It didn’t sound like it used to. He was sitting back in his chair, listening to the sounds of Dvorak’s second symphony, intermingled with the sound of the needle wending its way through the valleys in the vinyl, the soft hiss of the speakers and the thousand subtle sounds of his surrounds. It was off, he could tell. Only by the smallest of margins, only by the smallest possibly noticeable amount, but it was off. It troubled him. As the days and weeks wore on, he found the increment increasing, each time he listened to a composition, it was further off than before. It started to effect his work – how could he compose a symphony of his own, when those of the grand-masters didn’t even sound right? Finally, he went to his doctor, who, examining him, could find nothing wrong. “Maybe it’s just age” he proffered. A second and third opinion were similarly unhelpful and his hearing continued to fail. He began to spend time in anechoic chambers – rooms so quiet that he could hear the blood flowing in his veins, to rest his weary ears. He would sit there for hours before switching on his music, but it only made the problem more noticeable. He began to struggle to even differentiate the notes, conversations became muffled dins, like he was eavesdropping from the other side of a door. In desperation, he began to travel the world.
In China, he drank a tea of ground beetles and mysterious herbs. In Tibet, he had his fingertips punctured with thorns while he stood on hot rocks. In Mongolia, he watched his interpreter explain his problem to the wizened old man in the Yurt, the dialogue as intelligible as the murmur of a brook – and was given a spicy soup which he was lead to understand contained unmentionable parts of a horse. In Germany, a large man with an even larger moustache yelled into his ears for 5 hours straight, which sounded like the buzzing of a bee. In Sweden, his head was immersed in a customised sauna, before being dumped into a bucket of ice-cold snow-melt, the splash sounding like a gentle summer’s breeze. The bushmen of the Kalahari fed him the most enormous ants he had ever seen. In Arizona, he spent the night in a cave carefully filled with thousands of crystals by a woman with enormous beads around her neck. It was quieter even than the anechoic chamber, for now he couldn’t even hear his blood anymore. In Argentina, he stood at the highest peak of the Andes, and willed the crisp, clean air to work some mountain magic. Then he fell to his knees and prayed in the snow. Silence, the only answer. Then he screamed to Beethoven, begging him for empathy, his inaudible anguish echoing invisibly on the rocks. Then he wept. His silent journey home accompanied by despair, he floated, broken and disconnected, into his doctor’s office and stared, mute, as he was examined. He watched his doctor sit, and read his silent lips. “When was the last time” he asked, “you used one of these?” He held up a cotton-bud and smiled.