Perfect Hearing

Intro from Jay Allison: Documentary Photographer Nubar Alexanian has been contributing images and ideas to Transom since the beginning. This is his first try at radio. As he says, "There’s too much narrative here." But, this story could not be told well in pictures. It’s about hearing. Impaired hearing. And acceptance and love and endurance and other messages hidden beneath the surface, if we can receive them. In fact, there’s no overt narrative here at all. That was the challenge. "Perfect Hearing" was produced with Nubar’s daughter Abby and me, with help from the CPB-funded Open Studio Project, Transom’s sometime artist-in-residence program, and Viki Merrick.

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Listen to “Perfect Hearing”

Notes from Nubar

I never imagined doing a piece for radio. Ever. There’s way too much narrative here.
It’s not just that I know little about narrative forms. The real problem is that I’ve spent a lifetime portraying OTHER people. But I had a story I wanted to tell. So I had to come out from behind the camera. (It wasn’t bad at first. I convinced myself I could do a first-person piece about a disability I’ve lived with for more than ten years without it being about me. No problem.)

In 1991 I developed a condition called Tinnitus, or ringing in the ear (involving both ears in my case.). It started just after our daughter, Abby Rose, was born. There are many things that can cause this condition. What’s amazing is that 44 million people have tinnitus in the U.S. with more than 12 million having it severely, as I do. It’s also the same problem Van Gogh supposedly had which forced him to cut his ear off and deliver it in person to Rachel, his favorite prostitute.

Abby & Nubar
Abby and Nubar Alexanian co-produced this story with Jay Allison. Photo: Rebecca Koch

Important to me personally was that producing this piece would allow me to actually “share” what I hear with my family and friends, transforming an abstract condition into something concrete.

I started working with my friend Jay Allison last spring. After a short interview, his instructions were straightforward, “Show us what it sounds like.” I recorded some sounds, made a list of stuff that should be included and as summer arrived, I hired my 14-year-old daughter to work in my office. One of her jobs was to transcribe tapes.

Abby and I talked about the material. When Transom’s Viki Merrick heard about our conversations, she suggested/insisted that I record them. The story ended up turning on these “production meetings.”

I know nothing about narrative structure, nothing about beginnings, middles, and endings. I didn’t know how to begin. After talking this through with Jay and friend Sandy Tolan, they both suggested I talk with Abby and get her advice. Which was: “Dad, we have lots of middle. No beginning and nothing even close to an ending.”

In the end, I approached it the same way I approach editing still photographs: look for what is strong and let it lead the way. Jay and I began editing not from a script but from the audio, and quickly got to the point where the piece had a life of its own (which included a couple of overzealous wrong turns.) We had four or five editing sessions, after which, if we made enough progress on the edit, we jumped into his boat and fished for dinner (successful, except for the one time when I brought a cutting board and fillet knife with us on the boat).

Jay in Studio...
Jay Allison in Studio. Photo: Nubar Alexanian

The ending was a surprise to both of us. I’m still not sure how it happened. Is this it? Is this the end? Let’s call Viki and have her listen.

I can’t say enough about working with Jay and Transom. Everyone comes away feeling this way. They made it easy for someone like me, fluent in one medium, to take risks in an entirely new one. It was an amazing experience!

Tech Info

I worked very simply, using a small Sony DAT recorder with a Sennheiser ME 80 (along with a Sennheiser ME 25 when I needed to record in stereo, like with the wine glasses). Head phones were those cool Bose Noise Reduction headphones. Jay edited and mixed the piece in Pro Tools. We both work on Macs.

Music from In This House on This Morning by Wynton Marsalis.


Additional support for this work provided by
Open Studio Project
with funding from the
Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Nubar Alexanian

About
Nubar Alexanian

Nubar Alexanian was born in 1950 in Worcester, Massachusetts. He became passionate about photography while studying at Boston University, and later co-founded the Essex Photographic Workshop in Essex, Massachusetts. He has travelled and photographed extensively in Peru. His 1991 book of photographs from Peru, Stones in the Road, has been called by Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, "an authentic expression of our geography and our people, making at the same time a personal statement which is artistically original and morally compelling." In 1990 Alexanian started a five year project about music, travelling around the world with twenty-five musicians, including Paul Simon, Wynton Marsalis, Philip Glass, Emmylou Harris, and Phish. The resulting book, Where Music Comes From, published in 1996, captures the spirit of music, as it explores what inspires committed musicians. In 2001, his book, Gloucester Photographs, about his home town of Gloucester Massachusetts, was published by Walker Creek Press. The publication of this book coincided with an exhibition of this and other recent work at the Cape Ann Historical Museum in Gloucester. His new book, JAZZ, a collaboration with Wynton Marsalis, is his first narrative attempt at using images and words and is available only online at Walker Creek Press. Alexanian's many awards include a Fulbright Fellowship in 1983. His work has been featured in The New York Times Magazine, Life, Geo Fortune, National Geographic, and The London Sunday Times, among other publications around the world. He has had numerous one-person exhibitions in the United States and Europe, and his work is in private and museum collections internationally. He teaches workshops at the International Center of Photography in New York, and in the Boston area. Alexanian lives in Gloucester with his wife and daughter. Nubar's Website is www.nubar.com and his photography bookstore is at www.walkercreekpress.com.

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  • Jay Allison

    10.09.03

    Reply
    Perfect Hearing

    Documentary Photographer Nubar Alexanian has been contributing images and ideas to Transom since the beginning. This is his first try at radio. As he says, "There’s too much narrative here."

    But, this story could not be told well in pictures. It’s about hearing. Impaired hearing. And acceptance and love and endurance and other messages hidden beneath the surface, if we can receive them.

    In fact, there’s no overt narrative here at all. That was the challenge.

    "Perfect Hearing" was produced with Nubar’s daughter Abby and me, with help from the CPB-funded Open Studio Project, Transom’s sometime artist-in-residence program, and Viki Merrick.

  • mjo

    10.10.03

    Reply
    the buzz

    I have the buzz disturbance but I never needed a hearing aid. I have learning disabilities and the buzz is there. Maybe it’s a gift to hear somehting no one else can here…

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    10.11.03

    Reply

    I like that Abby and Nubar got to know more about each other… Perhaps I was grateful for that part, because focusing on the tinnitus itself would have been painful and unbearable, though obviously not anywhere near as unbearable as the real thing.

    I wonder about the emotional aspects. Didn’t Nubar go through some anger, frustration, even depression as a result of this? Didn’t he have to rage at some point?

    and meanwhile, now we know what Jay really looks like
    most of the time.

  • Sydney Lewis

    10.12.03

    Reply
    camera unshy

    Nubar,

    Your notes are so generously given, you’re making it more difficult to ask questions. But here’s a few.

    Were you frustrated because you couldn’t tell this story in your usual medium, or was that a kind of relief, a welcome break from your professional groove.

    You say coming out from behind the camera “wasn’t bad at first.” So when it was bad, when and what made it so?

    Since Abby is so much a part of this piece and all that led up to its birth, will she post, too?

    I need to hear the piece again before I ask anything else. The first time was in the office and there was a lot of activity and sound in the background. Even with headphones locked on, I was distracted. My Real Audio is acting dinky at the moment, so I can’t listen now. But that leads to a question: have you had to almost re-learn to concentrate around the noise in your head?

    I love this piece. Thanks for daring to put the camera aside. Will anything about the process of this piece linger when next you shoot?

  • Missy

    10.12.03

    Reply
    questions for Nubar & Abby

    Nubar –

    After speaking with you, I realized I have some questions:

    When this was all said and done – what ended up being the biggest risk for you?

    Besides what you have already mentioned, is there anything, at all, photographic about the process of creating this piece or in how it came out?

    Abby – Your thoughtful insights are so important to this piece – If your comfortable responding – I wonder how this piece affected you?

  • Nubar

    10.12.03

    Reply
    Responses

    Nanette regarding emotional aspects, yes all of the above. Except rage. I didn’t experience rage. I was angry at times, frustrated always, depressed certainly.

    Syd: the relief from my regular professional groove came in the collaboration with Jay. I’ve grown weary of travelling the world alone to strange places and have been looking for ways to collaborate on projects with others. So this was a natural avenue for me. About coming out from behind the camera, I was joking about this not being bad at first. In truth it was very difficult. Why is complicated. First, though I have a personality that can love being the center of attention, I am actually shy. Second, photographs, when they work well, are ambiguous which makes taking risks a bit more comfortable. There’s less room for ambiguity in the spoken or written word. Third and perhaps most important, I wasn’t sure if it was possible to do a first person piece about a disability without people feeling sorry for the subject. You know what I mean?

    I do have to re-learn concentration, sometimes day to day, which can be maddening in itself when I’m on deadline. But I learned a lot about storytelling, and will take a lot of it with me on my next project which I think will be a short film.

    About Abby: I will as her if she will post.

    Missy: I was surprised how much of the process I engage in with photograhy translated into the medium of radio: Using a mic/camera….shooting lots of film/recording lots of tape…..not editing while you’re in the field gathering images/sounds, etc. Most helpful was in the editing process. There are many wonderful moments of tape that didn’t make it into the final edit and I didn’t have much trouble letting go of them. Having published four books, I guess I’ve grown used to leaving good stuff behind.

  • Sydney Lewis

    10.14.03

    Reply

    Nubar, who could feel sorry for you when you have that lovely zen-wise child in your life. I feel for you–the idea that a quiet environment is hard for you to bear haunts–but it’s not a feeling of pity because you’re not, at least in this piece, a moping wanker! Seriously, you managed to make your inner ear be outer. And movingly so. Just curious, would you talk a little about those "overzealous wrong turns"? And if Abby would post, I’d love to know what her experience of this process was like. This started out being your dad’s story, but you’re such a big part of his coping, and you made such a difference in how this piece developed.

  • Ben A.

    10.14.03

    Reply
    music

    Hi Nubar,

    Could you explain a little bit about the music you chose to put in the first half of the piece? Why did you select this song and why did you have it appear and disappear where it did?

    thanks,
    Ben

    PS: two great pieces in a row. Go on, Transom!

  • Nubar

    10.14.03

    Reply
    Abby

    Syd: There’s no question that Abby was instrumental in this piece.I’ve asked whether she will post. She says she would love to. But she’s a teenager…..so I can’t say for sure.

    About any overzealous turns in the piece, I can’t think of a short answer to this. We didn’t have a script. So the process was organic in that sense. But the first section fell right into place and then we thought we would add a "second act" …a separate section about Abby’s hearing loss. And it started with Abby actually instructing Jay and I (we have this on tape) about where we should go from there. Structurally it was fascinating. But in the end, it didn’t work because we improvised too far from the story. So we kept the stuctural idea, but softened it a bit by introducing her reaction to my situation. We also had ideas about the end.. Actually, I had taped an ending which was humorous….abouthe sound of crickets in my office. They make their way into my barn this time of year and because the frequency of their sound is so close to the tone in my right ear, they drive me crazy. But this seemed forced. Abby’s ending came as a natural surprise. I guess it’s the difference between what we THINK will work and what ACTUALLY works. And in radio, you have to HEAR it to see what works and what doesn’t.

    Ben: Regarding the piece by Wynton Marsalis. I’m not sure why I chose this piece of music. It just felt right. I never considered anything else. And Jay used it very well I think.

    Glad you liked it. It’s one of my favorite pieces of music.

  • Jay Allison

    10.14.03

    Reply
    Jazz notes

    Regarding Ben A.’s music question…

    When we first mixed in that music, it had several intents: 1) It fit the energy of the cascaded voice collage, 2) it made the insane litany of treatments lighter/funnier, 3) it introduced a motif of "jazz" which we originally thought would play out in various ways including Nubar and Abby playing jazz clarinet and piano (which we have on tape and it’s very nice but finally didn’t fit), and 4) it’s by Wynton Marsalis who is Nubar’s jazz musician friend who talked to him about the torture of the lack of resolution between the Dflat and the C.

    On this last point, we thought about naming Wynton in that context, but felt that because this a fundamentally self-authored portrait, it would come off as name-dropping. In a journalistic piece, it would have been different. There was no elegant way to do it, so we left it alone. It’s a footnote.

    I’d also mention that our entire early draft ending had to do with that notion of "resolution" and the way our lives are a kind of jazz, incorporating dissonance, improvisation, adaptation… but sometimes the ending you imagine never gets past your imagination, no matter how nice it sounds in there.

  • nsilva

    10.14.03

    Reply
    collaboration

    Nubar, Abby,Jay & Viki –

    Just listened — and was stopped flat by the remarkable work you have created.

    Nubar, I read your note about the process of putting this piece together and wonder if you’d talk more about collaborating with Abby. Rare and powerful, this father daughter collaboration. What was the impact of the tape recorder on your conversations? (Thank you, Viki, for pushing Nubar to record these sessions).

    Nubar — were there times when you disagreed with Abby and/or Jay — on what tape to use, on the direction, on what the story was?

    Jay — The editing and mix are stunning. The music, the orchestration of the tones, whistles, piano notes — the long silences. So strong.

    Abby – you are very powerful in this piece – articulate and thoughtful. I have a 14 year old daughter and marvel at your willingness to delve into this project with your dad. Might this wacky world of radio interest you further? I hope so.

    I love this piece. Encore!

    Nikki

  • Nubar

    10.14.03

    Reply
    Resolution

    Yes. We had this amazing idea about moving the piece into the whole notion of resolution. It included ideas about resolving a disability…two disabilities in this case…coupled with the resolution in jazz. music. But like Jay says, it never made it past our imagination. For me, the ride toward the ending was like moving between the beats of intuition and intention. It was very cool.

    Nikki: thanks for posting your kind remarks. I’m so glad you like the piece. Working with Abby was a wonder. It really did start out as a piece about tinnitus, with her working in my office transcribing tapes. I loved working with her and I think she would say the same. The piece really did change based on the discussions we were having about the material. She loved the microphone and headset and interviewed her best friend and favorite teacher and Rebecca and I about her hearing impairment and basically enjoyed everything…..except the sound of her voice and how much she talked. You can imagine the impact of a teenager discovering how much they actually talk from having to transcibe what they actually say. In the end, transcribing skinned the cat and Abby started to dislike the process from then on. We did disagree at times, but mostly as father/daugher, never as collaborators. What I mean (and I know you’ll recognize this) is that she became impatient with me as her father at times and would go monotone and monosyllabic on me. But most of the time she was a surprising collaborator, never shy to tell me (and Jay) what to do, how we should do it and pick up the microphone and record these instructions. Although she wasn’t directly involved in the editing, she loves the piece and is very proud of it.

    I will ask again if she’s willing to post. Perhaps I’ll cut a deal with her….I’ll stop smoking cigars if she posts a couple of time.

  • Jay Allison

    10.14.03

    Reply
    roads not taken

    When we get back from the Third Coast Festival, maybe we can post our first draft of the second act which we had to abandon. It has some really nice mixes and strong quotes from Abby about her hearing loss. In fact, they were so strong, they derailed the piece.

  • Abby

    10.15.03

    Reply

    Well, first I would like to thank you all for your very encouraging comments about our piece. I apologize for taking so long to post, but as my dad says, I am a teenager, which as many of you know, is an excellent excuse.

    The process of producing this piece was a very interesting one. I started working on it with my dad last June working for him in his office. It began as a summer job, but then he and Jay asked me to work on it so I guess I became a co-producer. It sounds very glamorous and exciting but the truth is, the novelty wears off… very fast. But it was definitely worth it, given the end product.

    This piece affected me in ways I would never have expected. I couldn’t have anticipated how deep the roots run in this subject- especially since neither the tinnitus nor the hearing loss is new to me or our family. I was so young when we discovered my hearing loss that I couldn’t express my thoughts about it, so as I grew up I figured I didn’t have any thoughts about it. The same is true for my dad’s tinnitus. We never sat down and talked about either: they were just there. But this piece changed that. I said things about my hearing loss that I never even knew I felt. And I learned more about my dad’s tinnitus than I’ve ever thought to ask. It really was incredible.

    The "wacky world of radio" is fascinating, and the perfect environment to learn "delayed gratification." Doing this piece has given me a whole new perspective on radio shows and infinite respect for those who create them. As to the question of whether I have further interest in the field of radio: our paths may cross again, who knows?

  • Mary McGrath

    10.15.03

    Reply
    Speak Up

    I loved this piece. I loved the way you told the story, the way you demonstrated it, the way you mixed it, the beginning, the middle and the end. I can’t believe you live with that sound all around you all the time. I’d go nuts. Is it a matter of giving in to it? Do you try and distract yourself from it? Do you ever stop hearing it, even just for a little while? Have you gone to the tinnitus chat rooms in the middle of the night?

  • Nubar

    10.16.03

    Reply
    Chat Rooms In The Night

    Mary: The ringing never stops. It’s louder some days more than others. Like right now. It’s very loud. Partly because the volume is tied to allergies. I’m allergic to molds among other things and this time of year, with leaves decaying and such, everything is heightened. Though I did do research online, I never took part in chat rooms or bulletin boards, which are numerous.

    My way of coping with this is not to talk about it. I never talk about it. As Abby says, for both of us, it’s a matter of focus. We’ve both learned how to compensate for our disabilities, for her, by focusing on reading lips, etc. For me it’s learning to focus away from the tone, basically trying to ignore it.

    Doing this piece was difficult, in part, because I was forced to focus ON the tinnitus. At times it drove me crazy…..listening to tapes, thinking about the piece…all of this made it worse. But it is amazing how we all learn to adapt, compensate, resolve issues like this in our lives. Truly.

  • Ben A.

    10.19.03

    Reply
    more music

    Jay and Nubar–

    Thanks for explaining so much about your thoughts on the music. It’s great to learn the backstory of decisions and how they do or don’t play out. I’m really interested to hear your sidetracks — especially the one about resolution. One of the questions I have is would adding a tone to your tinnitus help to resolve the chord? Could you walk around with headphones playing a certain tone that would make it more comfortable?

    My feeling about the jazz music is that it’s not really working in the current piece — it feels very arbitrary and sort of random. I’d prefer to hear more of the tones from Nubar’s head — maybe different ways of producing the tones (I’m thinking of the Buddhist prayer bowls from Allan Coukell’s Gray Ghost, playing on the focusing motif)? I wanted the tones to come on stronger sometimes and to hold for longer periods — maybe even block out what was being said underneath them — so as to more closely emulate what’s happening to Nubar.

    I’m also glad Mary asked her question because the way the tones are now in the story, I had the distinct impression that they came and went, sometimes loud, sometimes quiet, sometimes not at all. Like in the story.

    Just a few thoughts,
    Ben

  • Jay Allison

    10.19.03

    Reply
    tones, music

    We may extend the tones at one point, but we’re concerned about driving people away.

    I like the jazz though. To my ear, it works.

  • Daniel Costello

    10.20.03

    Reply
    Studs Terkel Favorite Story

    Abby said: Abby, "Perfect Hearing" #14, 15 Oct 2003 9:51 pm
    This piece affected me in ways I would never have expected. I couldn’t have anticipated how deep the roots run in this subject- especially since neither the tinnitus nor the hearing loss is new to me or our family. I was so young when we discovered my hearing loss that I couldn’t express my thoughts about it, so as I grew up I figured I didn’t have any thoughts about it. The same is true for my dad’s tinnitus. We never sat down and talked about either: they were just there. But this piece changed that. I said things about my hearing loss that I never even knew I felt. And I learned more about my dad’s tinnitus than I’ve ever thought to ask. It really was incredible.

    A favorite story of Studs Terkel’s about interviewing has the same theme. He tells it often, including during his time here at Transom:
    http://www.transom.org/guests/review/200107.review.sterkel.real.html

    This was the first book, Division Street: America. It was about a public housing project which was integrated but all poor. And I can’t remember if she was white or black. She was pretty, skinny, and had about four little kids running around. The tape recorder was not the ubiquitous tool it is today, not a household object. It was new, and she’d never been interviewed before. The kids were hollering, "I want to hear Mama."

    So I say, "Just a minute." And I play it back.

    She hears her voice. She puts her hand to her mouth and says, "Oh my god."

    I say, "Well, what is it?"

    And she says, "I never knew I felt that way before." Bingo! It was fantastic. To her as well as to me.

    That’s what I’m talking about. You hear stuff you haven’t heard before, from a stranger or from someone you know, and you think, "Yeah, I am connected." I think that’s the goal, the responsibility, the challenge of public radio.

    I live for the day when someone who I am interviewing says something like this to me!

  • Jay Allison

    10.21.03

    Reply
    good catch, Daniel

    Abby: "I said things … that I never even knew I felt."

    Studs’ Interviewee: "I never knew I felt that way before."

    This kind of discovery also lies at the heart of creative impulse.

  • Viki Merrick

    10.21.03

    Reply
    music

    When I first heard the music, I felt like that music was Nubar, or his alter ego. When it surfaced it was pure raw Nubar surfacing, emotionally. running, staying, hiding, feeling – separately and all at once.
    I think the Buddhist prayer bowls would have pointed at a false resolution that doesn’t really exist in this case. Those tones are soothing contrary to what Nubar hears And I think it would have given the subject an artificial gravity. The whole piece is like a musical one for me – working through different movements but it’s ultimate direction or resolution is toward an embrace of all the movements but especially what is Nubar and what courses through Nubars veins, the big arteries to the small pulse in his ears; the cacophany to the simplicity tinnitus has brought him.
    that’s jazz.

  • Jackson

    10.22.03

    Reply
    So totally cool…

    Nubar, Abby:

    I know "lovely" is a lame word, but there is something oh so lovely about this. I’m looking forward to Pt. 2, because these 13+ minutes are actually only moments of preparation — for you and what you both realize you now know, and for us, who don’t know anything.

    For the sheer jazz tonality thing, I would include Thelonius Monk. If you are going to get into specific pitches, Monk frequently brought all of them together all at the same time.

    Abby, have you ever discovered how refined is your hearing loss? So many of the ACTs here dwell in frequencies — wine glasses for example. Have you lost hearing in given ranges — would you have heard the Red Sox fans dissing Lou, for instance?

    Nubar, maybe you can translate. We don’t get here a sense of when Abby began to experience her hearing loss or if, Abby, there were things you never heard to begin with.

    The other side is that with the wonders of digital technology, we should be able to approximate what Abby hears — and what she doesn’t. Perhaps the most potent exemplum would be a before and after hearing sample that allows us to hear what Abby can perceive.

    Many thanks on all counts.

  • Nubar

    10.22.03

    Reply
    Abby’s Hearing Loss

    Jackson:Many thanks for your comments. Yes. I did consider Monk but in the end, I think the Marsalis piece works best.

    There’s a lot of tape about Abby’s hearing, much of it addressing the many questions you and others have raised. At one point she even gives an intriguing demonstration about her hearing loss…. how and what she hears. Jay and I tried to work some of this into the piece, but it took us too far from the original narrative thread we established in the first section.

  • Ben A.

    10.23.03

    Reply
    persnickety

    Hi guys, sounds like you all had a blast in Chicago.

    Unfortunately, I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Nubar, so I don’t have the same reaction to the music that you did, Vicki. And don’t get me wrong, I think the piece is wonderful; I’m nit-picking here. I’m an editor and this is what I get paid to do.

    I guess what I’m reacting to is that in the first part of the piece, all the background sounds have such definite purpose. When the music came in, and Nubar was talking about the first time he heard the tones, I was expecting a journalistic reason for the music — like to start hearing the tones with the music, or over the music, or drowning out the music — simulating his experience. When the music turned out to function more like background music, I was a little disappointed. I think the background sound could be used more effectively. That’s all.

    On the other hand, if you all had chosen to take the Road Toward Resolution — the side track Jay mentioned that I still would love to hear — then I think you’d back into the reason for the music to be there, maybe even minutes later, and it’d have this "Oh shit! Now it makes sense!" quality that would be awesome.

    If I were editing this piece and Nubar and Abby felt strongly about the music, I wouldn’t push too hard on it. But one thing I would push hard on is the volume and duration of the tones. I feel they’re misleading in the current piece (see my comments above).

    just some thoughts, back to work for me,
    Ben

  • Nubar

    10.23.03

    Reply
    Tones

    Ben: I don’t think you’re being persnickety at all. I think you make very valid points. Regarding the tone and playing it for a listening audience, there is a very fine line here that Jay and I tried to walk. I started out this piece telling Jay there is no way we could play what I hear in my head and not have the listening audience DIVE for the off button on their radio. No way. And so we tried to find a balance…with the tones coming over the music creating some semblance of a relationship between the two that would give people an idea of what I hear relative to other sounds and volume. Having said this, I hope people don’t come away with the idea that these tones come and go. They don’t.

  • Viki Merrick

    10.24.03

    Reply
    persnockety

    Ben – it’s good to discuss – I am curious about your reaction.
    I went back to listen to see if my feeling about the music was because I know Nubar, knew the jazz/connection in the story . So when the music first comes in I can understand your being taken aback – but that’s good cause you get to breathe after that INSANITY of his head, even laugh as the crescendo comes in. and I think it’s valid – in order to fathom this hell you have to step out of it for a moment.
    then later the music comes in when he tells the story of his daughter…it’s a pulsating or like I said a "coursing" – and then again when Abbey says…"I got more of you"..it surfaces again. I guess, perhaps simplistically, I interpreted it as playing Nubar’s true blood colors or an instrument for revealing heart where he might be reticent to do so. Ya know, a tool.
    Fortunately for the listening world – a roomful of editors will usually, remarkably, have varied vision, not to mention a propensity to nit-pick.

  • Viki Merrick

    10.24.03

    Reply
    and another thing…

    upon a distant listening, I think I agree that some tones in some places could be stretched, painfully so. I know Jay was talking of doing this and I was reluctant to agree, afraid it might be too much, but now, going back – I think it would serve the point more, to allow the tones to linger, as they do.

  • Jackson

    11.23.03

    Reply
    Not be a tonal bastard…

    but upon relistening, Nubar, the piano you use to demonstrate the D-flat and C natural (more than an octave lower) IS OUT OF TUNE.

    Then again, a couple of questions emerge: Abby: how old were you when you discovered your hearing loss? Is "loss" quite the right word? Were there spectra of sound you’d never experienced?

    And Nubar, I will continue to quibble about the music. I know my past vote was for Thelonius Monk, solo piano. Just for the hell of it, I would throw in John Lewis as well. The group stuff in your piece is to my ear complicated without necessarily being illuminating. Why am I hearing this? A very different question from: Why am I playing this?

    I’ve bitched and moaned about musical choices all over Transom, because music is often the last thing anybody thinks of in our particular kind of radio. With the exception of maybe John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith, when are composers brought into the cinematic process? You got it: Just after they’ve finished the last edit more often than not.

    (The Cartalk Xmas fundraiser written by Pinkwater caught that nicely when Ira, aka Tiny Tim, reminded himself to cue music.)

    Innocent music librarians are often asked to find something that sounds kinda like Satie, but without the swing. And there you are, photographing musicians with D-flat in one ear and C in another.

    The flyfishing speaks about how you attempted to escape what your ears were doing to you. Were you casting 100-ft. casts at such a speed as the story suggests? Not to pose a truth police kind of question, but a piece like this depends on a certain agreement of trust. You have a story to tell; and within the confines of Transom, I am willing to listen.

  • Nubar

    11.24.03

    Reply
    Tonality

    Jackson: Yes, the piano was OUT OF TUNE. Did it bother you?

    Haven’t heard "Why am I hearing this?" about the music before. Perhaps you’re stuck on Monk….not a bad place to be, for sure. More to your point, I walked into the edit with this piece of music. So, within the context of your comments, the music was chosen first.

    Regarding flyfishing and truth, what you heard was me TRYING to get 100 feet of heavy line out. You can trust me on this, inside or outside the confines of Transom.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    11.25.03

    Reply

    fyi,
    coming from the other end of the spectrum
    – having little knowledge about music–
    for what it’s worth,
    from the other end of the spectrum, with little knowledge of music, I wondered about it too. I was more conscious than usual about the music as a separate, surprising element.

  • Brian Lee

    1.10.04

    Reply
    Thanks

    I too have tinitus and have very a similar audible pitch roommate bouncing about my head at all times. I can hardly wait to show my wife this link so she too can understand a little more about my constant sonnet. Thanks for taking the time and placing your experience here in such an interesting way.

  • Jay Allison

    1.10.04

    Reply
    This American Life

    By the way, this piece will be airing this weekend on This American Life, along with an excerpt of a documentary on homelessness by Transom’s Chelsea Merz.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    1.11.04

    Reply

    Glad you mentioned that. I heard the wine glass ring from the next room and it brought me back to this piece right away. But I couldn’t tell for sure it was this story.
    I wonder whether we should listen for any changes?

  • Paula Lerner

    1.11.04

    Reply
    headache in an interval

    When Nubar got to the part about hearing a D flat (or C sharp) in one ear and a C in the other, I winced and visibly shuddered. Although like Nubar I am a photographer by profession and passion, I was a serious singer in a previous life.

    The thought of having endless ringing in my ears sounds like an extremely unpleasant form of torture under any circumstances. But having two tones a half step apart in different ears (even with the octave in the middle — I guess that would make it a diminished 9th) must be a very special kind of hell. I think it would be very hard to get out of bed in the morning with that painful interval in my ears.

    I can appreciate the (such as it is) benefit of having this kind of disability make one slow down and be more available to one’s family. Having kids has enormously shaped the choices I’ve made, but at least I was fortunate enough to be able to do it of my own free will and not have a disability force the choice for me. Nubar may have eventually come to that choice quite on his own without the tinnitus, but I suppose blessings come in all sorts of disguises.

  • Kathleen Mulcahy

    1.14.04

    Reply
    Lightbulb noise

    Although listening to this piece is making the noise inside my head louder, I appreciate Nubar for making this luscious piece of radio. For the longest time in my life, I thought light bulbs made noise. Tinnitus sounds frequently get louder at night when light bulbs are more in use. So, I connected the sounds in my head to light bulbs. One evening, I said to my unsuspecting husband, "Geesh the light bulbs are really loud tonight!" He looked at me as though I had just said something as outrageous as light bulbs make sounds. It’s a wonder he didn’t grab his head and run screaming out of the room. He didn’t, we talked about it, and I realized that the sounds I hear are not heard by everyone. After talking it over with my doctor, I saw that this was to be my life. I am a person who values silence more that most things, and I seriously had to grieve this loss.
    Most days, I ignore the sound. I am very good at that, except when I read. That has been the enduring loss to me. I find it hard to concentrate on the printed word.
    My thanks to Nubar and Abby. It is very moving to think that he hears constantly the sound which she does not. The vicissitudes of balance in this world are inscrutable!

  • Christina German

    1.14.04

    Reply
    "A Driveway Stopper"

    I have had Tinnitus since May 1999. I know the sound in my Right ear is B Flat above Middle C. Friends don’t understand what Tinnitus is and the frustrations of it. Afterall.. you look normal. I’m sharing this with my husband.
    Thanks for the Wonderful piece.
    Chris German
    Kansas City, MO

  • t.o.

    1.30.04

    Reply
    writer

    At age 39 I became deaf after an autoimmune brain injury. Nubar’s written piece doesn’t show me anything, I don’t even know that that scanty piece I read was what was aired,and I don’t have {internal} access to sound piece, or to radio talk shows. Not much consideration for the deaf audience. {sigh} Used to listen to NPR all the time. There’re things more extreme than tinnitus,tinnitius is cake compared to some torments of sounds. Live exhuberantly with what you’ve got whenever you can.

  • Jeani

    5.11.07

    Reply
    A Poem

    I’m so glad that Nubar did this piece, because I now know I am not alone. I have recently been diagnosed with tinnitus. I am only 23, and when the doctor said, actually it will never go away I became very upset and anxious. It particularly bothers me at night while I am falling asleep. Now, I’ve started to accept it, but I thought I’d share a poem I wrote about it:

    River

    Doctor says, no more
    silence for you.
    We didn’t think to
    warn you.

    Of course, you
    shouldn’t care, as
    the drum and the
    cochlea are marching
    away finely.

    There will be those
    moments when
    you wish to be

    so alone,
    like the
    earth or the trees,
    away from others
    and sound,

    but don’t worry
    that will fade, as
    this constant
    high strung
    hum of the body,

    reflecting the tingling
    that is your anxiety,
    becomes a part
    of your brain.

    You see, it is only
    a river shooting through
    your mind,
    through what you know
    as time

    to something so
    far, so dark, you would
    never recognize it.

  • Elissa Moran

    9.18.11

    Reply

    Hello,
    I just heard this story on This American Life, and I would like to share it with members of Maine’s hearing loss community. Many of them are Deaf and Late-Deafened so they cannot access the audio file.

    Is there a transcript of the show available?

    Thank you,

    Elissa Moran
    Executive Director
    Maine Center on Deafness

    • sam

      9.18.11

      Reply

      Hi Elissa,

      Unfortunately we don’t have a transcript available at this time. Perhaps This American Life has transcripts of their shows?

      — Samantha

  • Ron

    9.19.11

    Reply

    I have had Tinnitus almost since my earliest memories (I am 56 now) and I understand Van Gogh. It seems to originate from the cochlear in my left ear (right ear is totally deaf). I have even fantasized about replacing it with a cochlear implant.

  • Tracy

    9.23.11

    Reply

    I’m just wondering if anyone else found it physically painful to listen to the broadcast… I’ve just been diagnosed with hyperacusis, a condition that has reduced my tolerance for noise, particularly high pitch sounds. Due to an incredible pain, I had to remove my headphones any time the high pitches were played – just wondering if anyone else had that reaction or if it’s just my condition. I guess, my question is, do you hear what I hear?

  • cwy

    9.24.11

    Reply

    I had to skip to the next segment on TAL. I used to have tinnitus; the segment helped me relive the nightmare. I enjoyed the story but the tone appeared so frequently, I had to turn it off. I was worried it’d trigger my tinnitus again. Your point was illustrated with extraordinary diligence.

  • Rachel

    9.28.11

    Reply

    Tracy, I can say for sure you’re not the only one that had that problem. I considered not listening to the whole segment because those parts were so hard to listen to. I haven’t been diagnosed with anything, but after listening to this segment of TAL I have a splitting headache.

  • Matt Bennett

    9.28.11

    Reply

    I have great sympathy for those who suffer from tinnitus, but this segment on TAL was physically painful to listen to. Because of this, Nubar’s message was utterly lost, it felt like he was trying to permanently give others this condition. The mix, especially the tones, go from quiet to WAY too loud, and I want to seriously discourage others from listening. Search for a transcript to get the message, but I cannot encourage anyone to jeopardize their hearing by listening to this segment.

  • Frank

    10.15.11

    Reply

    When I heard the story, I thought the coincidence of her hearing loss of the exact tone that he hears was going to lead to a cure for the tinnitis – that somehow doctors could cause people to lose selective parts of their hearing so that those that suffer from tinnitus could eliminate that sound. I know it’s unlikely, especially since there is no external sound, just an internal issue, but I thought I’d throw it out there in case any researchers want to take a shot at it. I’d volunteer to be a subject in a study.

  • Timothy Becker

    7.13.12

    Reply

    I found this story amazing. As a person who has had 15+ surgeries to repair my ears, it hurts me to hear someone elses pain with their ears. I found myself covering my ears to not hear the ringing in the story. It reminded me sitting in that silent booth telling the doctor when I heard sounds. I remember the day that my ears were finally fixed and I could actually hear, and it was amazing. My mom cried when I told her “Hey we have birds this summer!” when we always had birds. I could never hear them. My friends were puzzled when I said “So when did the pool start playing music?” when the pool always played music. I love my hearing and would never take it for granted.

    I am also a photographer. I also shoot musicians. My biggest fears are losing my sight as well as my hearing, for my life and career would be over.

    On a positive note….I found his daughter brilliant. She added a great dynamic and compassion to the story. Overall it was a great piece that threw into pain, covering my ears in protection to heart warming.

  • Ben Adair

    5.19.17

    Reply

    I just found my way over to this piece again. Just as wonderful today as it was so many years ago. And now that I have tinnitus, it means ever more!

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