Home » Uncategorized » I’ve returned from St. Petersburg, Russia. Here’s what I heard.

I’ve returned from St. Petersburg, Russia. Here’s what I heard.

Follow World Hum Map and Database Project on WordPress.com
Follow World Hum Map and Database Project on WordPress.com

I heard the Worldwide Hum roughly four days after I arrived in Russia. It wasn’t as clear and distinct as it here on the Sunshine Coast in BC. The city of St. Petersburg is dense and highly populated, home to more than five million people. So it didn’t surprise me that my nighttime window for hearing the Hum was smaller than in my small town on the West Coast of Canada. Presumably, the cacophony generated by such a densely populated and busy city would only subside for a few hours during the wee hours of the night. My apartment was on Ulitsa Pravdy, in the downtown core and just a few hundred meters away from the intersection of two big metro lines. The Metro (subway) system starts up early, comprises more than 1400 cars and almost 200 trains moving fast and deep – in one case almost 300 feet beneath street level. The road traffic is fast, intense, and high volume. There is a rich and high volume audio spectrum, down into the infrasonic.

And now the anticipated answer to the question: What perceived frequency did I hear?

I’m sorry but I can’t answer that accurately. I opened up the online tone generator several times, but I couldn’t get a good match like I can here. I am quite confident that it is the same general range (i.e. low 50s Hz to mid-60s Hz).

I know this is disappointing because had I been able to get a good frequency match, it could have sorted out one issue: the electric grid. Russia has a 50 Hz grid, unlike North America, which uses 60 Hz. A difference in perceived Hum tone would have been significant and possibly diagnostic. Had I heard a different frequency, it could have also lent weight to the theory that the Hum is a conglomeration of noise, with each location having unique sonic characteristics, interpreted individually by people’s auditory systems.

Anyway, it’s great to be back.



  1. Martin Hunt says:

    Is this the tone generator you used? I’m in the Czech Republic which also uses a 50 hz power grid, and I just tested my headphones / cellphone down to 24hz using the linked generator. I hear the hum here at night; I’ll try to match the hum and use the octave up/octave down method to verify it.

  2. Lisa Allen says:

    Glen, thanks for that report as well as sharing your experience trying to get into the library. They really mean business over there, don’t they! I’m glad you got back home safely and hope you enjoyed seeing St. Petersburg. When I was in Scotland, as well as other areas of the U.S., and heard the hum (not everywhere, but in some places), it also did not sound the same as I hear it in my house. It was so much softer that I had no problem sleeping or need to mask it. Wouldn’t that indicate that it is at least an internal/external combination? Just that we’re able to hear it when the great majority can’t shows something within us is different, but that the hum changes in different locations and in different seasons and even at different times of the day points to an external component, too. I had to help an elderly gentleman who lives in my development last week. It took a minute to drive there. This is a former Air Force base that was converted into residential condos so the houses are similarly constructed. I was there for two hours and didn’t hear the hum. I got back to my house and as soon as I walked in the door it was ridiculously loud – it was booming! (Yet, others don’t hear it.) It’s got to be something in the environment AND something gone wrong inside of me, not one or the other, in my humble opinion. Anyway, thanks again for everything you’re doing. It is greatly appreciated!

  3. Martin Hunt says:

    4am in Brno; city noise has died down. The hum that I hear here is 78 hz. I hear the tone sychronization mismatch “bouncing” most clearly at 73 hz and 83 hz. Samsung S4 with Bose QuietComfort 25 headphones with http://www.szynalski.com/tone-generator/ tone generator using a sine wave. The triangle wave seems to match at a very different frequency, so I’ll stick to he sine wave, which seems a fair tonal match. The noise cancelling headphones make the hum much easier to hear, which might be very useful for this kind of field case study. With noise cancellation switched on, there’s no difference to the hum to my ears except volume. The A/C and the fridge here mask the hum nearly completely when they kick in, but the hum is loud and clear when I turn on the active noise cancellation. Noise cancelling headphones suggest that the sound is internal like tinnitus, not an external sound. If it were external, the NC should remove it. I want to try an experiment where I play the tone generator on a speaker, then turn on NC. Does the active NC then remove the “hum” from the speaker, while leaving the real hum intact? If nothing else, I discovered one thing: how to make the hum louder!

  4. J.O. says:

    So, a question to Glen on the trip to Russia. If it took four days for the hum to become apparent on your trip, how does that jive with your hypothesis that the hum is “internally” generated? If this is some sort of tinnitus, wouldn’t it be present at all times (minus the day on an airplane)? And so if it externally generated…what caused the lag in perception?
    I’d sure be interested in hearing about other people’s travel experiences to see if this lag is common.

    • My experience matches closely with the research literature. Specifically, Frosch (2013) hypothesizes that the Hum and otoacoustic emissions may arise out of the same mechanism precisely because both are disrupted by air travel. Here is a link to the abstract: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/287233208_Hum_and_otoacoustic_emissions_may_arise_out_of_the_same_mechanisms

      Rapid and repeated changes in air pressure, in addition to high volume levels and vibrations, may be at work.

      You can find full text for that article without too much trouble.

      Many other people have reported the same effect.

      • George G. says:

        If I can suggest a simulation to aircraft travel here please.

        Try closing your nostrils and mouth and gently blowing as you would to make your ears pop.

        Sustain this action for a second or two—does the Hum suddenly
        increase in volume?

        If the answer is yes, does the Hum appear predominantly from one direction?

        If the answer is yes, then that side of your head (middle ear) is where
        the fault (damage) is.

        Please try it, even just to humour me.


      • I, of course, urge caution with this. It is possible to hurt your ears when doing this.

      • Lisa Allen says:

        J.O. – I’ve had that experience too of not hearing the hum for a few days after flying. That happened two times.

        George – When you do that experiment, do your ears actually have to pop? My ear doctor told me to do this to unclog my ears so I would no longer have ear pain when flying.

      • J.O. says:

        Thanks on the responses about the delay of hearing the hum after flying. I find this interesting.
        On the ear popping thing, scuba divers do this often during dives to equalize pressure when diving. In fact, without doing it one could not get more than 6-7 meters deep without excessive pain from pressure in the ear canal. It’s perfectly safe, just don’t do it too hard.

  5. George G. says:

    Yes, I concur Glen.

    If a recent ear infection or injury has been suffered the ear-popping method
    will cause pain and possible further injury.

    • George G. says:

      Yes Lisa,

      They pop first and immediately after the Hum is accentuated, even on a
      quite or no Hum day.

      Please keep in mind that only gentle but sustained pressure is required.

      Once pressure is released the Hum diminishes.

  6. Peter says:

    Most (probably all) of Europe is 50Hz, if it’s related, wouldn’t it be already clear from the data gathered?

  7. George G says:

    Oh, by the way Lisa, your doctor is ‘spot on’.

    Way back in the old days of commercial flights, air hostesses would serve chewing gum to passengers during climb and descent specifically to ease the discomfort of rapid air pressure variations.

  8. Lisa Allen says:

    Yes, I’ve heard chewing gum is supposed to help. I have to take a Sudafed (a decongestant) and Afrin nasal spray otherwise the ear pain is unbearable.

  9. Brenda says:

    Glen, please take a recording device with you on your travels. There are many affordable pocket size models out there. By making recordings you could objectively compare the Hum levels at different locations, by which you could either confirm or dismiss the ‘flying effect” and meanwhile build a little personal database.

    • I use a Zoom H4 N Pro for my recordings. As I’ve written a number of times previously, I don’t think the Hum has ever been recorded. Without a doubt, hundreds of different “hums” have been recorded, and people send those recordings to me all the time. What you call the “flying effect” is a well-established artefact of the Hum phenomenon and, intriguingly, in Otoacoustic Emissions.

      • Brenda says:

        Why do you think there is a difference between THE Hum and the hums people have sent to you?
        I didn’t want to dismiss the flying effect in itself (I’m aware of its recognition in the audiology field), I thought it just would be interesting to verify that the Hum is present right after landing but your perception of it is temporarily suppressed.

      • Well, basic logic leads me to several conclusions. In my own case, wherever I have travelled, I perceive the Hum at around 56.5 Hz. So, obviously, what I hear (or perceive hearing) cannot be caused by a specific acoustic source. There is also the possibility, which I’ve speculated about previously, is that there is a power threshold of low-frequency sound and infrasound that can accumulate from a number of different sources and present at the same perceived frequency. For example, it could be that near Kenora, Ontario, even out in the middle of the Lake of the Woods, there is a sufficient amount of sub-audible train activity, mining, distant freeways, and so on, that altogether can activate my auditory system, which reports a generic frequency, just as it does here, where the low-frequency and infrasonic sources may be different. I’ll say here as I’ve said before, that I don’t think this is very likely. Whenever a low-frequency disturbance can be recorded, the job then changes to finding out what its source is. This is what Colin Novak did in the famous “Windsor Hum” case. I am interested in separating out classic anthropogenic sounds from the Hum, and then pinpointing the source of the generic, worldwide Hum that my project maps and studies.

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