Archive for the 'Music' Category

I Have A Dream

Nacht und Traume

One day, in a far-off digital future, all hearing aid users will be able to tune their hearing aids to their own specifications, all by themselves. Instead of just being able to choose between programmes which suit listening to the tv in quiet, conversing in a noisy restaurant, or trying to tune into a non-functioning loop, they will have access to multiple programmes tailored to individual activities in different types of acoustic spaces. They will be able to swap effortlessly between an open or closed fitting, and they will be able to prioritise music over speech if they feel like it.

Cookiebiters and reverse slopers will benefit most from this brave new world. Instead of being forced to endure a badly modified version of an algorithm designed to fit high frequency losses, they will have specially designed algorithms which will allow access to minute adjustments across the entire frequency spectrum, with smooth transitions in amplification which, for me, will mean no more terrifyingly loud keys in the C6 area of the piano keyboard. I will enjoy full harmonic resonance on the mid to lows when playing Schubert, and spend hours playing low notes with the left hand just because it sounds wonderful.

bass bung

Until that historic moment arrives, I am making do with my latest hearing aid hack for digital piano playing. The Kookybite Bass Bung® (pictured) transforms an open dome to sort of semi-closed for home musical purposes. Carved from a 60p eraser from WH Smith, it may be a little eccentric, but it works. By turning down the volume switch on my music programme, and trapping the previously lost low frequencies in my ear with the bung, the troublesome C6 zone is dampened, whilst resonance returns to the previously thin bass notes. My piano no longer sounds like the speakers are stuffed with cotton wool, and I have fallen back in love with it again after a rather prolonged playing hiatus. Naturally, speech is pretty incomprehensible with this arrangement, and your breathing becomes a bit Darth Vader, but this doesn’t matter unless you’re playing your piano in a crowded cocktail bar whilst suffering from a lung infection.

One day, when I find someone who knows anything about fitting cookie bite hearing loss, I shall get them to set up my hearing aids to do this properly, so that I can enjoy playing Schubert without the unfortunate downside of being deafened by passing cars…


Update: After finding little bits of coloured rubber everywhere, the spouse recently asked me to consider the possibility that I was going a bit mad. I am vindicated, however, by this article which very clearly and succinctly explains the shortcomings of hearing aids in relation to listening to music, and notes how important those low frequencies are. The bit in the article about the high proportion of keys on the piano sitting below the 1kHz threshold  also illustrates why the reverse sloper/ cookiebiter may be on a hiding to nothing with their piano and a default Autofit NHS hearing aid fitting…

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.

This Is A Journey Into Sound.

Cookiebite quirks covered  below in 16 apposite song titles, for your virtual listening pleasure. Recognise any?

1 Do you hear what I hear

We’ll never know the answer to this one, but the cookiebiter can sometimes hear more than those with normal hearing… just not where it matters, ie the human speech frequencies. With my mild overall loss I have excellent high frequency hearing for conversing with bats, and effortlessly pass every online speech-in-noise hearing test with flying colours. The only thing I have any difficulty with is hearing speech in noise in real life. And occasional fire alarms.

2 Songs without words

Although it is still my contention that no-one speaks properly these days, the cookiebiter is doomed to find everyone laughing at them when they sing songs in public, because half the words are wrong and the other half are replaced with an embarrassing number of la-la-las to fill in the gaps. It’ll always be Lord of The Dance Settee to me.

3 I can’t hear the music

This one is not strictly true. The mild cookiebiter can still hear it, but unfortunately they can’t always tell what it is. Vocals do not exist if there’s a tambourine or a heavy bass beat going on anywhere. Forget joining the Salvation Army choir if you’re a cookiebiter.

4 Loose change

People don’t understand hearing loss generally, and it is a sad fact of life that the cookiebiter or reverse sloper who demonstrates a superpower ability to hear loose change chinking a mile off will be treated with incredulity when they ask for people with low voices to speak up a bit from two feet away.

5 Pump up the volume

But don’t pump it up too far, tellies and hearing aids seem to go from too quiet to too loud in only one notch. Male partners of deifies are doomed to constant requests for volume changes if they refuse to relinquish control of the tv remote. Serves them right.

6 Listen to the bells

Ah, Tinnitus. The ultimate irony to be able to hear an annoying noise that doesn’t even exist, with the added blow that the batteries never run out.

7 Standing at the threshold

My ENT consultant tried to illuminate my prognosis with the interesting analogy that my hearing thresholds were like a creaking gate, just waiting to fall off its hinges. “I’m afraid you just never know when it’s going to eventually fall off, Mrs Dancer”, he said cheerfully with a shrug of the shoulders. Hopefully my gate won’t fall off for a while.

8 Music sounds better with you

Well, it does… and it doesn’t. Ah, hearing aids and music. They tease you by letting you know what you’ve been missing, and then selectively mangle your tunes. Once they’re set up correctly, though, they’re wonderful. Your piano will sound like you’re right next to it when you’re playing, rather than in the next room.

9 Can’t you hear me knocking

Wood sounds are now spectacularly audible through the hearing aids, but so is the previously inaudible traffic noise coming through the open window, so you’ll still need to be either very patient or very assertive when knocking on my office door. I often find extremely patient and unassertive students lifting a badly bruised knuckle to the door when I open it to go out and fill up the kettle. Best policy is to jangle some loose change or rustle a bag of crisps to get my attention instead. Some people like to just barge in, but you can give a cookiebiter a heart attack that way if their back’s turned.

10 Listen to what the man said 

But you’ll need to keep reminding him to speak up and to stop covering his mouth with his wine glass first. Since the cookiebiter generally finds low pitched male voices less audible than female voices, the ideal audiometric situation for the ageing couple is for the cookiebiter to be female. That way, once presbycusis kicks in, he won’t be able to hear your higher pitched tones either, and will finally understand why you keep asking him to lower his wine glass from his face. Sadly, getting him to comply is another matter.

11 Read my lips

In a spectacular triumph of hope over experience, the spouse still attempts bedtime conversation with me, after I’ve taken my glasses off and his lips have vanished. It can be very frustrating for him.

12 Ears of tin 

Naturally, this is an insult, they’re not made of tin at all. Cookie Bite ears are actually made of cloth.

13 The hissing of summer lawns

And hearing aid circuit noise. Perfect listening for the cookiebiter with a pair of hissing NHS Danalogic i-FIT 71s. Wish I’d known about this track a couple of months ago.

14 Music for dogs

And cookiebiters. Better still, cookiebiters with dogs. Poor old Lou got ridiculed for his high-pitched concert aimed at canines a couple of years ago. If only he’d realised, he could have widened his target audience and filled the empty seats with cookiebiters and reverse slopers.

15 I beeped when I shoulda bopped

There’s always loadsa unwanted beeping going on when hearing aids decide to enter a tuneless and prolonged duet with the microwave, etc, but this track actually references the cookiebiter’s decreased ability to hear vowels, the loudest components of speech. I don’t know what Cab Calloway was up to when he transposed his vowels in the song, but it sounds painful.

 16 Tears on the telephone

If you suspect a loved one or colleague might have a hearing loss even though they’ve passed the online hearing tests with flying colours, just monitor their mobile phone usage. I bought a new one 6 months ago, and I’ve not had to charge it up even once. Or pass them a phone mid-call, after saying loudly to the caller “I’ll just put you on to my colleague, she’s the expert on that.” If they suddenly faint, suspect hearing loss.

For The Birds…And Cookiebiters

One of the benefits of being a mildly bitten cookie biter with respectable high frequency thresholds, is that I can lie in bed of a morning and still hear the birds tweeting merrily in the park, even while the wondrous Oticons are sound asleep on the bedside table. I have always taken this for granted, but now I appreciate just how lucky I am. So much so that, lately, I have been seized by a sudden urge to identify what birds are responsible for what songs, before the onset of presbycusis silences the tweeters, along with my uncanny ability to hear loose change rattling in someone’s pocket three miles away.

After studying the RSPB library of birdsongs in enjoyable detail, I now know that the trees of Queen’s Park are full of invisible blackbirds, sparrows and tits. I already knew about the urban magpies because from May onwards, you can hear the distinctive sound of them kicking over bins in the back lanes and erecting scaffolding to build their nests. What struck me was that all of the bird calls I recognised on the recordings evoked instant memories of places, and invariably nice ones, which is probably one part of why listening to birdsong is so relaxing. Long may it continue.

Thankfully I have not yet heard the call of the Peregrine falcon from my bed, but it may just be a matter of time, according to this morning’s news report from the BBC, which has a video of a displaced falcon family nesting on the 24th floor of a tower block. You can tell they’re tough Glaswegian falcons because there’s no string tied to their legs and they’re not wearing those wee leather safety helmets you usually see them with. They’re a bit rough with the wean, too.

Hopefully they’ll find a more conventional place to nest next year, because the last thing you want to be watching your back for while you’re eating your chips outside The Blue Lagoon on a Friday night, is a hungry falcon that isn’t attached to a string.

Big Night Out On Bute

You know you’re doing something daft when you’re working out a short cut home, and having to consult tide timetables and a lunar calendar to ensure you’ll actually get there in one piece. This was the scenario when we realised that the last bus home from Saturday night’s King Creosote gig at Mountstuart House on Bute, was timed to depart right in the middle of the performance.

We had three options: 1. Depart with the last bus right in the middle of the performance, 2. Embark on a bunion-punishing two hour walk home in the dark along a country road after the performance had finished, or 3. Embark on a slightly shorter walk home through the estate grounds, along a potholed B road, down through a steep field on to a rocky bit of beach and across the wet sands at low tide in the dark. Adventurous Option 3 had the most appeal when I cooked it up over my cornflakes and fresh orange juice at breakfast time, but by mid afternoon I had gone off it a bit when I spotted a distant herd of cows appearing back in their field after milking. I reckoned they might not take kindly to being stepped on in the dark by two clumsy humans, and although savagings by dairy cows are rare on Bute, there’s a first time for everything. This realisation led to the hatching of Option 4: a 2 mile pre-King Creosote cycle to the bus stop at the foot of the ascent from Kingarth to Mountstuart, dump the bikes in a hedge, get the bus to the gig, walk for an hour and a half afterwards to pick up the bikes and wobble the last bit home.

“Why didn’t we think of that before, it’s so obvious”, I announced smugly to the spouse as I confidently asked for two singles to Mountstuart on the bus, to ensure there would be no going back. The spouse was a little less convinced and asked the bus driver when the last bus was, just in case.

A couple of hours later, we were happily ensconced in the unusual venue of the crypt below the chapel at Mountstuart, and enjoying Jon Hopkins showing off his perfect pitch party trick between songs while King Creosote re-tuned his guitar. Audience members were invited to sing a random note, and Jon instantly named the note and played it on the piano. For a second I was tempted to join in by cupping my hands over my ears to produce the highest note in the house, but the piano keyboard wouldn’t have had enough keys to cover it, and I didn’t want to wake the inhabitants of the crypt.

As the brightly coloured stained glass panel behind the stage gradually dimmed in the fading twighlight, I found my thoughts drifting from the wonderful musings of King Creosote and Jon Hopkins, to the less edifying prospect of being mown down by a passing car as we walked home on a country road at midnight. The spouse was reading my mind.

“Wanna get the bus?” he whispered. Several times.

Siemens v Danalogic : The Playoff

Last week, the very nice and very helpful senior audiologist at clinic O gave me two sets of hearing aids to compare, to see which works best for my dubious activities outwith the soundproofed room. Hearing aid No. 1 is my original Siemens Chroma S, and hearing aid No. 2 is the newer Danalogic i-FIT 71. The Danalogic had originally been given the heave-ho after its first fitting, because of the intolerably loud circuit noise which was being picked up by the hiss-sensitive cookie bite ears. It has since been slightly de-hissed, and is being given a second chance to see whether the benefits of slightly better overall sound quality outweigh the downside of listening to digital tinnitus all day long.

At the weekend, I decided to blow the dust off the piano, in order to subject both aids to a rigorous and highly scientific test of their music handling capabilities. Using every ounce of my musical talent, I wrote a technically challenging composition, designed to put silence to the test every bit as much as sound. The opening sequence invites the pianist to channel the spirit of John Cage while the Delayed Startup beeps of the i-FIT 71 count down to Power On. The climax of the piece, in bars 6-8, involves a technically demanding sequence of three triad chords in a row, situated right in the middle of the cookie bite zone, a notorious spot for over-amplification in the past.

All that was missing was a functional MRI scan to find out what was going down in the Cookie Bite Auditory Cortex while all this was going on, but who needs a £100,000 scanner when you’ve got a nice sharp HB pencil to to draw what you’re hearing instead.

The results show that, on music, the Danalogic is the clear winner. It hissed its way consistently through the test from start to finish,  but there was no great distortion of sound, just louder hissing when notes are sounded. The Siemens, on the other hand, was nice and quiet on silence, but couldn’t resist creating a musical accompaniment all of its own to the piano. This consists of a gentle rattling noise on notes lower than C3, and random chirps and beeps everywhere else. The keys between G5 and B5 remain scarily loud and have to be approached with extreme caution.

Winner of the Piano Playoff Test: The Danalogic i-FIT 71.

Coming up next: The Mumbling Student Test. Will the Chroma S fight back?

Kookybite Innovation #6

My quest for the perfect hearing aid-free digital piano playing experience is being hampered by a combination of total ignorance of music software and hardware, combined with extreme impatience with technological matters. The sort of impatience that can lead to things getting smashed up.

I want to equalize the output of my Clavinova as I’m playing it, to fill in the cookie bite, but I don’t know what I’m doing.  Recent exposure to my mistakes is causing the spouse to run away in terror with his hands over his ears whenever he sees the laptop going anywhere near the piano.

Someone invent this plug-in thingy that does it all for me. Pleeeeeease.


Update 11 Sep 2015…come on, I’m still waiting




Sound Thought 2011 Part 3

The audience hushed as the presenter appeared in the beam of a spotlight with a ream of A4 sheets of white paper held to his chest. At well-timed intervals, successive sheets dropped from his hands and fluttered poetically into the darkness. “Hear the sounds all around you” read the text*on one. “Hear the sound of your heart beating” said another.

The audience was experiencing Benn Dunn’s ‘Signed Sound’ presentation, which began with a soundless performance piece, referencing, amongst other things, the composer John Cage’s experience in an anechoic chamber. Despite the hearing aid’s enthusiasm for sampling all the least poetic aspects of the unique acoustic ambience of Arch 6, I was enraptured. Even when one of the captions said “hear the gentle sound of this sheet of paper hitting the floor”. Well, that’s what imagination is for, I said to myself, but I started to get a bit worried when the size of the lettering suddenly started to become smaller a few sheets further on. “Raise your hand if you are having difficulty reading this” said a well-timed sheet. Keen to preserve my silent listening experience, I immediately stuck my hand up. I was the only one.

“Oh…” said Ben, introducing the first unplanned utterance to the silence. “Is it the lighting? How about if I stand here?”

Thanks to me, John Cage had just left the room.

Chairs creaked as nineteen silhouetted heads turned to see who the perceptually challenged person at the back was. Eager to ensure my soundless listening comfort, Ben followed the trajectory of his previous piece of paper and leapt athletically from the stage into the darkness.

“Better?” he said hopefully.

“No, it’s not the lights”, I replied, in the second unplanned utterance, “I’m just really short-sighted.” There was a burst of laughter from the audience, and I suddenly felt very glad of the darkness.

Half an hour later things were back on track and, to the delight of the woman at the back with the dodgy eyesight and the hearing aid, Robert Fulford’s ‘Hearing-Impaired Musicians’ Use and Experience of Hearing Aid Technology’ presentation appeared on the screen. Thankfully there were no sheets of A4 paper in sight.

A very poised presenter, Robert explained that he was in the first year of his PhD at the Royal Northern College of Music and went on to describe his research to date. He is interested in what motivates hearing impaired musicians, what challenges they face and how they are overcome. He has been interviewing a selection of musicians (ranging from amateur to professional) who use hearing aids, and recording their views on how useful, or otherwise, aids are to their performance and enjoyment of music. Some of his sample musicians were born deaf or hearing impaired, and some lost their hearing later in life to different degrees. Some used hearing aids when playing, and some did not. It was interesting to hear about those musicians, some of them profoundly deaf, who preferred to play unaided, and really sad to hear about those who needed to play aided, but lived in fear of their old analogue aids dying, because they found digital aids unusable for music. The personal accounts which Robert featured were very vivid and I look forward to hearing about how his research progresses.

We had a nice chat afterwards, and then I disappeared out on to the gale lashed streets. The musical mushrooms were still tinkling away merrily in their bell jar as I passed.


*my paraphrasing of Ben’s text from memory…apologies!

Sound Thought 2011 Part 2

When the first round of paper presentations finished, there was a 15 min break before the start of the ‘Sound and Industry’ session leading up to lunch. Hmm…Musical Mushrooms during the break, or a free cup of tea and a chocolate digestive? It was no contest, and I was soon wrestling with the tap mechanism on the tea urn and hoping no-one was watching as I missed my cup. Back at my seat, the satisfying crunching of the chocolate biscuit temporarily occupied my ears until the next three postgraduate student presenters took to the stage to discuss composers’ rights  and music in the age of digital reproduction. All very interesting, and as I headed to the restaurant for lunch afterwards, I was delighted to finally stumble across the musical mushrooms in a tiny darkened room. Trapped in a sweating bell jar and glowing green in the beam of a laser, their drifting spores were sending secret messages to a series of metal chimes which sounded at different pitches and emitted fleeting flashes of light with every tinkle.

After lunch, I prepared myself for the highlight of the day for me, the Sound and the Listener presentations, including the ‘Hearing-Impaired Musicians’ Use and Experience of Hearing Aid Technology’ paper. In order to make the occasion perfect, I needed to fit in another free cup of tea and a biscuit back at Arch 6 before it started. Now that I knew where I was going, I strode assertively to the glass doors leading to the Kafkaesque corridor, and pondered whether I would stick with the chocolate digestives or move on to the custard creams and jammie dodgers…BANG. I bounced noisily off the right hand door as I pushed against it with my shoulder. Undeterred, I pulled it instead, to no avail. Then I gave it a good rattle just to make sure. Must be the other door I thought, as I noisily rattled it as well, watched with disdain by some über cool types lounging on the sofas in the foyer, who knew a locked glass door when they saw it.

“Can I help you?” said a steward.

“I’m trying to get to the 2:30 presentation”, I said, making no mention of the free biscuits.

“Take a seat in the foyer, Madam, there’s a slight delay, we’ll let you know when it’s starting”, said the steward.

I slunk over to a cube shaped leather pouffé and pretended to take a great interest in the contents of my handbag while I waited. Time was running out on my biscuits.

“Would the presenters for the 2:30 paper presentations please assemble in the foyer” said an announcement over the pa system. Ah, so they were actually running late I thought with relief. My biscuits were safe. I could relax. I was just drifting off into a nice daydream featuring a packed pastel-coloured cakestand, when a very polite chap approached me and said,

“Excuse me, are you talking at Sound Thought this afternoon?”

I was seized by a sudden bizarre impulse to say ‘Yes’ just to see what would happen, but settled for a slightly hesitant “No…” instead.

If only I had kept to my word…

Coming up in Part 3:

  • I play safe and decide to stick with the chocolate digestives
  • My eyes cause even more trouble than my ears.
  • I finally get to the point

Sound Thought 2011 Part 1

Non-musical mushrooms

“I’m looking for the musical mushrooms” I said, pointing to The Secret Sounds of Spores Installation in the Sound Thought 2011 brochure, “but I haven’t a clue how to find my way round this place”. I was in The Arches, the cavernous converted Victorian railway arches beneath Glasgow Central Station, and I was running late because of the unfortunate oversight of rushing out the house sans hearing aid and having to go back. I was there to enjoy the promised festival of ‘mould-breaking music, sound and performance research’, and was particularly interested in the afternoon session on musicians’ use of hearing aids.

“Just go right to the end of that corridor, turn right and someone will direct you”, said the friendly girl at the box office. Several minutes and a quite a few hundred metres later, I reached the end of the Kafkaesque corridor, where a Type 5 Inaudible steward emerged from the gloom and said something, well, inaudible. I was just about to say “I’m here for the mushrooms” to end the verbal impasse, when I was swiftly ushered through a set of double doors and found myself in almost complete darkness.

A strong smell of disinfectant assaulted my nostrils as I entered the space. I could hear voices, and once my eyes adjusted, I realised I was in a huge brick vaulted cavern illuminated by red safelights and the reflected glow from a projector screen. This isn’t the flippin’ mushrooms, I sighed as I noted the silhouetted audience of fifteen scattered round little metal cafe tables near a stage with a microphoned presenter on it. Oh heck, it’s the end of the first set of paper presentations, I thought, as I slid into the only available seat at the back while I worked out my next move. Resigned to a slight detour in my fungi-finding schedule, I settled in and cast my eyes around the scene. I saw with great satisfaction that the stage had two enormous speakers and an amp on it, and I basked in the nice warm glow of clearly audible voices from the stage.

My joy was short-lived, however, as the first of many trains rumbled noisily out of the station directly above my head. Dah-duh dah-duuuuuh…..dah-duh dah-duuuuuh…..thudded the wheels  on the track joints, as 400 tons of slowly moving metal bore down on the meticulously arched Victorian brickwork overhead. The hearing aid rattled with great excitement at all the unusual low frequency reverberations, before being enticed into a high-pitched duet with a bleeping forklift truck which had started up in the space next door. When a passing underground train now shook the concrete floor between my feet I felt relieved that, with the notorious exception of The Tay Bridge, the Victorians were renowned for the over-engineering of all their load-bearing railway structures.

Between trains, as the undecayed echoes from a distant bout of industrial hammering along the corridor bounced straight into my gaping lugs, I realised that the day was going to be an interesting listening experience for all the wrong reasons.

Coming up in Part 2:

  • My greed for free tea and biscuits results in an embarrassing tussle with a glass door
  • I get mistaken for a missing presenter as I eagerly await the start of the Music and Hearing Aids session
  • I catastrophically destroy the poetic silence of a soundless performance piece
  • I finally get to experience the Music of the Spores


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