were actually coming from that organ. When I said it out loud, my associate, who is 30 years younger and has superb hearing, said he didn't hear any such thing. And perhaps I was "hearing things" that weren't there. When I backed away and listening as he played, I didn't hear any of the annoying artifacts and distortion.

                    So here's another of the many things we have to consider every day in this business. Can I really believe what I "think" I'm hearing? Or do my ears deceive me? It's especially worrisome during the usual allergy and cold seasons, when we're all prone to having hearing issues. Makes me wonder how good some of my favorite voicing jobs might sound to me if I went back and re-heard them under different conditions and with different hearing.



                    This is very interesting and a subject that I am passionate about.
                    I have spent my working life in industrial environments that were extremely noisy. Imagine standing behind a jet airliner taking off...I would be subjected to that kind of noise for hours every day.
                    Back in the 70's hearing protection was not mandated as strongly as it is these days.
                    It was no surprise that my hearing had deteriorated to the point that I succumbed to the urgings of my wife and got hearing aids.
                    Before the aids, I did not know that my car had a buzzer to indicate an open door.
                    I thought that all the birds and crickets had disappeared from the yard.
                    I avoided conversations with people especially in noisy areas because I did not understand them and was tired of saying "what?"
                    My wife took on the terrible habit of mumbling all the time...

                    This has, of course, changed after getting the (very expensive) hearing aids.

                    A couple of other observations after getting the aids...I found that the drawbar settings on my C2 needed to be changed, as it sounded too bright.
                    The treble control on the stereo in the shop and in the car had to be turned down.
                    My wife stopped mumbling.

                    There was also some sort of weird harmonic going on that drove me crazy until I figured out what it was. I had just put a B3 back together and was testing it out thru a PR40. I heard this trill sound, sort of like a higher frequency vibrato sound especially with higher notes.
                    It was like the sound you get when tuning an instrument...when the two are almost, but not quite the same, you get this oscillating effect.
                    I spent hours trying to locate the problem. While working on it the batteries on my aids went out and all of a sudden the noise stopped.
                    Come to find out that the noise was due to some sort of frequency harmonic going on with my hearing aids.

                    So, I knew what I was or was not hearing...but no one else did. My ears had in fact been deceiving me.

                    How are we to know exactly what we are hearing? As we age, there is a natural decrease in our perception of higher frequencies, everyone's changes at different rates.
                    Hearing any sound is not like looking at different colors...how does one describe a sound?

                    I have become very outspoken to those I come in contact with when I see that they may be abusing their hearing...if I can hear their music when they are listening with earbuds, or loud radios, or using lawnmowers and leaf blowers...I show them my aids and tell them how much they cost and how noise induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.
                    I would really like it if I did not have to wear these things, as it does not restore hearing to what it was originally.

                    Please, if you are reading this...protect your hearing.

                    Bob
                    In theory, there is no difference between theory and reality.
                    In reality, there is.
                    '54 C-2 & Pair of 122 Leslies
                    H-324/Series 10 TC
                    '35 Model A (Serial# 41) with a 21H
                    Look at some of my rescues:
                    https://www.flickr.com/photos/58226398@N03/albums

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Even now there are industrial environments where hearing protection is frowned upon or even disallowed. Many bosses don't want to have to try to overcome your hearing protection to get your attention.

                      I work in a place where in-ear rear protection is mandatory all the time. I suspect my hearing actually suffers due to this. My ears are almost always irritated, "plugged," and even infected since wearing ear plugs all the time.

                      Hearing is much less subjective than sight. You can sing a tone that you hear and it can be measured and collaborated. You cannot yourself produce colour. So if brown always looks blue to me and blue always looks yellow, how would anyone ever know?

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Great story, Bob. Thanks for the wise words. I too see far too many people abusing their hearing, and it gives me pause. My Dad suffered hearing loss from rifle range drills in WWII, and though he didn't ever get shot at, that was one "war wound" that stayed with him for the rest of his life. It's inexcusable that people who could be saving their hearing are throwing it away.

                        Sadly (and I'm not just saying this because I also don't like the stuff), loud rock-style music in church with an incessant high-decibel drum beat and vocalists screaming into microphones or, to be fair, some of them only sing at a normal level and it's the sound operator who cranks their voices up to the threshold of pain. But I am appalled that people go to a "house of worship" and are forced to sit through ear-damaging levels of sound that would be outlawed in a workplace (of course they're free to leave the "house of worship" any time, but most people will endure it for the hour, even if they never come back, and a lot of folks like it.)

                        When that rock band begins to caterwaul and assault people's ears with dangerous noise, no matter how "gospelly" the message, it's a stench in the nostrils of God.

                        (Rant over)
                        John
                        ----------
                        Church: Allen MDS-45 with Allen MIDI-DIVISION-II expander
                        Home: Allen Renaissance R-230 with expanded four-channel audio and MIDI-DIVISION-II
                        Shop: Bunch of organs in varying conditions, some good, some not...
                        Half of an incredible two-man organ service team -- servicing all the major digitals in Arkansas churches
                        https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

                        Comment


                          #13
                          I can't even imagine sticking around in such a "church."

                          Comment


                            #14
                            Originally posted by KC9UDX View Post
                            Even now there are industrial environments where hearing protection is frowned upon or even disallowed. Many bosses don't want to have to try to overcome your hearing protection to get your attention.

                            I work in a place where in-ear rear protection is mandatory all the time. I suspect my hearing actually suffers due to this. My ears are almost always irritated, "plugged," and even infected since wearing ear plugs all the time.

                            Hearing is much less subjective than sight. You can sing a tone that you hear and it can be measured and collaborated. You cannot yourself produce colour. So if brown always looks blue to me and blue always looks yellow, how would anyone ever know?

                            I don't know where you live, but industrial environments are regulated by state and federal OSHA agencies here in the US.
                            I was the Safety Director for many years at the places I worked.
                            Employers are mandated to insist that employees wear hearing protection if certain criteria are exceeded; 80db average over 8 hours.
                            Employees will be reprimanded for non compliance...it is for their own good.
                            Employers will be fined if these rules are broken.
                            If an employee feels that they are subjected to excessive noise levels, all it takes is an anonymous phone call to the local OSHA rep and they will come out and make a survey and require that the employer take steps to protect its employees.
                            No one can be forced to work in a noisy environment without proper hearing safeguards. It is against the law.

                            If your job requires verbal communications in a noisy area, there are devices that can accommodate such things and an employer is required to supply such devices.

                            I also wear foam plugs; when I was at work I wore them constantly. I wear them now when I am doing anything noisy...I want to maintain what little hearing I have and foam plugs are the most efficient method.
                            If you have issues with the foam, perhaps you need to switch to a silicone plug.
                            Be careful to not reuse foam plugs. Wash your hands before rolling and inserting.

                            Please consult an ENT if you have issues; ear infections are nothing to fool with. If I were you I would get your ears checked right away. I had trouble once with impacted ear wax that caused everything to sound muffled. I had to get it cleaned out by a doctor.
                            Hearing loss is forever and your quality of life will suffer.


                            Color can be measured exactly...go to a paint store and have a color matched. They will tell you exactly what the color is, and it can be duplicated exactly.
                            What you perceive as blue or brown is up to what your brain interprets.

                            Noise as a frequency can be measured, but the nuances of a sound is something that is harder to define because we never hear a pure tone in everyday life.
                            Play a note on a Hammond with a specific DB setting on a dozen different organ/speaker combinations and they will all sound different, even though theoretically the tone is generated the same way. Even if you intercept the tone at the tonewheel, no 2 will be exactly the same.
                            When my aids are in my ears, my C2 sounds different than with them out, even though the organ is generating the same sound...but only I know the difference.
                            Several people can sing the same note, but none will sound the same because the sound is not a pure tone.

                            This is why a hearing aid can only do so much to restore a person's hearing. To the aid, a noise is just a frequency whether it is a person's voice or background noise. You actually "hear" with your brain, which is a miraculous device. It can tell the difference between a voice and background noise, whereas your aid amplifies the frequency that it was determined that your ears cannot recognize...whether it is a voice or a dish breaking.
                            It took many months for me to acclimate to these aids. I had to train my brain to no longer try to "fill in" missing tonal nuances.

                            Please see a doctor about your ears. I would not wish hearing loss on anyone.

                            Interesting discussion.

                            Bob
                            In theory, there is no difference between theory and reality.
                            In reality, there is.
                            '54 C-2 & Pair of 122 Leslies
                            H-324/Series 10 TC
                            '35 Model A (Serial# 41) with a 21H
                            Look at some of my rescues:
                            https://www.flickr.com/photos/58226398@N03/albums

                            Comment


                              #15
                              Originally posted by Bobmann View Post
                              I don't know where you live, but industrial environments are regulated by state and federal OSHA agencies here in the US.
                              If Uncle Sam bans guns, no one will own guns, right?

                              It doesn't matter what kind of regulations there are. In my experience, only very large employers really follow OSHA regulations. No one dares call OSHA in a small company. No matter how anonymous it is, everyone knows who did it. And the company doesn't have to retaliate (but you can bank on the fact that the employee will get fired sooner or later). Other employees will. Why? Because if the company is fined by OSHA, all the employees suffer. Most people in smaller shops just don't have the means to quit and go somewhere else at any given time. In theory, OSHA could inspect every employer every month, and the company *might* be in compliance on that day, and that day only. Inspections will be passed and then everything goes back to business as usual after the inspection. I have worked in many places that operate this way. Even though I don't work at any of them any more, I still won't call OSHA. I don't desire for any former coworkers to be out on the street.

                              If you have issues with the foam, perhaps you need to switch to a silicone plug.
                              I have issues with anything I stick in my ears. I do it anyway. This is nothing new to me. My ears get inflamed if I wear earmuffs for extended periods, too.

                              Be careful to not reuse foam plugs. Wash your hands before rolling and inserting.
                              That's nice in theory, but not feasible, usually. I work in very dirty environments. I am required to wear ear plugs with strings. The strings get caught on things and the earplugs get ripped out of my ears. I would be in violation if I walked to the nearest place to wash my hands without putting the earplugs back in my ears. But this is not the issue. When I wear earplugs all day, my sinuses get infected, and often my ears, too. The solution is to work somewhere that I don't need ear protection. And that's just not going to happen.

                              Color can be measured exactly...go to a paint store and have a color matched. They will tell you exactly what the color is, and it can be duplicated exactly.
                              Sound perception can be measured, colour perception cannot. It doesn't matter what colour something is, exactly or not; everyone perceives the colour differently, probably.

                              What you perceive as blue or brown is up to what your brain interprets.
                              Precisely. We can measure and compare our audio frequency perception because we can emit sounds that match what we hear. We cannot emit colours. We can match paint, but that does not measure perception.

                              Please see a doctor about your ears. I would not wish hearing loss on anyone.
                              I am required to get my hearing checked yearly, and it was just this week. Beyond that, I go to a doctor if there is no alternative. And I sure don't go for long-term diagnosis. My family's well being comes before my hearing, or any other non-life-threatening issue I may have. The sad reality is that most of us who work 80 hours a week and do everything right just cannot afford non-essential medical services anymore.

                              Comment

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