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From the Files of the River Journal's Surrealist Research Bureau

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Strange Hummers I Have Known

A fellow devotee of strange phenomena and the surreal recently spoke to me about a peculiar humming noise he’d been hearing recently, usually just before retiring for the evening, a dull buzzing tone running through his ears almost nightly. I think I murmured something about tinnitus, a common condition of the inner ear that usually begins in one’s 50s and 60s. Now I’m not so sure.

Certain areas of the world are well known for their occasional mysterious background “hums”: Arizona’s so-called “Phoenix Hum” springs most readily to mind, as does the “singing sands” of the Sahara Desert and the lonely moors around Bristol, England. Because the hums are so hard to hear, most reports seem to be concentrated in places where noise pollution is scant. (The Saharan hums, for instance, are thought to be produced by wind-blown sand in a combination of microseismic activity and electrostatic discharges from the dunes.)

Most humans, however, cannot usually hear infrasound, though the increasing instrumentation of our world has brought forth some surprising revelations. Statistical data on infrasound arrival detection monitors at CIA headquarters in Washington, D.C. has indicated that most unknown infrasound sources can be triangulated (for some unknown reason) to the remote wilds of Argentina. (Most known sources can be traced to volcanic action, earthquakes, and auroras.)

Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is another famous locale with its own distinctive humming sound. (My own guesstimate would be the many geysers or vulcanism causes it.) I’ll quote only one of many possible remarks about the area; “We heard early in the bright morning the vibrating clang of a harp lightly but rapidly touched high up above the trees, or perhaps the sound of telegraph wires swinging regularly in the breeze.”

Unknown hums, usually of a more musical nature, are often heard over the oceans as well, as this Scientific American Extract will show: “We lay at anchor one night approximately 50 miles off the west coast of Florida and heard most distinctly a very curious musical note. It consisted of a single note and was continuous for nearly an hour. It recalled the singing of telephone wires in the wind or the music of a harp. It occasionally grew nearer and louder, then receded and came back. It was of sufficient loudness to awaken a majority of the crew, who came on deck to see what was causing it.”

Tests of the hearing of those people who hear these hums (as opposed to those who don’t) indicate these hums are approximately 40 HZ, modulated at 1.6 HZ (New Scientist) and one prominent scientist has theorized the possibility that the jet stream shearing against lower, more slowly moving air strata might generate enough sound at (surprise!) 40 HZ to account for the hum.

Even Marco Polo related how, crossing the Gobi Desert by night, his caravan was besieged by weird noises, as of moaning demons, while Old Du Bartas describes quite graphically in his poems, “And ‘round about the desert air, where oft’ the strange phantasms wail aloft.”

Perhaps finally, poor Edgar Poe, in his epic “The Bells,” wasn’t hearing a “clang” so much as a hum when he states, “In the silence of the night/How we shiver with affright/ At the melancholy menace of their tone!/ For ev’ry sound that floats/from the rust within their throats/Is a groan/And who tolling, tolling, tolling/in that muffled monotone/Feel a glory in so rolling/On the human heart a stone----/They are Ghouls!”

Note to readers; Most of the info quoted about “hums” in the above article can be found in a remarkable series of Sourcebook Catalogs by William Corliss, the present volume being #3, “Earthquakes, Tides, Unidentified Sounds and Related Phenomena.”


Check these sites for more information:


Singing Sands

Yellowstone Whispers

Scientific American

William Corliss

Corliss Books



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Jody Forest Jody Forest When he's not hidden behind the palatial gates of his Dover estate, Casa de Bozo, Jody is out using outdated and corny pickup lines on various gullible women.

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