When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. That old adage may be what inspired a graduate student to turn a mysterious ear lemon known as the Windsor Hum – a low-frequency noise that has plagued residents of this Ontario town for many years – into a song that will become part of his PhD thesis. If it has a booty-shaking beat, a hit cover by Miley Cyrus just might be the lemonade that pays off this student’s loans.
First things first. What’s the Windsor Hum? It’s one of those mysteriously annoying and persistent low-frequency earth hums – humming noises that have plagued people for years in places like Bristol, England, Taos, New Mexico (a hum that was mentioned in an “X-Files” episode), Auckland, New Zealand and Windsor, Ontario. At least two percent of the population of Taos can hear the hum, which should be enough people to force officials to find the source and shut the $%)@$ thing off.
Windsor has at least accomplished the first part. A study traced the source of the hum – often described as an idling truck engine – to Zug Island, which is across the Detroit River in River Rouge, Michigan. So not only is the Windsor Hum annoying, it’s American!
Zug Island is home to a U.S. Steel operation as well as other steel and manufacturing facilities. As expected, neither they nor local Michigan officials can identify which one is making the hum. Could it be because they haven’t allowed anyone with audio recording gear on the island?
Someone who knows his way around audio gear is Brian Garbet, a PhD candidate from Calgary. He managed to get a boat close to the shore of Zug Island a year ago and record the sound underwater. He’s incorporating the hum into his thesis which is a musical composition combining unusual field recordings with a clarinet and electronics. That doesn’t sound like a Grammy winner but anything is better than the Windsor Hum.
Meanwhile, Ontario and Michigan fight over who owns the Windsor Hum while others around the world struggle to convince non-believers and officials they can actually hear it and it’s not in their heads. Is it really the vibrations from far-away factories? Underwater ocean waves may be causing them on the coasts, but in West Seattle and in California, the hum is being blamed on the mating calls of the toadfish.
Maybe it will help Brian Garbet get his doctorate if he calls his band Hootie and the Toadfish.