When I was much younger, perhaps in my early twenties, I recall waking up one morning, very early, and being aware of a low frequency humming 'noise', more of a feeling than a sound. I could sense it resonating through my body. Suddenly, very suddenly, it stopped and I felt an immediate sense of release and relief, as though all of my anxieties and troubles had lifted and I felt somehow free. Within a second or two the hum had returned – and it has, as far as I am aware, never left me since then. I say 'as far as I am aware' because it is something I seem to have been living with my whole life, apart from that memorable moment when the hum stopped and I felt liberated.
I've thought about this experience often since that moment and wondered whether the cause was internal like some form of tinnitus (although it didn't feel like it came from within me) or something external. I wondered whether this was something others had experienced, whether it was a natural sound or something man-made.
In the days before the internet, there was precious little information to go on; occasionally a Sunday newspaper would have a trivial account of people hearing a mysterious 'humming' but such reports were generally slightly patronising in tone and followed the trend of the day for wacky accounts of alien encounters in the woods, UFOs and other very typically 1970's popular pseudo-scientific myths.
When the internet came along, gradually stories emerged from people seeking answers to the phenomenon, thousands around the world were searching for others who had experienced the odd and disturbing hum. And it turns out that the hum is really a 'thing', people from every corner of the planet sharing their own experience of this odd sensation - with a peculiar concentration of reports coming from the UK.
It was good to know that I wasn't alone but still I had no credible information as to what the hum was – or why it momentarily stopped that morning when I felt a sudden, short-lived release.
During the past couple of decades, as more and more reports of the mysterious hum have come to light, science has been trying to explain what it is and where it comes from.
There is little dispute that it exists but the source is still unknown. Suggestions have ranged from it being the vibrations of the jet stream or seismic activity deep within the earth, to the sounds of amorous fish getting busy in the depths of the sea.
One very sinister theory suggests that it is indeed a man-made vibration which is being used to target individuals in a form of governmental mind control. But it might not be helpful to contemplate such conspiratorial theories when there is apparently no plausible basis for them. I can, however, understand the latter theory in essence and why it has been put forward because, as with any low frequency sound, if it goes on for long enough then it becomes at first irritating, then infuriating and then defeating. Imagine a car engine running outside your bedroom window in the early hours. It drones on and on and eventually you just accept it. Then when it stops you feel great relief. So it is with the hum.
Not everybody can hear it, surveys have generally found that it is only palpable to a small percentage of the population. Quite why that might be is open to conjecture and only adds to the mystery and confusion.
This week, some scientists announced that they had recorded the hum at the bottom of the ocean. But they can't tell us what it is, they are still unsure. So all the theories remain in circulation. Is it the sound of mating fish? The sinister governmental mind control experiments? Or, as some scientists declare, the very voice of the planet itself – “permanent free oscillations of the Earth” in scientific speak.
Who knows. Will we ever know. Most people will never care because they can't 'hear' it anyway. Perhaps I should feel lucky to be able to sense the hum but to be honest I'd rather I hadn't ever become aware of it. It can be all consuming – and knowing that I experienced it being 'turned off' for a few seconds, makes it all the more frustrating when I am consciously aware of it being there.
If you do want to find out more about the hum, well, then good luck. There is a lot of stuff out there, some of it, as I've discovered, wacky and weird. A good place to start however is the website of Glen MacPherson, a Canadian mathematics teacher and ethnographic researcher, who has been researching the hum for the past few years, setting up a map database of international hum reports in 2012.
Browsing his website and the map of the hum, I was rather pleased to see that a number of reports came from the area in which I first experienced the hum in North West England; it reinforced for me my belief that this thing is real, in spite of the fact that I am one of only a handful I know who can sense it.
I've yet to hear from people who experienced the hum being 'turned off' momentarily as I did all those years ago. As I said, the relief was akin to a blissful breath of fresh air suddenly out of the blue... before it resumed again much to my disappointment. I have even wondered whether the hum is connected in some way to the fact that I experience aura migraines, those strange episodes, so difficult to explain to someone who has never had one, where flashing, vibrant electrical rainbows fill one's visual spectrum, often followed by a deep, throbbing pressure headache which is not dissimilar in nature to the feeling when hearing the hum.
Well, whatever it is, we don't seem to be any closer to finding out the source. Perhaps it is one of those great universal mysteries. Maybe, as I might sometimes speculate, it actually comes from the deepest distant parts of the universe, a vibration of something very ancient at the root of all nature, the sound of the universe itself in all its trembling glory. Or perhaps it is, as others have suggested, a big conglomeration of all the man made mechanical sounds of the planet coming together in a symphony of deep and disturbing humming, like a nightmarish composition of all that is wrong with the world, which can be 'picked up' by those sensitive enough to hear it.
Or maybe it is the pulsating rhythm of our celestial body itself, a song of the living earth. That would be exciting, though one would hope that the earth's song might be easier on the soul and not as distressing as the hum is for most of us.
Perhaps we'll never know, and for the majority it really won't matter because they can't hear it anyway. Meanwhile I'll try to ignore it - it works most of the time - at least until it slowly but surely drives me completely mad or, one can only hope, turns me into a genius...
"Living here on Earth, we breathe the rhythms of a universe that extends infinitely above us. When resonant harmonies arise between this vast outer cosmos and the inner human cosmos, poetry is born."