Mindscapes: The first recording of hallucinated music


“It’s like having my own internal iPod,” says Sylvia. While she goes about her daily life she hears music. It may sound to her as if a radio is playing, but it is entirely in her own head.

Sylvia calls the hallucinations a nuisance, but they can be turned off, which has allowed researchers to work out what might cause them. The discovery paves the way for new treatments and hints at the cause of more common hallucinations, such as those associated with schizophrenia.

Eleven years ago, Sylvia experienced sudden, acute hearing loss. About a year later, she began to hear the constant repetition of two notes. Gradually these built into musical phrases and, over time, into full melodies. “They sound like a cross between a wind instrument and a bell,” she says.

Sylvia is a musician with perfect pitch so she was able to write down these tunes and record their development. Sometimes they sound like familiar songs. Others resemble passages from classical tunes and some are novel, short melodies.

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