.. brand-new in-balance ears on that very same night – and not just any mix, but a headphone mix.
Now, every recording engineer will tell you that headphone mixes can be very dangerous, especially over a prolonged period. As you and your ears get more tired the volume tends to edge up to compensate and if you don’t take a rest you’ll eventually end up with the volume at a potentially damaging level. But, as in this case, if a satisfactory mix proves elusive you might stay glued to the headphones desperately trying to nail it, instead of sensibly giving it away for the night and leaving it till the following day.
Which is exactly what happened.
The next evening Spectrum was playing at the Echuca Winter Blues Festival and it was when I took a phone call while we were waiting to play our opening gig at Nik’s Tavern that I realised something was seriously amiss with my right ear.
At first I thought it was my phone. The sound of the voice on the other end was thin and reedy, a bit like what you might expect from a phone really but much thinner and much reedier. I switched ears. It sounded normal. I was horrified, but it only got worse because the gig seemed to provoke my right ear even further and everything sounded foreign and distorted.
And that’s the way it’s been ever since. I’ve become used to it but it’s extremely tiresome – and it’s only getting worse. Even my solo gigs now provoke a tinnitus response that goes on for the best part of a week and the tinnitus is so severe it’s occasionally overriding normal conversational speech.
Some of you might be wondering what this ‘tinnitus’ business is exactly. I suspect that every tinnitus sufferer would give you a different and personalised description, but in my case it manifests mostly, but not exclusively, in my right ear – or appears to, because the ear is incapable of manufacturing sound, so it’s really a product of the brain.
There are several strands of very high pitched discordant ‘ringing’ sounds that play incessantly in my head like several Moog synthesisers on a feedback loop. They’re there all the time and the volume fluctuates according to provocation by a sudden loud sounds or persistent low-level noise (like driving my van for instance) or simply tiredness. As a matter of fact, I’ve got it now.
As an after-effect of a gig I also suffer from a mid and low-mid frequency ‘roaring’ sound, much like the throb of the engines on the Tassie ferry and the uncomfortable feeling that I’ve got a sock in my ear. This is actually more disconcerting than the ringing but over the course of a week it gradually dissipates – well, it has up till now.
Well surely, I (just) hear you say, you could do something about that, even if it’s wearing ear plugs at gigs?
I have experimented with ear plugs, but even employing just the one ear plug for my right ear I find the normal commercially-available ear plugs far too crude, reducing the stage sound to a dull rumble. It’s so indistinct that I actually have difficulty pitching my vocals rendering the whole experience quite joyless and unsatisfactory.
So then, what’s the point? My raison d'être is that I do this music thing simply because I enjoy it, (I’ve never really cared much about the fame or the money), but if the experience is actually painful with debilitating consequences lasting for a week or more then I should seriously question whether it’s worth it.
As part of a two-pronged response I’m currently waiting for some specialised ear plugs to arrive from Queensland. Designed especially for musicians they’re meant to reduce the amplified sound evenly by up to 15db, which should mean I can play a standard gig with little or no repercussions from tinnitus. It’ll be interesting to see if I can adapt to the different perception of the band’s sound, but I am hopeful they will help extend my career playing live electric music in the public arena.
The second prong is the hearing aid, which will, I hope, keep my ears and brain in touch with normal social discourse. And maybe hear the telly without upsetting the neighbours.

The other day my partner and I listlessly cruised into Camberwell and decided to break with routine and have lunch there. We’d sampled some dumplings at the Casino on the night of the Myeloma Masters of Rock concert and thought we should try and find some in Camberwell. Adam had mentioned a Chinese restaurant up Burke Rd at the northern end of the Junction so we wandered up the hill until we saw a likely looking Chinese restaurant called Tea House on Burke. I thought I remembered a place in Chapel St called the Tea House* where I’d sampled a plethora of interesting dumplings, so we ventured in.
We were whisked to a table and had napkins placed on our laps by an unctuous waiter before we realised this must’ve been the wrong place, because there were only two variants of dumplings on the rather uninspired menu, but by this time we judged it too late to make an inconspicuous exit and felt we had to make the best of an indifferent situation.
Fortunately it wasn’t an overly expensive exercise but it was nevertheless a waste of our time not to mention our taste buds. As we were leaving Maria looked up Burke Rd to our left – and saw a sign on the restaurant NEXT DOOR proclaiming itself the dumpling capital of the fucking Universe. As Maxwell Smart himself might’ve said, ‘Missed by that much!’

*Actually Oriental Tea House