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Taking back control

My name is Rupert Brown. I am a musician, producer and drum teacher – and, more importantly, a tinnitus sufferer.

Sadly, my story with tinnitus starts at the age of 22. In 1991, as a young drummer, I was honoured to be asked to play a series of gigs with Roy Ayers (an American jazz legend vibraphonist) at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. It was going so well that Roy and his manager asked me to continue the tour into America.

In the second week of the Ronnie Scott’s shows, I came off stage and I noticed a huge problem with the hearing in my left ear. As I left the club to find my car, I was struck down with this terrible realisation that I was experiencing the sudden onset of tinnitus. I was profoundly deaf in my ear and was left with eight different sounds and noises of tones, screams, bells and thunder. I shall endeavour to describe this awful audiological tragedy.

If one can imagine being alone on a lighthouse in the middle of the cold winter’s dark ocean, with bells striking a clock tower at the top of the building, waves crashing around me, wind howling and gusting uncontrollably. The knocking sounds of metal rigging hitting the flag pole and birds making screeching noises as they summon the energy to leave the desolate platform on which I am forced to stay.

The question I kept asking was, ‘Would I ever be able to make friends and have a relationship with that person (me) ever again?’ The terrifying isolation that I felt was instantaneous and I knew straight away that this was going to change my life. My new sonic landscape had changed immeasurably. My world spiralled so quickly after a short time with tinnitus. That night when I got home, I wrote in pen on the wall above my bed, “PLEASE GOD MAKE THIS GO AWAY”. (I’m not even a religious man!)

Despite this experience, I didn’t give up with the last week of the Roy Ayers residency. I carried on performing concerts twice nightly. I’m fairly certain that this made my problem permanent, but I do not regret any of my decisions and carry an immense amount of pride that I was able to find the strength in me to continue the gig. Unfortunately, doing so also meant I was unable to tour the USA, as I knew I had to seek professional help.

I wrote in pen on the wall above my bed, “PLEASE GOD MAKE THIS GO AWAY”

After seeing my doctor, who had no real help or advice for me, I had to wait eight months to get an appointment with an ENT specialist at the local hospital. While I was there, I had one of those special moments. I was in the waiting room next to the doctor. I could hear him on the phone and will never forget what he was saying…

“Okay, I’ll just get rid of this one quickly and we’ll see each other on the golf course.”

He was talking about me. When I spoke with the surgeon, he asked me one question: “Do you need to hear the music when you are playing your instrument?” I almost couldn’t reply. “Of course,” I said back to him. “In that case, you will have to stop playing,” the doctor replied.

For me, that was the turning point. Although there was so much wrong with the consultant’s conclusions, it gave me the strength to get to the bottom of this by myself, as I could see that I wasn’t going to get any help.

Although it was unbearable to start with, I managed to find solace in an innocuous little Toshiba tape cassette player. I found that if I pressed down play and record and pause at the same time, I could get this wonderful hissy white noise sound. After using this day and night, and even taking it on tour with me (much to the amusement of the airport staff and security), I was able to slowly take back control of my life again.

The eight tinnitus sounds started to become six, and then five, four, three and two, and I was finally left with one hissy sound which I could cope with, and I was comfortable to live with. I was able to completely get my musical life back on track and started to embark on my career again.

Creating the music for T-Minus has been an amazing experience – and at times, it’s also been incredibly scary, dark and emotional for me

I went on to play with some wonderful artists: Nigel Kennedy (tours and album), Cher (album), The Lighthouse Family (albums), Darryl Hall (album) and Robbie Robertson (album), to name but a few. Plus, I even ran a community Samba band with 111 members in it.

A few years down the line, I was touring with my band and the worst thing that could possibly happen to me occurred one night. I had the tinnitus injury all over again. This time it felt worse; and as I was older with more experience, I had more knowledge as to the extent and severity of my symptoms.

Going to the doctors at this time was poorly judged (by me), as I was told I had to have ear wax removed. A standard procedure for most people, but for me it was a total nightmare. The nurse was not experienced enough and didn’t take into account my past hearing issues. Now my problems were becoming insurmountable. The condition I had now – on top of the raging tinnitus – was called hyperacusis.

My tinnitus symptoms were so bad that I could not leave my house for months. All sounds had become excruciating for me, which as you can imagine, is an extraordinary problem for a musician.

This time (and armed with a recording studio and my knowledge from the Toshiba tape deck), I started to look into music and sound to get to the route of my tinnitus nightmare. I would go out for walks late at night and bathe myself with the distant sounds of nature, the sea, cars and other night-time ambiances. I knew I had to desensitise myself with these sounds.

I then started to put these sounds together and create tinnitus ‘mind environments’ in my studio. I have spent more than a year and a half making the most unique tinnitus sound library out there.

My tinnitus symptoms were so bad that I could not leave my house for months.

What I have learnt is that tinnitus sufferers are capable of helping ourselves! Creating the music for T-Minus has been an amazing experience – and at times, it’s also been incredibly scary, dark and emotional for me; it has opened up very deep wounds and sensitivities surrounding my own issues.

To find these sounds I would go out with a portable recorder to capture my natural found sounds. I would take these back to my studio to EQ these frequencies and blend multiple recordings with musical dialogue and occasionally adding subtle rhythms to create ‘mind environments’.

The reason for adding the music and putting various different waveforms together was to help the individual with the emotional wellbeing and good positive feeling towards the tinnitus-masking sounds: ie simple sounds like an old car indicator and the sound of a Citroen 2CV tyre turning slowly into a gravel road were emotional triggers from my own past that symbolised safety and feeling cared for, and the train music felt like I was going back to a time where I could remember grandparents and happy positive feelings.

This subject matter explores the idea of natural and unnatural elements working together in harmony to create a strange symbiosis that produces a uniquely personal journey into the mind and enables me to work with two very different sound environments. The challenge I set myself was to believe that I could somehow create ‘harmony’ and ‘beauty’ through conflict.

Scary and harrowing, I know. But as time softens those old tinnitus sounds via my own type of sound therapies, I’m able to reflect upon this experience and use these strange, mystical noises to create a new and exciting canvas of mind environments. These have greatly helped the over-stimulation of my mind by delivering tinnitus back to tinnitus, thus eventually dulling and quietening the relentless and maddening tones.

 


Rupert Brown is a musician, producer, music tutor and the developer of T-Minus, a free app that aims to help millions take back control of their tinnitus.

Hearing loss rife among Woodstock gen music lovers

Almost 50% of festivalgoers belonging to the original Woodstock 1969 generation now suffer from hearing loss, a new survey reveals.

The survey, conducted by the Harris Poll and commissioned by Danish hearing aid specialist Oticon, questioned over 1,000 US adults between the age of 65 to 80 who had reported listening to “loud or very loud music in their youth”.

Fifty years on from Woodstock, 36% of a self-proclaimed music-loving crowd – 71% of respondees reported music was a major part of their lives when they were young – now state that hearing difficulties negatively impacts their ability to listen to music to some extent.

Among those with hearing loss, 47% say they no longer enjoy music as much as they used to and 70% wish they could experience music as they did in the past.

The results suggest that, even if Michael Lang’s Woodstock 50 anniversary event had gone ahead as planned, it is unlikely that the original fans would have enjoyed themselves as much the second time around.

“We [now] know the long-term effects of noise on hearing health and the importance of protecting hearing to maintain the ability to enjoy music”

“The survey results demonstrate the far-reaching consequences of loud music listening on hearing health,” says Oticon president Gary Rosenblum.

“That’s an important message for young people today. We [now] know the long-term effects of noise on hearing health and the importance of protecting hearing to maintain the ability to enjoy music and conversation.”

Rosenblum urges those of the “Woodstock Generation” to address their hearing loss. 70% of those surveyed had never seen a health care professional about their hearing, and only 12% had ever used a hearing aid.

Exposure to loud noise also produces negative effects on music industry professionals, damaging their ability to sleep and sometimes provoking mental health risks.

Help Musicians UK is one charity safeguarding the hearing of those working in live, providing moulded hearing protection for 10,000 music professionals through the Hearing Health Scheme.

 


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Landmark legal win for musician with acoustic shock

A classical musician who suffered permanent hearing damage as a result of being exposed to noise levels of more than 130bB has won a legal victory over the Royal Opera House (ROH), in a judgment that could have wide-ranging implications for the British music industry.

Chris Goldscheider, a ROH viola player, suffered ‘acoustic shock’ – a condition with symptoms including pain, tinnitus and nausea, caused by hearing an unexpected loud sound – during a rehearsal for a performance of Wagner’s The Valkyrie in September 2012. Goldscheider was seated in the opera house’s orchestra pit (pictured), where peak noise levels reached 130.8dB – louder than a modern jet engine – according to the High Court judgment.

Goldscheider’s claim centred on the orchestra’s alleged violation of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, which compel employers to reduce the risk to employees’ health by controlling the noise they are exposed to while at work.

Finding in Goldscheider’s favour, judge Nicole Davies said there is a “clear factual and causal link between identified breaches of the regulations and the high level of noise which ensued at the rehearsal. It commenced with an inadequate risk assessment, [and] continued with a failure to undertake any monitoring of noise levels in the cramped orchestra pit with a new orchestral configuration which had been chosen for artistic reasons.”

While the musician wore earplugs during “those parts of the rehearsal when he felt he needed them”, according to court documents, the noise from the brass section behind him was still “overwhelming”.

“Sound is not a byproduct of an industrial process but is an essential part of the product itself”

Goldscheider “now lives a relatively quiet life”, and “has learnt to avoid the noises which trigger the symptoms – for example, the vibrations from a large supermarket fridge or the noise in a restaurant”. His injuries, he says, have “decimated his professional life and made his partner’s professional life very difficult, as she is a member of the ROH orchestra”.

In a statement to the BBC, the ROH says it had received medical advice that long-term hearing damage could not be caused by an isolated incident of exposure to live music. “We have been at the forefront of industry wide attempts to protect musicians from the dangers of exposure to significant levels of performance sound, in collaboration with our staff, the Musicians’ Union, acoustic engineers and the Health and Safety Executive,” says a spokesperson.

“Although this judgment is restricted to our obligations as an employer under the Noise Regulations, it has potentially far-reaching implications for the Royal Opera House and the wider music industry.

“We do not believe that the Noise Regulations can be applied in an artistic institution in the same manner as in a factory – not least because in the case of the Royal Opera House, sound is not a byproduct of an industrial process but is an essential part of the product itself.”

“This has been a complex case and we will consider carefully whether to appeal the judgment,” the venue concludes.

Damages payable to Goldscheider will be assessed at a later date.

 


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Amsterdam noise law under fire as ‘fans louder than bands’

A Dutch booking agent has harshly criticised Amsterdam’s new noise regulations, saying the 85dB volume limit on concerts or festivals near residential areas could threaten the city’s live music scene by deterring people from putting on shows.

In a Facebook post shared by EventBranche.nl, Wim Franke, owner of agency/event planner World of Bookings, compares the recently introduced noise cap to “asking motorists to drive at a maximum of 50kph on motorways” and says it may lead to live music events “disappearing from our streets”.

Framke was responding to an article by local news site GrootSneek, which reported that artists performing at the SneekWeek festival in Sneek – where the volume was also capped at 85dB – earlier this month were drowned out by the noise of the crowd, with visitor numbers suffering as a result. “When the sound produced by the crowd drowns out the band’s music, something is not right,” writes editor Wim Walda.

The new sound ordinance – incorrectly reported in some publications as being introduced this month – was passed by Amsterdam City Council in July, and allows for three “sound-intensive” days of music per year, such as large outdoor festivals, when the noise cap is lifted. An exception is also made for a number of city-centre spots, including the Zuidas financial district, the Museumplein and the N1 festival park in Westpoort.

“When the sound produced by the crowd drowns out the band’s music, something is not right”

It also bans ‘flown’ subwoofers, which Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad reports will make it difficult to stage concerts featuring genres “that tend to have heavy bass, such as hardcore techno or reggae”.

Despite this, a spokesperson for the city council says it does not expect the lower noise limit to negatively affect the number of concerts held in Amsterdam.

Although Amsterdam is the first Dutch city to pass such a stringent noise ordinance, the Netherlands has led the way in promoting measures to combat hearing damage, especially in the young: Promoters’ association VNPF is a signatory to the Music Industry Covenant to Prevent Hearing Damage and one town is going to so far as to hand out free earplugs to all 16-year-olds to protect against hearing damage “when visiting concerts and festivals”.

According to the Dutch National Hearing Foundation, a third of under-30s have left a festival after not being able to stand the volume.

 


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Styx to play world-first show for hearing aid wearers

The final show of Styx’s United We Rock US tour will make live music history by being the first concert broadcast directly to viewers’ hearing aids.

Sound engineers for the 22 August show, at PNC Bank Arts Center (17,500-cap.) in Holmdel, New Jersey, will capture the audio feed from the sound desk and deliver it via the website of manufacturer Oticon to wearers of the company’s hearing aids.

The broadcast, says Oticon, is designed to both “illustrate the high-tech capabilities of a new generation of internet-connected hearing aids” and raise awareness of hearing loss.

“It’s estimated that only 20% of people who could benefit from hearing aids seek help, with many waiting up to 10 years before they purchase a hearing aid,” explains Sheena Oliver, vice-president of of Oticon. “By partnering with Styx and their millions of loyal fans, we’re helping to take the stigma out of hearing aids and allowing people with hearing loss to enjoy a quality of sound they may not have experienced since their youth.”

According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, some 20% of Americans (48m people) experience some degree of hearing damage.

The issue attracted international attention in May, when it emerged that Craig Gill, the late drummer for the Inspiral Carpets, had taken his own life after suffering with “unbearable” hearing loss.

Late Craig Gill suffered “debilitating tinnitus”

Writing for the Live Music Exchange blog in 2015, Chris Adams (aka musician Piet Haag), who suffers from tinnitus, said there is a “symbolic lack of understanding” among those working in live music as to “how our ears work”.

“The anatomical workings of the ear, a marvel of evolution, aren’t much different in principle from everyday human-made sound-related transducers, like microphones, earbuds and speakers,” he writes. “Yet so long as they remain little understood by the general population, people – and particularly those regularly engaged with the consumption of live and/or recorded  will unnecessarily damage their hearing. […]

“In the absence of any viable medical ‘repair’ option, the only solution is prevention through education.”

Among the organisations working to educate live music professionals on the dangers of hearing damage are Sound Advice, Action on Hearing Loss, the National Hearing Foundation in the Netherlands and the UK’s Musicians’ Union.

As in many things (tolerance, festival funding, variety of cheeses), the Dutch are currently leading the way: Promoters’ association VNPF is a signatory to the Music Industry Covenant to Prevent Hearing Damage and one town is going to so far as to hand out free earplugs to all 16-year-olds to protect against hearing damage “when visiting concerts and festivals”.

 


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Late Craig Gill suffered “debilitating tinnitus”

The wife of Craig Gill, the late Inspiral Carpets drummer, has told a coroner’s court her husband took his own life after his tinnitus became “so unbearable he felt there was no cure”.

After an inquest into his death returned an open verdict, Rosie Marie Gill said in a statement the drummer had no history of depression but had “suffered in silence” with hearing damage for 20 years. (Senior coroner Joanne Kearsley said while it was clear Gill, who died aged 44 last November, had committed suicide, she could not be certain he had intended to kill himself, according to BBC News.)

“For the past 20 years, Craig suffered from debilitating tinnitus, a condition caused by not protecting his hearing when enjoying the careers he loved the most: a successful musician, DJ and love of listening to music,” said Mrs Gill.

“His condition affected his day-to-day wellbeing and he suffered in silence with both sleep deprivation and anxiety.

“Although we struggle with the day-to-day existence of life without Craig, we are now able to discuss and promote awareness of tinnitus and men’s mental health. It takes courage for men to speak out, to talk to one another, to share their thoughts and their fears.

“If you are one of those men, like Craig, we urge you to reach out to those you love and find comfort in sharing your pain.”

“It takes courage for men to speak out, to talk to one another, to share their thoughts and their fears”

Writing for the Live Music Exchange blog in 2015, Chris Adams (aka musician Piet Haag), who suffers from tinnitus, said there is a “symbolic lack of understanding” among those working in live music as to “how our ears work”.

“The anatomical workings of the ear, a marvel of evolution, aren’t much different in principle from everyday human-made sound-related transducers, like microphones, earbuds and speakers,” he writes. “Yet so long as they remain little understood by the general population, people – and particularly those regularly engaged with the consumption of live and/or recorded  will unnecessarily damage their hearing. […]

“In the absence of any viable medical ‘repair’ option, the only solution is prevention through education.”

Among the organisations working to educate live music professionals on the dangers of hearing damage are Sound Advice, Action on Hearing Loss, the National Hearing Foundation in the Netherlands and the UK’s Musicians’ Union.

As in many things (tolerance, festival funding, variety of cheeses), the Dutch are currently leading the way: Promoters’ association VNPF is a signatory to the Music Industry Covenant to Prevent Hearing Damage and one town is going to so far as to hand out free earplugs to all 16-year-olds to protect against hearing damage “when visiting concerts and festivals”.

 


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Dutch 16-year-olds given free earplugs for shows

The municipality of Westervoort, in Gelderland (Guelders) province in the eastern Netherlands, is to provide free earplugs for those turning 16 in a bid to combat hearing damage from the “excessive volume” at concerts.

Local paper Westervoort Plaza reports that, as of 15 May, those approaching their 16th birthday will be sent a letter from the council advising them of the “need for protective measures, [such as] earplugs, when visiting concerts and festivals”. As a birthday present, young people will be provided with a set of “quality earplugs” specially designed for use with live music.

Westervoort alderman Arthur Boone says the scheme has been “received very well by [local health authority] Veiligheid en Gezondheidsregio Gelderland Midden and the National Hearing Foundation”, the latter of which is campaigning for a legal noise limit for live music.

“Worringly, earplugs are not standard on the list of what young people take to concerts, such as phone, money, ID and keys”

“Worryingly,” comments Boone, “earplugs are not standard on the list of what young people take to concerts, such as their phone, money, ID, keys…

“Alarmingly so, when you consider that damage to the ears is irreversible, and that young people can suffer the rest of their lives with a constant buzzing noise.”

The paper estimates the cost of hearing damage to the Dutch exchequer at being in the “millions of euros per year”, citing increased spending on disability payments and treatment for mental health problems.

 


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Lower volume and win new business, promoters told

The Dutch Nationale Hoorstichting (National Hearing Foundation) is calling on the government to create a legal noise limit for live music after finding a third of under-30s have left festivals after not being able to stand the volume.

Surveying over 1,044 18-to-30-year-olds, the foundation also discovered that of those young people who had never attended a music festival, 73% blame fear of excessively loud music as the reason for their staying away – and that while a majority of respondents said promoters should be responsible for providing information on hearing protection, 43% have never seen any such guidance.

“As the research shows, nearly half of festival visitors have never been been informed about hearing loss by organisers,” says Hearing Foundation spokeswoman Kelly Coenen, “yet many young people walk away because the music is too loud. That must change.”

“Because the research shows that many young people who never go to festivals do not only because of loud music, there are clearly opportunities there”

She adds, however, that the figures also a commercial opportunity for promoters: “Because the research also shows that many young people who never go to a festival do not only because of [overly] loud music, there are clearly opportunities there for festival organisers.”

Dutch industry associations VNPF and VVEM committed to tackling music-induced hearing loss with the launch of the Convenant Preventie Gehoorschade Muzieksector (Music Industry Covenant to Prevent Hearing Damage), although Coenen notes that there are “still too many [promoters] who do not belong to the covenant”.

 


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Pill to prevent hearing loss trialled at ADE

Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) will this year hand out pills to attendees it hopes will protect against hearing damage.

The tablets, containing magnesium and a combination of vitamins, are still subject to further research, but Jan de Laat of Leyden University Medical Centre, one of the Netherlands’ leading audiologists, says initial tests are “very promising”. “Vitamins and magnesium may indeed affect [positively] the functioning of cells,” he says in today’s De Telegraaf.

Ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist Liane Tan says teens may benefit most from the pills: “Earplugs are quite normal for festivalgoers in their late twenties,” she comments. “But young people who are just starting out and listening to music still know too little about the importance of hearing.”

The 2016 event will see the launch of new component ADE Live, which from 20 to 21 October will see up-and-coming DJs play live in venues throughout Amsterdam, including the Melkweg, Paradiso and Sugar Factory. “Live music takes an increasingly prominent place within dance music, and there is a growing need for a platform [tailored] specifically to this genre,” says a statement from ADE. “ADE Live provides ADE visitors, from curious music lovers to programmers, the chance to discover emerging artists [playing to] a full house.”