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Mark Allen
Director , Screenwriter , Composer
542,311 views| 255  Posts

Staring at the Sun

Everyone knows not to stare at the sun. It's not hard to figure out, your body instantly turns away from it and closes your eyes if you accidentally glimpse it.  And even one glimpse can be damaging.   The damage shows up instantly.

But what if it didn't?  What if the affects of staring at the sun were not felt for 10 maybe even 20 years?  What if the sensation of looking at the sun was interesting.  Can you imagine how many people would discover years later that they were going blind?  They would be shocked.  Even-though they might have known others who went blind - they were just old people so they were dismissed as just aging and the youth would assume this could not happen to them.

But this is exactly what is happening with sound and our ears.

Hearning damage does not show up instantly always.  In fact, it can take up to 20 years or more to show up.  This was discussed a little bit in the news when President Clinton had some hearing loss show up during his term in office - and they even said "This is true for many people his age who 20 years earlier were attending concerts often."  But somehow it was overlooked.

In addition to hearing loss, there is tinnitus - which to some people is worse than the loss of hearing.  Tinnitus is a constant ringing in the ears.   Many people have this and it doesn't bother them, others have it and it controls their lives.  It depends on the actual volume of the tinnitus and the way the person's mind works.  (Someone inclined to have OCD is much more affected by it adversely for example.)

In the music industry - it's extraordinarily common for musicians and engineers to have hearing loss as well as tinnitus, but it is never spoken about because people don't want others to know they have any remote type of disability.   However, sometimes musicians will sneak it into lyrics just as all artists feel compelled to share truth.

Here are some examples....  ( more from www.ringingears.net )

Bob Dylan - Call Letter Blues - “My ears are ringing, ringing like empty shells… Well, it can’t be no guitar player.Must be…convent bells”

Peter Frampton - “I wonder how you’re feeling….there’s ringing in my ears….and no one to relate to…except the sea….Who can I believe in? ”

Robert Plant - Stairway to Heaven - “You´re head is humming and it won´t go in case you don´t know…”Bob Seger - Turn the Page - “Later in the evening as you lie awake in bed, with the echo from the amplifiers ringing in your head.”

Nine Inch Nails - Something I Can Never Have - “I still recall the taste of your tears. Echoing your voice just like the ringing in my ears.”

Nine Inch Nails - The Becoming - “I can try to get away but I’ve strapped myself in. I can try to scratch away the sound in my ears. I can see it killing away all of my bad parts. I don’t want to listen but it’s all to clear. Hiding backwards inside of me I feel so unafraid. Annie, hold a little tighter I might just slip away. It wont give up. It wants me dead. Goddamn this noise inside my head”

U2 - Staring At The Sun - “…There’s an insect in your ear, if you scratch it won’t disappear, its gonna itch and burn and sting, you wanna see what the scratching brings…waves that leave me out of reach, breaking on your back like a beach, will we ever live in peace? as those that can’t do, often have to preach, to the ones, staring at the sun……” What I find amazing though is that even though this industry is very aware of the problem.... eventhough these musicians who obviously suffer from the affliction (note the U2 and NIN lyrics in particular) no one is actually turning down the volume.

Once sound goes over 85 decibels, damage can start occurring with extended exposure in healthy ears (damaged ears will have more damage at lower levels).   At 150db, you will have damage no matter what, for sure even for a moment.  It might not show up for 20 years.  And today rock concerts are peaking up near 150 db. 

I do not understand how or why a band would knowingly damage their fans.

Things being loud though seem impressive.  Auditorially it doesn't help - the ears have a threshold of perception and these crazy blasting concerts are way beyond that threshold.   It sounds the same or worse.  The difference is the impression.  You feel  it in your body and the loudness makes it feel like something important is happening.   Ironically - it's your body telling you a warning that is being misinterpreted.

Even movies are starting to play way beyond the level of necessity.  I see more and more people holding their ears in a movie theater now  and then.  That's ridiculous.

Awareness is too slow though - more and more children as early as age 10 are starting to show signs of hearing damage from mp3 players.  (This is why, by the way Apple frustrated many people by capping the volume on their ipods - but they are still loud enough to cause damage.)

So here are some well studied numbers to keep in mind.

If your hears are damaged already, your exposure time and level is going to be greatly reduced, but totally undamaged ears would have the following limits:

85 db (volume of traffic) for 8 hours

95 db (volume of a lawn mower) under 1 hour

105 db (volume of a tractor or most people's walkmans) less than 4 minutes

115 db (volume of an average rock concert or leaf blower) 30 seconds

145 db (fire works up close, gun shot, rock concert peaks) instant damage.

So - if you're in the industry of creating shows - it's something to think about.  You need to know what you're doing to the people who attend your shows.   

The biggest problem is that no one really has anything to gain right now from lowering the volume.  Show creators feel that people like it loud (though I have been hearing more and more complaints from people)... DJ's, clubs, venues, rock promoters, even film theaters all seem to think people want loud and they want to give people what they want.   Sometimes though I think people have to say "well... they may want this... but that's not what is best for them, so let's try to respect the people who respect us and turn the volume down a bit."  I mean, people like things sweet, but we don't feed everyone chocolate cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Why am I writing about this right now?  In the past month, two people who worked at clubs as waitresses have told me about their hearing loss, many musicians have talked about it over the years and two musicians are recently dealing with an increase in their problem.   If you're reading this at 20, it may not make any sense... and you may not think that it will matter when you're 30.  But, trust me... it matters when you're thirty.

So think about it for yourself... but also think about it for your people.  You want to have a long relationship with you fans.  You want them to be able to hear your music for a lifetime.  If we're a community of artists and artisans, we should be thinking about this.

If you're interested in reading some celebrity quotes and stories about their tinnitus, you can visit http://members.fortunecity.com/nrbq1/tinnitus.html where there are many listed. 

over 12 years ago 0 likes  6 comments  0 shares
Photo 37580
Very intersting. My dad was/is a bass player who played in lots of bands touring world wide well before I was born. But due to that he's pretty much completely deaf in his left ear. I almost never go to concerts because I remember hating them when I was little, the sound hurt too much heh.
over 12 years ago
Photo 22998
Sadly ear plugs are not enough even and paper is exponentially less protection than foam. Even 30 db ear plugs have an effective use of around 23 db normally. And even more - volume travels in the mouth and through the skin and even via bone conduction to the nerves in the ear (which can break). Concerts and even clubs are playing a sustained 130 db now. subtract 23 and you'r at 107. You can sustain that for less than 4 minutes. Even a quiet concert with ear plugs the max would be around an hour before guaranteed damage. It's really a very unfortunate phenomenon. I don't know what it will take to change the tide, but many people will be suffering in the future (and are suffering already)... yet... no one asks the DJ to turn it down, it's always "turn it up."
over 12 years ago
Photo 22998
Moonchild - audio travels at different bandwidths so that's possible. There are things called "musicians ear plugs" which are designed to block everything some - but it notches down in the speaking range so that people can still hear eachother talk (I think it's the 3 to 4 KHZ range for voice). It's possible somehow you were cutting out the lows and highs (booms and squeals) with your ear covering though I can't imagine anything but earplugs has too much of an effect.
over 12 years ago

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April 13, 2007