Posted on: December 13, 2013

One of the strangest mysteries in recent years is the case of a peculiar noise which has been heard all over the world, but which can only be detected by a small number of people. Those who can hear it have been quite traumatised by it, even in one case in the UK, driven to suicide. It is popularly known as the Taos Hum, after Taos, New Mexico, USA, where residents reported hearing the noise in 1992. In Australia it is known as the Bondi Hum, and in the UK the Bristol Hum. It is a persistent low-frequency sound, usually described as sounding like a distant diesel engine idling, or an aircraft.

It is usually heard indoors (although not exclusively so), and there have been cases where one person has heard it, but the person next to them hasn’t. Naturally this has led some skeptics to say that it is simply a case of tinnitus, a claim which has been hotly refuted by those plagued by this phenomenon. It is usually heard at night, and mostly in rural or suburban areas, probably because in uurban areas there would be too many other noises around to drown it out. According to an article on LiveScience website, the people most afflicted by it tend to be in the 55-70 age range.

There are reports of the noise dating back to the 1940s in London and Southampton, and certainly the earliest cases of it do seem to come from the UK. In the late 1950s people reported hearing “a most unusual noise”. In 1979 an outbreak of it in Bristol hit the daily newspapers, and I do vaguely remember hearing the case of a woman who had been driven so distracted by it, that she had run out of her house screaming. In recent decades the noise has also been heard in the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Italy.

The noise can have a very traumatising effect on those who hear it. Some have also complained of nasty physical side-effects, such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, nosebleeds and sleep disorders. Pensioner Katie Jacques of Leeds, UK, described it as “a kind of torture, sometimes you just want to scream”. One resident of Bondi, Australia said “it sends people around here crazy”, and said they often had to put on music or electric fans to try and drown it out.

In 2006 some residents of Auckland, New Zealand were putting their homes up for sale, or were driven to taking anti-anxiety pills because of the noise. The same problem was reported by residents of Hythe, Hampshire, UK in October 2012. One person described it as “a really low-pitched sound that literally pulsates through the house”. Half a tiny Northumberland village was also plagued by it (curiously, the other half wasn’t).

Low frequency noise has been cited as harmful to mental health, and I suspect one retired postal-worker would agree. She told the Mail Online that the noise had affected her so much that she found herself hating her husband and her house, and would go off for long drives simply to escape the damned thing. Low frequency noise has been linked to aggressive behaviour, and many have pointed out the interesting fact that people often feel calmer when away from electrical grids and mobile phone transmitters.

The Hum does have one fan though it would seem. Someone commented on the Live Science website that she had heard the noise whilst sitting in her garden one afternoon, and said because of it she had drifted off into “a most interesting lucid dream”, and added “it is relaxing, it helps me to stop thinking”.

Many explanations have been mooted for the cause of the noise (other than tinnitus), including industrial noises, fracking, high-pressure gas lines, electrical power lines, low-frequency electromagnetic radiation, very faint earth tremors, and even mating fish! Whatever the true cause of the noise, there is no denying that it can have a devastating effect on many of the people who hear it. And for that reason it would be good to find an explanation for it.

* The Hummadruz – I was recently reading the Fortean Times collection of ‘It Happened To Me Vol.1’, in which witnesses were describing the inexplicable feeling of panic (the word “panic” itself comes from the Greek god Pan, who ruled over wild, rural areas) that can come over people when walking in isolated countryside. Some have noted hearing a strange buzzy noise, called the Hummadruz, at such times. One witness stated that the Hummadruz had been named by celebrated naturalist Gilbert White, who lived in the 18th century, so clearly this strange noise has been around for quite some time. I’m sure there is a lot more information to be found on this subject.

UPDATE: 19 January 2016 – BBC News website carried an article which said residents of Bristol had been plagued by the Hum for the past fortnight. An Expert said it was probably traffic news.  (I think most people have a pretty shrewd idea what traffic noise sounds like).  In Manchester in 2015 it was put down to wind blowing round Beetham Tower, and in Hythe, Hampshire it was explained as mating fish.



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