Hope for silence


The people who fight tinnitus are probably desperately looking for a change in their condition. Unfortunately, for now, there is no real cure existing to ease the symptoms of this condition. I can only wish to experience the silence through the ears someday when the ringing finally let us go. However, the need to move on and deal with this problem requires also to agree with the fact that from now on, these tiny little noises, like trespassers, will always accompany you wherever you go, whatever you do, and whatever you listen to. This new reality has to be accepted, and we need to learn how to live with it. Otherwise, we will drown in high-pitched sound that will never let us go, creating a hole in our own perception of music with all its beauty and millions of timbral shades to find.

The experience of tinnitus also proves how the musician's mind can interpret and somehow fight with this phenomenon, at least in my case. The reaction for sound differs as the sensation coming from inside the listener's head resembles the process of thinking - a brainstorming of thoughts generated inside a person, "spoken out loud" inside the human mind, but never spoken aloud in reality. It seems that fascinatingly my brain continuously thinks with sound, while it is also able to conduct thinking processes simultaneously. Maybe, analyzing the issue of tinnitus, I am given something more inside of my psyche and can turn it into a personal advantage? Maybe I become reshaped as a musician?

Sounding tinnitus


"Hypertexture" is a composition written for the video layer and quadraphonic electronic setup. It tries to simulate tinnitus audio sensations and mix its distorting shape over the sonic and visual layers with the most realistic result that can be developed. "Hypertexture" explores sonically the potential of the artist's inner ear phantom noises to create timbrally important sonic landscapes and draw a certain psychological profile for the subject of simultaneous belonging of noise in art and life of the composer.

The music material originates from several sources:


-        white noise generation and filtering;


-        using prerecorded and transformed sounds coming from the artist's surroundings - sounds of the electric razor, boiling the water, the constant noise of ventilation, or the sound of heavy rain in the back yard;


-        specific 24-TET analog synthesizer arrangements in a high pitch ordering, "borrowed", or rather to say, "inspired" by the sonic research conducted in the previously written composition "Isorropia. In search of balance".


My goal was to use the sound material that could most adequately simulate the phenomenon of tinnitus in music but still possess the highest artistic quality and sensitive musical narration of all the nuances that this phenomenon brings with itself. The reason to use white noise does not seem to need any additional explanation. Implementation of prerecorded surrounding sounds from my household somehow underlines the personal experiences by putting me inside the artistic process. It signifies the timbres and noises that accompanied me during this year and created acoustic space around me. Certain stress is put on the type of noise transformed - all mentioned above sound sources represent long-lasting, drone-like structures of bigger or lesser intensity. However, transformed into electroacoustic material "chunks", their intensity and volume can be the subject to a radical change in perception, highly manipulated or completely contorted.

Finally, the 24-TET arrangements derived from the specific analog synthesizer settings, used previously in the compositional process of making "Isorropia. In search of balance", were very important for me to find a place in "Hypertexture". As the reader probably knows by now, composing "Isorropia [...]" found me at the most critical moment during the start of the pandemic. Bringing a tiny bit of the sound space from this piece into the new electroacoustic work, so closely connected to the experiences from the first pandemic phase, has a personal significance and gives me a certain type of closure at the end of 2020.

In terms of formal construction of the piece, music has a form of an arch - it slowly emerges as a highly resonating, noisy, but of constant intensity, material. Very delicate, irregularly rhythmically distributed clicking sounds (like the low pitch clicking inside the inner ear) reappear from time to time, distributed spatially from each speaker. The material develops slowly and repeats on the border of tiredness - as the monotonous character of tinnitus continuous lasting does not allow for the radical change and spontaneous introduction of contrasts. Whilst the high note pitch constructions intensify, and the white noise movement intensifies, a long low pitch enters aggressively (the video content will be analyzed in the next section of this article) at 2'00'' of the music. The harmonic shape of music begins to intensify and change. The sound dominance and dynamic increase of the high-pitch clusters begin to rise towards the unpleasant level on the border of pain. The same thing happens during the intensified tinnitus presence when the nerve receptors trigger the human brain and send the signals that force the brain to transform and interpret the information as the sound signal. The sound in "Hypertexture" rises dramatically and bursts with its climax intensity - but not radical sound change - at 3'32'' of the composition, accompanied by one bell-like hit dispersed in the sound space. The timbral mixtures develop slowly as I try to introduce the materials by gradual reemerging of sound structures from the previous timbral settings. After the gradual intensification and dynamic rise of all music materials towards the unbearable noise, the slight cut in 4'57'' marks a slightly changed type of timbral structure. However, the dynamic level does not drop down, and the rise of the white noise, high pitch whining, and clicking end abruptly at 6'02'', followed by several seconds of silence. That was the only way to finish the composition for me, as tinnitus does not fade away, does not give up, but can last forever. Cutting the music marks only finishing the composition, maybe philosophical winning over the condition, but not cutting it out from real life. The importance of the music's quadraphonic setting also has a significant meaning, resembling the harmonic space of the listener's head. It enables one to get inside the head of a person fighting with a tinnitus problem. In this way, I could share the sound phenomena, which occur in my head, with the other listeners.      

Visualizing tinnitus


Although I initially did not plan to create a video part of this composition, "Hypertexture" resembled an audiovisual phenomenon more than simply a sonic one. I have started to see the tinnitus while listening to it, and the analysis of the subject made me decide to work on audiovisual content for this composition simultaneously. Approaching sound and video together brings the additional argument to show this condition's significance to the wider audience by visualizing the sound of the tricked nerves and human brain.

The meaning of the word "hypertexture" originates from the computer graphic world and describes "a realistic simulated surface texture produced by adding small distortions across the surface of an object." This term and technique of modeling and generating complex 3D structures has been developed by the scientist Ken Perlin, a professor at the Department of Computer Science at New York University. Hypertexture is then the result of an extension of multiple solid textures without certain solid boundaries, which in my view, ideally describes the phenomenon of tinnitus - a sound created over the mixture of sounds and signals, without certain boundaries in its existence within the human mind. Although the video created in this composition does not contain or implement the technological postulates of the hypertexture theory in its execution, I have tried to find inspiration in mixing this concept with the imaginary visual shapes from the tinnitus sound world.

The main assumption in creating the video content of "Hypertexture" was to keep the video rough, somehow primitive in mixing certain images into the film. I have prepared a set of words that can describe the sound phenomenon and help me to transcribe it into the visual content: harshness, glitch, continuity, stability through instability, inclusion, or finally, being trapped inside an event. 

Glitch and continuity are represented by the constantly moving and reshaping background in the video layer - originally a recording of a concrete wall (could there be more meaningful material than concrete?!). Reappearing bubbles and water drops resemble the clicking in the ear phenomenon, its repetitiveness and intensity. A human ear, reappearing in several crucial moments of the music layer, remind us of the endless, unstoppable hearing, the unbearable continuity of noise that cannot be silenced. Finally, several video shots of human face present extreme emotions in combination with extreme sounds - "shushing" face, with the index finger stretched in front of the mouth, screaming face, and the screaming face with hands stretched on both sides of the head. However, I do not want to give my own interpretation of these video shots to the public knowledge, rather encourage you to find your own interpretation and reasoning for their reappearances in various parts of the video material.

In my opinion, sound and video complement each other and present a full view of the condition of tinnitus. I can only pity that my artwork only mimics but cannot cure the condition I speak about; however, I would be so happy if it could reduce the noise level inside my ears at least once...

VII Hypertexture. 

The fight with tinnitus



Hearing differently




I consider myself a strong and persistent person. Finding a way to solve a problem, break the stalemate, and fix the issues under the pressure of a deadline approaching are stimulating factors that free me and encourage me to work fast and efficiently. I would never assume that the worldwide pandemic could break my spirit so easily. As a result of the panic attack experienced in March 2020, a new passenger manifested its presence inside my inner ear - tinnitus. Tinnitus, the perception of noise and the high pitched ringing in the ears, is the problem of almost twenty percent of humankind. It most commonly reveals itself in the face of stress, fear, or age-related hearing problems, but it is only a symptom of an underlying condition, not a disease itself. I have started to experience the sounds differently, which was a scary phenomenon for itself. A high and intensive pressure that occurs inside the head of the person affected with tinnitus easily distracts the mind and prevents this person's normal functioning in society. As a result of the hard impact it made on my hearing capability, I fought with the influence of tinnitus for several months, now experiencing this problem from time to time, usually unexpectedly and with no explanatory reason of why it shows up (for example, at the very moment of writing this text).


Tinnitus, as an experience of endogenous nature, happens only inside the head of a person affected. It can spread over the whole head or be heard as a sensation in one specific ear. This phantom noise can manifest itself through ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking, hissing, or even humming. In my case, it is the high pitched ringing towards the left ear, accompanied with a slight humming, like bowing the violin on the highest string alto sul ponticello with constantly intense pressure. A counterpoint to that is a delicate low-pitch clicking inside a left ear, at the irregular steps of time that I can control by myself with pressure change inside the ear (if you are familiar with the clicking and closing/opening of the ear during the flight departure, it might be a similar sensation). I consider this condition to function as a wall of noises - it was impenetrable at the beginning of a panic attack, covering most of the sounds from the outside of my head, but after "taming" it, it became almost always accompanying background to every sound that surrounds me. 


I am aware that this paragraph is extremely personal and shares a lot of what has been happening to me during the recent year; however, I believe that we cannot be afraid to speak of the problems like that loud and clear. Especially musicians, who face tinnitus with terror, are unsure of what impact it will leave on the tool they use for everyday work - the most precious and only two given - ears. I remember the first thought that came to my mind after being affected with tinnitus:



"I am also a conductor! How am I going to work with orchestras when I hear extra sounds in my head? Am I actually able to conduct again?"



This terrifying thought spread inside me that my condition can enable my return to conducting career and "mislead" while "leading" the orchestra: confuse the sound of piccolo with the reverberations of gongs, misread the timbral quality of high harmonics in the string orchestra, address the correction of sound that only happens inside my head, and many other possible sound confusions my composer-head started to invent in an instant. Finally, the most crucial way of getting better from this condition is to share its impact on you with others, use the support of the closest ones, in many cases, also improve a healthy lifestyle and add relaxation methods to the everyday routine (yoga, meditation), and last but not least, probably the most important tip for musicians the most - try NOT to listen to tinnitus sound! We make this mistake quite often because listening is part of our work. I caught myself multiple times listening to the high pitched ringing and try to find which concrete note is "tuning-in" inside me, somehow struggling to solve the illusion I face. However, the most successful way to fight tinnitus is to avoid listening to it and focus all attention on other activities. Fighting it through throwing yourself into work is probably the wisest solution to do. This is how the idea for creating "Hypertexture" came to my mind, which is a tribute to all afflicted with the problem of tinnitus and intends to familiarize the ones who never heard of it about its problematic and disturbing nature.

Spectrogram of the quadrophonic layers of "Hypertexture"