Working to the fullest
It’s been many years since the music-therapy project Tinnitrana Orchestra started. I was working on incidental music for a theater production called “Prorok Ilja”, a wonderful play by Polish dramatist Tadeusz Słobodzianek. It’s a great story about a historical figure called Eliasz Klimowicz, an illiterate peasant from the Polish-Belarussian borderland who was declared Messiah in the 1930s.
I remember working very hard as always. I had a really wonderful task ahead of me and huge creative freedom. I distinctly remember the moment when I realized that something was wrong with me.
A whistling noise
I was finishing the last sound mixes in my recording studio. It was late at night when I noticed that, for some unknown reason, there was a buzzing sound in my speakers. It was only a few hours till the deadline. A bad situation for a studio producer.
I plugged in the analyzers to better detect the disturbing frequencies and to change their spectrum. To my complete astonishment, all the analyzers indicated a total silence. I didn’t get it. I could clearly hear the constant buzz and humming and even a gentle whistling sound from my monitors, but the machines adamantly claimed the opposite.
Searching for the cause
I closed the unfinished session and began to switch off all studio devices, all computers, the laptop and the mixing console. I unplugged all the instruments in the recording room one by one. I pulled out all the cables that I came across. I switched off and unplugged all the listening monitors in the control room. However, the buzzing wouldn’t stop, it was constant. I checked it all one more time, but to no avail. I disconnected all of the last possible sources of sound, and in the end I even switched off all the lights.
To make absolutely sure that there couldn’t be anything running in the room, I stormed out to switch off the main circuit breakers. I came back to the studio and sat down in my producer’s chair. Alone, in total darkness, amidst the mess of cables and switched off devices, I still perceived the buzzing and gentle whistling.
It's in my head
I was terrified. Slowly, I came to admit to myself that there was a dreadfully constant noise inside my head. I wondered how it could be possible. I thought about it for a long time, until I finally and mercifully fell asleep in my chair.
Next morning I had a lot of work to do. I considered my experience of the previous night to have been only an episode of a tired and overworked man. I had a headache, but I didn’t attach much importance to that. I had been tired and overworked for a long time, so having a headache didn’t surprise me.
The turning point came when I put on my closed headphones to check the new mixes. To my dismay, the noise was there again! The terrible constant buzzing and whistling, now enriched with crunching and cracking sounds.
A permanent issue
I was devastated, but I needed to finish all my work. I got through it mechanically but successfully. I thought I just needed some sleep and relaxation and everything would be fine again and the noise would disappear. “It has to.” But it didn’t disappear.
In retrospect, I can see that something was wrong with me for some time already. I just hadn't realized it and wasn't able to put a name to it. The buzz didn’t subside even after a month of more moderate work.
The worst thing about it all was trying to go to sleep and then suddenly waking up in the middle of the night unable to fall asleep again. I kept waking up.
Actually, at the time, I hardly slept at all. I would stare at the ceiling, trying to ignore the noise, trying to keep my mind blank and just fall asleep. But as you can imagine, the harder you try, the worse it gets. Every morning I was even more tired than the day before. My only chance was to look for help.
I hadn’t been to my doctor for more than ten years. I hadn’t had the time for it and, besides some colds, I was mostly fine. After a thorough examination, my doctor told me I was completely healthy. So I described my situation to him again together with the symptoms I had. He declared there was nothing wrong with me and suggested I should try a psychiatrist. I felt a bit offended. However, I eventually persuaded him to recommend me an ear specialist.
I made an appointment with an audiologist and sat down to compose a track that would imitate the noise in my head to avoid abstract explanations of the symptoms such as “analogue radio a bit out of tune, a slightly turned phase or white noise and a high-frequency whistling.”
Armed with my mastering headphones and an iPhone, I presented what I was hearing to the specialist. The doctor nodded his head and ran some test on me. He declared that my hearing was one of the best he had ever measured in his office. Then he listened to my track again, frowned and uttered a word that I heard for the first time in my life: “Tinnitus.”
This visit was followed by a year-long ordeal. I underwent all possible therapies. I tried the very scientific ones like lasers, magnet therapy and medicaments, I explored offers of physiotherapy, acupressure, acupuncture and homeopathy, all the way to some really creepy pseudo-scientific methods that I’d rather not mention. Looking back, it all seems funny now, but at the time I would have tried anything that promised to help me, no matter how absurd it would seem. However, it was all in vain.
Things were getting worse and worse
My lack of sleep was starting to seriously impact my health. I even collapsed a couple of times. I would see flashing lights in front of my eyes several times a day. I knew I had to solve the problem really fast, before something really bad would happen. I knew that first of all I needed to relax in order to gain strength, but I had absolutely no idea how to do that. Both classic and alternative medicine methods had failed me. So what should I do?
The turning point
I was working on a sound post-production for a natural science documentary. Sitting on my studio sofa with headphones on my head, I was editing an audio recording of the natural sounds of some location. As I was working, and even though it was just late afternoon, I suddenly started to feel very sleepy, sleepy like I hadn’t felt for the last year. I fell asleep. I fell into a deep and beautiful sleep. The next early morning I felt completely reborn. I discovered I had been listening to a loop of the sound I had edited all night long. It was a four- or five-minute recording of a small gurgling brook flowing over rocks with the sound of a waterfall and rain in the background.
The therapeutic power of sound
The very same day I made four similar and much longer tracks. I picked out individual sound details, quickly building organic compositions, my first tinnitus sound maskers. I listened to one of them in the evening and again slept very well. I also slept well the following night and the night after that, too.
Back to life
With my energy increasing, I was able to start working normally again. I made music for advertisements and stage plays, I produced albums for bands, I worked for TV as a music director and designed sounds for iOS applications.
Sharing tinnitus maskers
Even though I felt much better, I was still undergoing several rather unhelpful healing procedures. I also participated in many discussions on internet forums and in groups for people with tinnitus, looking for advice and sharing my experience. One time I communicated with an older Australian man who was suffering from acute insomnia due to his tinnitus. He was desperate and I wanted to support him, so I told him he could use one of my recordings, which I would use over and over. I didn’t even wait for his answer and sent him an mp3 of the masker right away.
The next day I received a thank-you email from him saying that he had had his first proper sleep in a long time. He asked me for my contact details to buy/order my therapies. I was very surprised and pleased at the same time. I replied that, although I was a composer and producer, I made the tracks just for myself and they were nowhere to be purchased. I did, however, send him all the tracks I had at the time.
During the following half a year, I would often experience similar stories. I would communicate with tinnitus sufferers and send them the few minutes of natural sounds I had created. I was happy to read about how much the recordings had helped them.
Do things that make sense
All this was happening while I was working on an iPad application used for the development of motoric, visual and mental abilities of prematurely born children with a handicap. The application is called Eda Play, and it is also a fundraising tool for the non-profit organization that works with these children.
Sound has an important motivational role in the application. Sound is the key component that makes the application functional and amusing at the same time. Being interested in sound design, I had to study many specialized materials and discuss my creative concepts with many professionals before actually implementing them in Eda Play.
The result was astonishing. During the tests I witnessed a lot of joyful situations when it was obvious that Eda Play really worked. I saw parents touched by the reactions of their children. I saw handicapped children whooping over the tablet as they fulfilled every task given to them. We were all sure that we had done something extraordinary. I was becoming more and more aware of the power and potency of my sound.
My experience with Eda Play and the ever-growing group of people who used my maskers brought me to a major life decision. One day, I refused a commission for yet more Shakespeare music because I realized that crafting music which helped people made much more sense to me. I decided to produce recordings which would improve the lives of people who, like me, suffered from tinnitus. I decided that the recordings which I intended to start producing would be utterly unique as to their concept, the choice of sounds, and their sound design.
I started to communicate intensely with doctors and therapists who dealt with tinnitus. I read hundreds of books, scientific articles, contributions of individual doctors and professional organizations. I went through dozens of case studies of tinnitus patients and continued communicating with tinnitus sufferers on discussion forums all over the world, asking about their experiences and needs.
Whenever I acquired a sum of new knowledge, I consulted everything with doctors, over and over again. After a year of intense work, I developed methods that seemed the most effective based on my research and experience and tested them on an anonymous sample of about 300 people. The results were exceptional, and I knew I was on the right track.
I wrote a manual – a code of ethics – which precisely defined the rules of each therapy. The manual would be binding for all co-workers who would participate in the recording of albums in the future.
I founded and funded a publishing label, a brand for which I gradually started to approach the best music therapists and musicians, a brand under which my team and I started to produce recordings: Tinnitrana Orchestra.
A completely new life
My decision to radically change the direction of my focus helped me escape from the world of advertising and artiness into a new, more authentic, beautiful and adventurous space, to a brand new world where I feel really happy, where my work truly fulfills me.
By the way, we were awarded first prize for Eda Play for the best publicly beneficial advertising project in the Czech Republic. Although it made me happy, working within Tinnitrana Orchestra brings me much more fulfillment than receiving advertising awards.
The most important fact for me is that after eight years from the moment I first noticed the symptoms of tinnitus, I have been able to cope with the disease and build a brand which can help people all around the world. Besides the management of tinnitus, Tinnitrana Orchestra albums are also suitable for individuals who have decided to take care of their physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being, and for those who have decided to work on their personal development to improve their quality of life.
The facts, experiences and reasons that led to the foundation of Tinnitrana Orchestra – a sound-therapy treatment that may help people diagnosed with tinnitus overcome their symptoms on daily basis.
Music Producer / Founder of Tinnitrana Orchestra