A few nights ago I woke up around 1am, aware of a low frequency noise I couldn’t account for. At first I thought it was a distant aircraft, but the noise continued at the same sort of level, rather than tailing off. Then I wondered if it might be rumbling traffic, but there’s very little traffic in these parts at that time in the morning, so that didn’t make sense either.
As I lay in bed wondering what it could be and why it was lasting for so long, I had the idea that it might be something mechanical in the house. It sounded a bit like a washing machine gearing up for the spin cycle, but since it was 1am and the rest of the household was all tucked up asleep in bed it couldn’t be that.
Perhaps there was a party or something going on a few streets away and I was hearing the low bass noise from an amplifier. Eventually, I got out of bed and opened my window to see if it was coming from outside, but it didn’t sound any louder with the window open.
Completely puzzled, I wandered downstairs and looked into various rooms, including the kitchen to check on the washing machine. Nothing was astir and although I could still hear the noise it seemed slightly less obvious downstairs. I went outside and strained my ears but I could barely hear it out in the garden. Most curious.
Thinking it might have stopped or I was imagining it, I went back upstairs and got back into bed. To my surprise, I could still hear it as loudly as before, apparently louder than it was downstairs and definitely louder than it had seemed in the garden.
I tried to ignore it and get back to sleep but that proved impossible. Maybe, I thought, it was something unique and local occurring on that particular night. If that was the case perhaps I’d find something online about it. There would surely be other people up and about discussing it or trying to find out what it was.
I powered up my laptop and typed ‘low frequency noise at night’ into Google. Top of the results list was a report from The Independent dated about a year ago entitled ‘Have you heard ‘the hum’?’ Straight after that was a website for The World Hum Map and Database. The third hit was a Wikipedia entry entitled ‘The Hum’. I looked at all these websites in turn.
On the World Hum Database home page I read:
Most people find this website because they are searching for the source of an unusual low frequency sound. The sound is called the Worldwide Hum. The classic description is that it sounds like there is a truck idling outside your home. For some people, it is a deep and distant droning bass tone. Some people perceive the sound as a rumbling noise. The sound is louder indoors than outdoors, and louder late at night than during the afternoon. It can suddenly appear or disappear for days or months.
I read on and, discovering I could add my own experience to the database, set about answering the various questions on the form and describing what the noise sounded like to me. After this I read a few of the entries other people had added, interested to note that the noise had been detected across the world since the 1970s.
According to the map on the World Hum Database, more than 9000 people have recorded their experiences in recent years, many having heard it in the UK and across the USA. Could this suggest it might originate somewhere in the North Atlantic? Among the explanations offered for the hum are volcanic activity, factory output, submarines, mating fish and the pummeling of waves on the seafloor.
All of this was very interesting to me, as was the suggestion that if you hear the hum it’s a good idea to try and see it in a positive, rather than a negative, light. The hum has been known to blight the lives of people who hear it, many of whom suffer from the noise for weeks, months, or even years on end. Bearing this in mind, I went back to bed attempting to think positively about it.
As I lay there, trying to come up with some sort of friendly, soothing explanation, it occurred to me that for years humans have been sending signals into outer space hoping aliens will pick them up and respond. Maybe the hum is their response. An outlandish theory, perhaps, but it was just the job to get me back to sleep. I had a little chat with the aliens, thanking them for their communication and assuring them their signals were welcome. The hum continued droning on in the background, just as it had done before, but I was no longer troubled by it and in fact I rather liked the idea of communicating with aliens.
At some point, I don’t know what time it was, I noticed the noise had stopped. I strained to hear it but it had gone. It was wonderful to be lying there in blissful silence again, but a small part of me felt slightly sorry the aliens had vamooshed. I soon drifted off to sleep and when I woke up in the morning there was no sign of it. I haven’t heard it since, but if it should reappear I’ll be ready for another little chat with my new alien chums.