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Music industry struggles with constant ringing in ears

huub van der lubbe music sector constant ringing ears

Constant beep in ear

Neil Young. Ozzy Osbourne. Chris Martin. Barbra Streisand. Huub van der Lubbe. Lars Ulrich. They have something in common: a constant ringing in their ears. Neil Young made the lighthearted Harvest Moon because his hearing did not tolerate louder sound. Brian Johnson of AC/DC had to give up performing for it, and even for Huub van der Lubbe, quitting De Dijk was prompted by the relentless ringing in his ear. What is it like to make music with such a squeak?

Noise level to max 100 decibels

The Health Council recommended this week to the Secretary of State for Health, Welfare and Sport that the maximum sound level of amplified music be reduced to 100 decibels. The previously agreed upon standard is 103 decibels, an average measured over 15 minutes. No small step, those decibels less, because that’s about half as soft.

Remko Edelaar, solo bassoonist in the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and also a tax consultant, has tinnitus. “As a bassoonist, you sit rotten,” he says: in front of the timpani, close to the brass. Tinnitus, he says, is commonplace for wind players: “The vast majority” of his colleagues suffer from it. This is precisely why we need to look for solutions,” he said. He does not blame anyone: colleagues are considerate of each other. Brass warns of the loudest passages and holds back during rehearsals. In addition, there are sound barriers within the orchestra and earplugs are provided that cover up to 25 decibels.

Solid hearing damage we all have, but only some is fixable

“In 2012, the wheezing got so bad with me that I was near desperation. The doctor said, deal with it, there’s not much you can do about it. But I am now rid of 95 percent of my symptoms through massage sessions with Marieke Schut, who is an oboist in the Asko | Schonberg ensemble and also an osteopath. After a loud symphony by Sibelius the other day, the squeak was much worse again, much less after a treatment session with her. Knowing that I can have something done about it that way takes away a lot of worry. Solid hearing damage we all have. But some of it has to do with muscles, and is fixable. And some of it is not. My colleague Marcel Geraeds, clarinetist, is now developing and testing VR therapy to make tinnitus associated with hearing damage, not muscle tension, more manageable.”

Symphonic climaxes

Audiologist and clinical physicist Jan de Laat of Leiden University was on the committee that drafted the Health Council’s report. In his consultations over the past ten years, he has seen “increasing numbers” of patients with hearing damage from the music industry: DJs, sound technicians and musicians – both from the amplified (pop) and unamplified (classical) world. “In the Netherlands, two million people play music: fortunately, there is increasing awareness of how important good hearing protection is then,” says De Laat. “I myself play oboe in an orchestra and experience firsthand how sound can be too intense. I have also had many orchestral musicians at my consultation over the past twenty years; the Rotterdam Philharmonic was known for playing hard.”

At symphonic climaxes, even an orchestra (not amplified) then quickly reaches sound levels well above 80 decibels. “That’s where the risk starts,” De Laat said. This is especially true for brass and woodwind players, percussionists and the back rows of the strings, who sit against the horns. “I estimate that now 10 to 20 percent of musicians use hearing protection, which could be way better.”

Composer Stephen Emmer, who among other things wrote the television leads for the NOS News and RTL News, has himself had tinnitus for over ten years now. “At first I thought about getting retrained because I just couldn’t concentrate,” Emmer says. “It was a constant noise, and when I was stressed a beep would come with it. That one had a certain pitch, clashing with the piece I was working on. That was just false. Fortunately, I now have that wheeze under control, using breathing techniques.”

How big the problem is? Emmer: “I asked a sound engineer if he knew any other people with tinnitus. He said, “Who doesn’t? At least half of the professionals run with it, is my estimate. They’re often told to just get used to it, but that’s really a dead giveaway.”

Medical solution

Emmer has started a petition and established a foundation, Artists Against Tinnitus, through which he requests government, medical and pharmaceutical industries to come up with a concrete medical solution in the foreseeable future. He believes that the evaluation of the report should involve more people than the parties currently invited because, Emmer says, these are mostly parties with economic interests. “I think artists should also be heard. And the pharmaceutical industry also needs to do more research on tinnitus. When it comes to money, we artists are quite willing to think along, with a benefit concert, for example.”

Health Council report

Concert halls, event planners and the hospitality industry have already indicated they do not want to comply with the new decibel standard. Hearing damage, says industry association KHN, for example, can also be sustained on the shop floor or with music listening through earbuds. On Dec. 8, the House will debate the Health Council report.

[Source : NRC – Mischa Spel & Peter van der Ploeg]