Man says he's a divining rod for mysterious Alberta hum

Dana Negrey says he's bothered by a constant low-frequency hum that sounds like an idling engine in his ears, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Dana Negrey moved cities and still hears low-frequency hum — fuelling his efforts to find the source

Dana Negrey shows off the Faraday cage he built to help rule out electromagnetic sources behind the hum he hears in Alberta. He tested it with a radio to see if it works. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

Dana Negrey jokes he's determined to enjoy a moment of peace before he dies.

One that is free of the low-frequency rumble bombarding his eardrums 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and void of the whirling fans, sleep headphones and other types of white noise he uses to drown out the mysterious hum he first discovered in 2008 when living in the northwest Calgary community of Ranchlands.

He even continues to be hounded by the sound at his home in Edmonton, where he has lived since 2012.

Negrey said he's often asked what it sounds like by people who can't hear the hum, sometimes while they are standing right next to him.

"It sounds like a locomotive diesel engine idling in the distance … sometimes it's so loud it actually will drive me out of the house or room that I'm in," said Negrey.

CBC News first spoke to Negrey back in 2009 when he and others tried to uncover the source of the Ranchlands hum. But despite recordings done in the neighbourhood, nearby construction sites, a C-Train power station, and even a rail yard, nothing matched the 40-hertz tone being picked up by audio recordings in Negrey's and others' homes in the community.

And after a few years, the search kind of petered out, until Negrey moved to Edmonton in 2012.

"I thought, 'oh for goodness sakes, here we go again.'"

Dana Negrey does voiceover work from his home studio in Edmonton. He can still hear a mysterious hum since moving from Calgary. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

Divining rod

Negrey started digging into the hum phenomenon 10 years ago when he first noticed it in Calgary. He worked with the local community association, an acoustic engineer and a noise expert. Together they would analyze recordings in order to try to pinpoint a source.

One of the homes they investigated was Terry Avramenko's.

We're kind of grabbing at straws here.- Richard Patching, audio engineer

 Avramenko still lives in Ranchlands. And he still hears that hum.

"The other day I was in the basement just standing there and all of a sudden I went, 'oh yeah there is the noise.' So for myself I can hear it but also because the frequency is so low you actually feel it," said Avramenko, who describes it as an idling transport truck.

He recalls once trekking through the neighbourhood with Negrey, following the source of the hum until at one point it just dropped off. He and his wife have just come to accept the noise, although they would like to know what's causing it.

Terry Avramenko says he and his wife still hear the Ranchlands hum but are no closer to understanding where it comes from. (Submitted by Terry Avramenko)

In 2012, the investigation into the Ranchlands hum trailed off when Negrey got a job in Edmonton.

He said when he packed up his family and left, he believed he'd be leaving the hum behind. But he said it didn't take long before his ears picked up a similar disturbance in his new home.

"And that's when my suspicions popped up … I'm convinced this is far beyond what Ranchlands is experiencing."

Negrey said he's heard the same low-frequency hum in Lethbridge and St. Paul, Alta.

The only place he hasn't heard it is at the top of the Bald Hills Trail in Jasper National Park.

His wife doesn't hear it but feels the hum's vibrations.

And they've both noticed the mysterious phenomenon intensifying over time.

Acoustic engineer Richard Patching says progress has been slow in trying to locate the source of a hum, or hums, that are disturbing some Albertans. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

"When we were in Calgary every so often she'd say 'I'm feeling a bit of a vibration' and I'd say 'isn't that something, cause I'm hearing the hum really loudly,' whereas here she will sit down at the dining room table and she'll say 'my goodness I can't even sit here. The vibration is so bad.'"

Negrey said some people hear it, and some people don't.

But he said he feels better knowing the hum has been recorded by an acoustic engineer in both of his homes. 

Here's a sample of the recordings taken in Edmonton and in Ranchlands, respectively. Each are about 20 seconds long.

Raw audio of the humming sound. 0:40

Negrey said the samples rule out an inner-ear issue, or, as some have suggested, that it's all in his head.

And for whatever reason, whether it's environmental damage, age or genetics, he said he is more sensitive to low-frequency sounds.

"I'm very much like a human divining rod, whether it's a blessing or a curse, I don't know."

'Undercover' investigation

Negrey and acoustic engineer Richard Patching say they have no idea what's causing the hum, or possibly hums, nor whether it's being caused by one thing or a combination of things.

"We're kind of grabbing at straws here," said Patching.

One of those straws involves the construction of a Faraday cage. It's an enclosure that blocks out electromagnetic radiation, such as radiowaves, Wi-Fi and cellular signals, and static electricity.

The idea is if Negrey can still hear the hum when he's inside the cage, then that would rule out those sources.  And if it blocked out the hum, then it could also be used as a preventative tool.

Negrey wanted his steel box to be cost effective and portable so he built his Faraday cage out of wood. He then wrapped it in chicken wire. It is about three feet wide by two feet long and four feet high. He then had to find a way to ground it.

Dana Negrey isn't sure if the Faraday cage he built out of wood and chicken wire actually works. He could still hear the hum when he sat inside it. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

Negrey said he was nervous to test it out. But eventually he did, while it was in his garage.

"So I hopped in and I heard the hum. And so we, both Richard and I said 'oh, darn it.'

"And then I said, 'Richard are are we sure that this Faraday cage works?'"

Negrey and Patching say before they rule out anything they want to make sure they have built a proper cage.

Negrey also put in a battery-operated radio to see if it would work. And it did. He said that means the cage is letting in radiowaves.

So they are now doing further testing on the Faraday cage. They are thinking of swapping out the chicken wire for better aluminum wire.

Possible explanations

The problem with their investigation, they say, is that it's part-time and voluntary so any real progress is taking longer than they'd like.

But over time they've developed some hypotheses.

Negrey believes it's man-made, either mechanical or electrical, and came online in Alberta in 2008. He also believes it's a combination of energy sources or noises that's creating the hum.

"Whatever it is it's definitely increasing in scope and definitely continuing to be frustrating to deal with," said Negrey.

In the meantime they don't want to rule out any good ideas, but Patching said some of the ones people have sent him are out there, including solar flares hitting the Great Pyramids in Egypt and police surveillance satellites hovering over their house.

Patching said, for one, satellites don't hover.

Dana Negrey tests whether a radio will work while inside the Faraday cage he built. If working properly, it should block out radiowaves. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

Negrey said he too isn't open to fantastical explanations.

"Like people saying it's aliens or some sort of thing like that, that's absurd."

Once their cage is properly built and tested they plan to take it to different locations throughout Alberta to see whether the hums Negrey hears elsewhere are similar.

They also plan to eventually offer to test the homes of others bothered by a hum so they can generate a bigger map to help pinpoint a potential source, or sources. And then, maybe then they could find a way to shield themselves from it, or stop it altogether.

"I cannot continue to live a life … having to deal with a hum that somehow has appeared because somebody has installed something somewhere and if I'm any indication, and the responses we've had, it's affecting a number of Canadians."

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