Think of your favorite song. How does it make you feel? What images do you see when you hear it? Before reaching the brain to create those feelings and images, those musical sounds take a strange, physical, mechanical, and sometimes violent path through the ear.
A large part of how we perceive the audible world depends upon a set of tiny, vibrating bones--bones that often get overlooked until something goes wrong. In this month’s episode, we tell the story of these unsung skeletal heroes, the role they play in hearing, and how unforeseen circumstances can cause irreparable damage.
But first, let’s get acquainted with those three tiny bones known as the ear ossicles. They’re called the malleus (hammer), the incus (anvil), and the stapes (stirrup). The Bone Lab’s artist, Michelle Woronowicz, has drawn them situated inside the head to show their size and location. The ear ossicles sit inside an air filled chamber called the middle ear, which is located between the tympanic membrane at the edge of the outer ear, and the cochlea of the inner ear. As you can see, the ossicles are in just the right spot to transmit sound vibrations from the outer ear to the inner ear, where sound waves are sent off to our brains.
In this month’s episode, Dr. Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Jauregui, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor spoke to us about how these bones help us hear, as well as some of the everyday activities we do that could be dangerous, such as listening to loud music, or even using Q-tips!
We also learn about tinnitus, the perception of noise or ringing in the ears that no one else can hear. Did you know that Ronald Reagan suffered from tinnitus after a pistol was fired close to his ear while filming a movie? In addition to our guests, many other musicians also suffer from tinnitus, including Ozzy Osbourne, Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Dylan, and Barbra Streisand! Even Charles Darwin is reported to have suffered from tinnitus.
Special thanks to our guests, Dr. Eric Pietras and Tom Honey, who talked to us about their experiences with tinnitus.
Dr. Eric Pietras is a scientist, at UC Denver. He’s also a musician. For Eric, music is very personal- in music he sees memories, reflections of particular moments in time. That’s why he was especially frightened by the prospect of losing his hearing after a close encounter with speakers at a Flaming Lips concert. The sound was so loud that his ears actually bled. As a result of this injury, his hearing went from that of a twenty year old to that of a forty year old. But still, Eric is lucky. He isn’t completely deaf. In fact, he still composes electronic music and hosts a weekly ambient and experimental music radio show entitled Sounds In the Dark on the internet radio station, BFF.fm.
We also heard from Tom Honey, who produces ambient music under the handle “Good Weather For An Airstrike.” He was motivated to start this music project as a means of dealing with tinnitus and the insomnia it can cause. In Tom’s case, it wasn’t one particular event that triggered tinnitus, but perhaps rather long-term use of headphones and listening to music that may have been too loud. Now, he has chronic ringing in his ears, that he describes as a nagging sensation that he just can’t shake. At night, when it’s quiet, it’s the only thing he can focus on. Tom realized that he could distract himself from the ringing in his ears by listening to soothing music, especially when he’s trying to fall asleep. He discovered certain types of music really helped him sleep, and he began his own music project, which is specifically designed to help people sleep- and that’s a good thing!
To hear more about their stories, along with a tale of the unsung heros of our skeleton, the ossicles, tune in to this month’s episode of The Bone Lab.
Music:Beams by Eric Pietras, The Silent World by Happiness in Aeroplanes, Pink Gradient by Podington Bear, A Song For Libby by Good Weather For An Airstrike, Like Swimming by Broke For Free
Artwork: Michelle Woronowicz
Production: Jeannie Bailey, Jennifer Fish, Jenny Qi, Kate Woronowicz
Episode 3 - Good Vibrations by The Bone Lab is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License