Thursday, November 26, 2015

Tiinnitus and Tintinnabulation

Acquired by Henry Walters, 1922
Tinnitus is a ringing in the ear and when it’s chronic, it can be quite annoying, particularly when it seems like it’s never going to stop. Tintinnabulation also refers to a sound but in this case it’s the ringing of bells. Both words derive from the Latin tinnire, to ring. The ringing of bells is a little like perpetual motion. Though it comes and it goes, usually ending with a Doppler like effect as the last swinging barely strikes a chord, it conveys a wave like feeling, that church goers associate with the sound of eternity. Ringing in the ears or tinnitus, on the other hand, when it’s not a source of torment, is a little like the sound of the sea that you hear when you put a shell to your ears. The sound is not that of waves crashing, but simply of the general subterranean firmament that's a counterpart to the vastness and power exerted by celestial bodies. You've heard of solar flares and sun storms. In the movie The Conversation the saxophonist and private eye Gene Hackman turns up the volume to overhear criminals converse. Imagine turning down the volume on this enormous and ongoing roar of power to the point where it was digestible to the human ear and you’d probably get something that sounds a little bit like the inside of a shell. "Ring My Bell" was a disco era song sung by Anita Ward and the bell rings when a round of boxing is to begin. But while the subject is love or fisticuffs, it doesn’t convey the majesty of either the world in a shell or of the ringing of church bells that you hear on a Sunday morning on the Janiculum, one of the hills overlooking Rome. Here is a line from Brendan Behan’s The Hostage, “The bells of hell go ting-a-ling for you but not for me... Oh! death where is they sting-a-ling. Oh! grave thy victory.”And then there’s of course “Ding dong the witch is dead" from The Wizard of Oz. And don’t forget that bell tower in Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

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