Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Music in the Noise

The other morning after breakfast, I lay down on the couch with a cup of coffee. I was lying there, more or less just drifting in and out, when I heard it again. That music.

Just within the past week, you see, I've begun running my humidifier, as I do during the colder months of the year. The humidifier fan motor was going thrummm, thrummm, thrummmmm in the early morning living room. And in the thrumming of the fan, I heard that music. Distant, faint, but distinct and unmistakable. Sounded like some band jamming on the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas.

This is a phenomenon— this "music in the noise"— which I first noticed when I was nine or ten, and on hot summer nights I would have a window fan running in my bedroom. And in the thrumming of the window fan, I would hear distant music. Faint but distinct. If I hadn't known better, I would've thought someone was playing a radio in a far distant room of the house.

The music in the noise. I've mentioned it to other people over the years, and I've discovered that I'm not alone. Several other folks have responded that they too have experienced this phenomenon. "Not just like music in your head, but like a radio playing softly far off." Distinct and detailed, perhaps somewhat more repetitive than regular music.

In his novel Desolation Angels, Jack Kerouac mentions it, too:
We know it all, we heard the heavenly music one night driving along in the car, "Did you hear that?" I had just heard clangor of music suddenly in the motor-humming room of the car— "Yes" says Cody, "what is it?" He'd heard.

I'm sure somebody out there who's versed in the psychology of perception could enlighten us on the how and what of this "music in the noise." It seems to me sort of like an aural analogue to the patterns you see in floor tiles, even when the floor tiles are all identical and the same color. (What? You mean you don't see patterns in the floor tiles? But surely everybody does... ;-)

Thrumm, thrummm, thrummmm... Buried in the noise of the fan motor are guitar twang, and piano, and tinny muffled brass... "All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres..."



Blogger Caltechgirl said...

I can totally relate to this. For some reason white noise morphs into music in my head. Also sometimes it sounds like a radio playing far in the distance where I can't quite make out the words. That's one of the reasons I have 3 ticking clocks in my bedroom. The rhythms change against each other and hearing the music helps me sleep.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004 7:23:00 PM  

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