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Re: musical hallucinations

Dear Diana, Bill, and list,

A few years ago I became interested in top-down processes in
auditory perception.  I was aware of an example where a professor
started a piece of music in his class, then gradually raised the
noise and got each student to indicate when he or she could no
longer hear the music.  When the noise was intense, he shut off
the music altogether.  Some students continued to hear the music
for some time. [I don't know the reference for this incident, or
even if it is true, but it is widely cited.]

I asked myself whether the preliminary playing of the music was
really necessary.  It happened that subsequently I was on a
plane, near the engines at the back, in a very noisy spot.  I
told myself that I would hear music -- not just imagine it, but
hear it through my ears.  I listened for the music very hard.  At
first I only heard a couple of notes; eventually, as I strained
to hear what was there, I could hear sustained melodies.  With
repeated practice, hearing the music became less and less
effortful.  To make a long story short, the dominant experiences
were of marching music and male choirs.

I tried it on another occasion with a different kind of noise.
My belief is that the acoustic structure of the noise plays an
important role in the nature of the hallucination, with the brain
constructing interpretations that use the spectral distribution
of the raw auditory experience.  When medication is involved, the
medication  may be triggering tinnitus with specific spectral
characteristics, and the brain tries to interpret the "sound" as
meaningful signals.  One question that occurs to me is where the
rhythm comes from for the marching music.  One's heartbeat would
be a plausible source


Al Bregman
Albert S. Bregman, Emeritus Professor
Dept of Psychology, McGill University
1205 Docteur Penfield Avenue
Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 1B1

     Phone:  +1 (514) 398-6103
     Fax: +1 (514) 398-4896
Home phone & Fax: +1 (514) 484-2592
Email:   al.bregman@mcgill.ca

----- Original Message -----
From: "Diana Deutsch" <ddeutsch@UCSD.EDU>
Sent: 6-Aug-02 6:04 PM
Subject: musical hallucinations

> Hello Bill et al,
> The description your colleague gave is in line with many other
> descriptions. Musical hallucinations tend to be of religious or
> patriotic songs (such as are 'Amazing Grace' or 'The Battle
Hymn of
> the Republic'), and less often of folk tunes. They are most
> frequently experienced as singing by male voices - often male
> or choruses - and less frequently as orchestral music. They
> often occur in elderly people who have some hearing loss;
> this is just a statistic, and people of all ages can experience
> They can be triggered by medications, such as high doses of
> and beta blockers, and they are typically so vivid that
> initially believe that the music is being played on a radio,
> a P.A. system, or outside on the street. As your colleague
> the music that is 'heard' is superimposed on other sounds,
> other music, and comes and goes unexpectedly.
> I am in the initial stages of a study of musical
hallucinations, and
> would be very interested to hear about any other such cases.
> Best wishes,
> Diana
> >Hello Auditory Gang,
> >
> >The following report comes from a retired colleague (male) who
> >permission for this distribution. I promised to collect
comments that
> >you might have and send them on to him. It seems like an
interesting case.
> >
> >Best wishes,
> >Bill Hartmann
> >
> >
> >"I have a loss of hearing of about 25% in my right ear.  A few
weeks ago I was
> >sitting at home alone when I began to hear music which
appeared to be
> >associated with my right ear. The music was mostly simple
songs such as
> >patriotic tunes or religious songs, sometimes a few bars of
classical music. A
> >tune repeats itself for a while and then changes to another."
> >
> >"What is interesting about this is not the repetition.  I have
had tunes hung
> >in my head before, which I suppose is very common.  My
previous experience
> >with repeating tunes has only involved one tune at a time. I
have not had this
> >one tune experience in decades.  What is different this time
is that this
> >music appears to play in the background all of the time,
independent of what I
> >am doing.  It doesn't prevent any activities. I can become
involved in
> >activities and forget about it.  However, as soon as these
activities cease
> >the music reappears in the middle of some tune.  The
reappearance is
> >unexpected
> >because I am not thinking about the music in any way
whatsoever.  The tune is
> >different from the one that I ceased to hear when I began the
activity. The
> >music appears to switch from background to foreground whenever
the outside
> >sound has low volume.  For example, I am now sitting alone at
the computer and
> >can hear it quite clearly. I can talk aloud to myself and
still hear the tune
> >in the background."
> >
> >"Associated with the music is a simple harmonic sound.  The
frequency is about
> >that of a trombone.  It rises and lowers as if the trombone
were slurring up
> >and down the scale. The range is about one octave. The sound
is somewhat
> >"buzzy" like an old fluorescent light."
> >
> >"The music and the accompanying sound are heard at all times
independent of
> >where I am.   Another oddity is that the tunes increase in
volume when I am
> >driving on the expressway. This is very peculiar because the
tunes appear to
> >feed upon the noise of the expressway, which is just the
opposite of what they
> >normally do.  Usually when outside noise increases the tunes
disappear. Of
> >course on the expressway a lot of the noise that I hear is
periodic associated
> >with the engine and tires, not white noise."
> >
> >"My only medicinal change is that I started taking a diuretic
> >several days to a
> >week before the music and harmonic sound began.  I am on a
large number of
> >medications but have been on them for quite a while.  I have
had high blood
> >pressure for many years which is controlled by lotensin. The
only person in my
> >family who has had hearing problems is my older brother.  He
had Meniere's
> >disease and finally lost hearing in one ear.  He often felt
ill and off
> >balance.  I have not experienced this."
> >
> >end
> --
> -----------------------------------
> Diana Deutsch
> Professor of Psychology
> Department of Psychology
> University of California, San Diego
> La Jolla, CA 92093, USA
> 858-453-1558 (tel)
> 858-453-4763 (fax)
> ddeutsch@ucsd.edu
> http://www-psy.ucsd.edu/~ddeutsch
> -----------------------------------