Not Quite Pitch Perfect



‘Alumni wanted to sing one single note each’ said the intriguing email, which invited past graduates of the Institute of Artistic Endeavour to come forward to be recorded for an interactive sound piece. The resulting installation will be part of the forthcoming official opening celebrations for the shiny new building.

It felt as if the invitation could have been written especially for me, and my response was immediate:

‘I am an alumnus’, I began proudly, ‘and have a fantastic singing voice, I’ve been told I sound just like Whitney Houston after she turned to crack. Just let me know when I’m needed, and I’ll pop a pair of fresh batteries in my hearing aids.’

“If that doesn’t get me the gig,” I said to the spouse excitedly as I hit the send button, “I don’t know what will. Wonder what note I’m going to get?”

“The bum note, going by this morning’s performance in the shower”, said the spouse, rolling his eyes. Just as I embarked on a croaky practice scale, an almost instant reply came back from the sound artist. It was good news:

‘You sound perfect!’ it said, ‘We will select a note together that you feel comfortable with. I won’t be supplying crack.’

Both of us soon came to regret our email frivolity. When I turned up for my recording session on Wednesday, the fact that I wasn’t kidding about the hearing aids, as well as my repeated inability to match my note, became rather apparent. I await my public vocal début on April the 9th, with some trepidation.

More Music for Cookiebiters


Thanks to our very own Rose Rodent, the arrival of a carefully addressed box of native British songbirds at the Institute of Artistic Endeavour this week caused great consternation in the janitors’ mail room, and has also prompted a revival of my peculiar interest in music for cookiebiters. See what you’ve gone and done, Rose.

For cookiebite easy listening, I didn’t think anyone could top Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson’s ill fated 2010 Music for Dogs which I’m very fond of mentioning on here, but Dawn Chorus by Marcus Coates is my new fave rave. It’s an epic piece of sound art which could almost have been made specially for the pre-presbycutic cookiebiter or reverse sloper. It dates from 2007, when I first began remarking to the spouse that there didn’t seem to be as many birds around first thing in the morning as there used to be, and when the dystopian world of NHS audiology was still a far off place.

The birdsong you hear in the videos, if you are lucky enough to still be in possession of either natural or technologically enhanced high frequency hearing, is actually generated by the human voice. The participants mimicked slowed down recordings of birdsong, and the footage was speeded up to match the speed of the original recordings of the birds. The resulting human vocals and body movements are eerily birdlike.

The clip embedded here presents all the recordings in a linear fashion and, interestingly, when I listened to it on a loud volume with hearing aids on, it produced the nastiest set of hearing aid distortion artefacts I have yet encountered, so I hope nobody’s hearing instruments explode when listening to it…

You can view an explanation and a better quality version of the clip here. Clip 2 on that page also lets you experience the pieces as they were presented in the original installation. Clever stuff.

Hear, hear

TED talk

“Sorry, didn’t mean to make you jump,” said Hearing Aid Avenger apologetically as he appeared beside me in the office on Friday, “but why is your desk facing the wall… wouldn’t it be better facing the other way so you don’t have your back to the door? You’ve always sat facing the door…”

“There isn’t enough room”, I said glumly, “but jumping out my skin every five minutes is the least of my problems. Where have you been the last few weeks? I could have done with your help round here.”

I was in a bad mood and it was just about to get worse.

It turned out that Hearing Aid Avenger was just back from delivering a TED talk on Hearing Aids and Noise in the Learning Environment. I was slightly jealous of his all expenses paid trip to California, but when I heard he’d had a bit of a mixed reception for his ideas, which were remarkably similar to mine, I changed my tune. His hard-hitting presentation had ruffled a few feathers, with the unveiling of a manifesto which was as radical as it was brief:

TED projection

Apparently, when the manifesto appeared on the screen, there was a loud cheer from the audience, and a group of hard of hearing lecturers in the front row threw their hearing aids on to the stage in rapturous appreciation. Meanwhile, a fight broke out amongst a bunch of architects in the back row, some of whom were outraged by the suggestion that hearing and concentration were more important for learning than sensory stimulation. When they were unable to make themselves heard because of the poor acoustics, a riot broke out in the auditorium and Hearing Aid Avenger had to be escorted backstage for his own safety.

“Wow”, I said, “I wonder what would have happened after this TED talk by Julian Treasure…”


Hearing Hell

cone of silence

“How can I help you today?” said the very nice audiologist to Clinic O’s cookiebite bad penny. I had turned up this time in a last ditch bid to see if there was anything that could be done to reduce the overwhelming amount of amplified background noise which is currently rattling my cochleas, and my nerves, in the architecturally stunning new learning spaces at the Institute of Artistic Endeavour.

“Can I show you some pictures of where I work”, I pleaded, “then what I’m asking might make more sense. When I say I’m a lecturer, people assume I stand in a lecture theatre talking all day, but I actually spend most of my time listening; doing one to one tutorials and large and small group discussions in the studio with a group of 50 on average. I’ve only got a mild loss; it’s always been tricky because of the environment, but now that we’ve moved to open plan for the entire department it’s impossible. I don’t know what to do…if I take the hearing aids out, the noise is vastly reduced, but then I can’t make out what the students are saying in normal conversation. I can hear fine in quiet spaces, but I’m rendered deaf in here… ” I pulled out my iPad to show the photos of my studio on an open mezzanine above the main studios.

“Oh dear, I see what you mean, you haven’t got a hope with hearing aids in there”, said the very nice audiologist. “It’s all hard concrete surfaces and glass, and with all the noise coming up from below, and in the sides from the refectory, and 120 people in the space all doing different activities, no hearing aids would cope well with that. I doubt there’s much I can do, but let’s take a look at your settings, there might be some small adjustments that can be made. You never know.”

A few mouseclicks later, and the disappointing news came that all the noise reduction features were already activated. It seemed there wasn’t much room for manoeuvre. The very nice audiologist explained that a lot of background noise inhabits the same frequencies of the cookie bite zone where the amplification is required, therefore reduce the background noise, and you reduce the amplification on voices at the same time. Catch 22, hearing aid style. Can’t hear with ‘em, can’t hear without ‘em.

Nonetheless, she did some adjustments on the standalone speech in noise programme for me to try, leaving the speech in noise settings on the automatic programme unchanged, so that I wouldn’t be any worse off if the tweaks didn’t work.

They didn’t. Cone of Silence it is, then…

Hearing Heaven

stained glass  loop symbol

“Good God!”, I exclaimed to myself last week, in the rather appropriate setting of a church. I had finally found my first loop system which was not only turned on, but actually had a mic attached to the person doing the talking; and all this without even having to ask, or write a complaint letter. Wow. At the touch of a button, the minister’s funeral oration was instantly transformed from reverberantly unintelligible to crystal clear. It felt like he was speaking directly into my ear, and the difference it makes is dramatically illustrated by this loop demonstration clip. As an added bonus in real life, you also get to eavesdrop on the minister’s whispered asides to the undertakers, etc.

With the new superpower faculties temporarily bestowed upon me by The Church of Scotland, I made the shock discovery that Jesus is actually the way, the truth and the life, rather than the light, contrary to what I have believed for the previous 47 years. In the astonishment of clearly hearing an ‘f’ sound for the first time in yonks, I forgot where I was and made an audible gasp which I then had to turn into a funereal sniffle for the sake of propriety. Still, it actually was a bit sad having Jesus’ light turned off so suddenly by the hearing loop, especially after finding out that he wasn’t Lord of the Dance Settee either.

Sadly, my brief entry to hearing heaven has given way to hearing hell at work, so it’s back to Clinic O next week, to see if there’s anything that can be done for their least favourite cookiebiter.

The best hearing aid for Cookie Bite Hearing Loss?

hard hat and gloves

Happy New Year one and all.

The countdown to the exciting opening of the shiny new building at the Institute of Artistic Endeavour has entered its final frenetic stage before the students are let in on Monday. As I scuttled about my academic business attired in full safety PPE for the final time on site yesterday, I was rather puzzled by the assertive attention I was getting from the many workmen I encountered. Maybe there’s just something irresistible about a large breasted woman in a red hard hat and black rubber gloves, I pondered, as the comments came in thick and fast.

“DON’T GO UP THEY STAIRS, AH’VE JIST PIT CONCRETE SEALER OAN THEM!” yelled one man, the very second I exited the office.

“MIND OOT FUR MA EXTENDING LADDER, DOLL, AH’M RIGHT BEHIND YE!” shouted another, a little further along the corridor.

“WHIT FLOOR ARE YE GAUN TAE, HEN?” boomed the helpful hard-hatted man who followed me into the lift.

Just when I thought I might be in line for my first wolf-whistle on a building site in 30 years, a panting man with a paintbrush rushed alongside me in a corridor and burst my bubble.

“Why huv ye goat YOU’LL NEED TO SHOUT written on the back o yer jaicket anyway?” he asked, pointing to the back of my hi-vis vest. I suddenly remembered what I was wearing, and felt a bit of a twit. I was very glad I hadn’t written KICK ME instead.

Amazingly, though, when my £1.50 artistic statement vest is stripped of its rhetorical irony by a bunch of builders, it actually outperforms expensive hearing aids in an open plan space…and, unlike hearing aids, is particularly effective with men’s voices.

Snowdome, 8mm

8mm dome snowdome

The perfect Christmas decoration for the hearing aid wearer who likes a bad pun. Best caption wins a year’s free subscription to the Cookie Bite Chronicles.

Merry Christmas everybody!



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