ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Now, the buzz in Auckland, New Zealand. Or to be more accurate, what's humming there. It turns out that some people in Auckland hear a sound, and it's a big enough problem that Tom Moir, an engineering professor at Massey University in Auckland, was called in to study it. And he now joins us from New Zealand.
Welcome to the program, Professor Moir.
Professor TOM MOIR (Massey University): Hello.
SIEGEL: Tell us about your involvement in investigating the Auckland hum.
Professor MOIR: Well, there was a lady who rang the university. She was very frustrated because there was an annoying humming noise in her house and nobody could figure out where it was coming from. And hence, we got involved.
SIEGEL: Did you go to the house and take a listen for yourself?
Professor MOIR: Yeah. We initially just went and, of course, couldn't hear a thing. But she said well, of course, you'll hear it better at nighttime. So we went back at night with recording equipment. I mean, I didn't come up with anything. And it wasn't really until I put a thing in the local paper saying, you know, does anybody have this noise? Because I thought, you know, must be something wrong with the lady's ears really.
And when I put that thing in the local paper I was inundated with calls from people all over the north shore of Auckland saying that they had a humming noise.
SIEGEL: Well, eventually you were able to record this sound. And now we're going to play a bit of that recording. And I'll play this with apologies to our listeners who are driving in traffic perhaps or listening on a small radio, because you may not be able to hear it at all. But this is what it sounds like.
(Soundbite of humming)
SIEGEL: Even though the sound, as we're hearing it in the recording, we're hearing it much, much amplified. Even at one tenth this level, that could be pretty annoying to hear that all the time.
Professor MOIR: Well, it is very annoying for the people hearing the sound. It's not annoying for me. But for those people it drives them really up the wall. And some people have been trying to sell their houses, and they're on all sorts of tablets to keep them calm and it's really quite bad, really.
SIEGEL: Well, what is it? What's making the hum? Is it wind?
Professor MOIR: I don't think the full answer is that it's wind but it's something that's always there. And it seems to get louder when the barometer drops.
SIEGEL: Now we have read that there are other places on Earth, I believe Bristol in England and I believe somewhere in New Mexico, where people hear sounds like this. Do you know whether people hear such things, well, let's say in the wild where there isn't a great deal of construction or a lot of infrastructure under the ground?
Professor MOIR: Yes. One of the guys who rang me up from Auckland was from South Africa. He said he heard it for a long time and he always thought it was something to do with the mains -
SIEGEL: The mains being the electric currents, you're saying.
Professor MOIR: The electric means voltage, yes, we call it. But I mean a lot of people have wild theories that the mains, the electricity grid, if you'd like, does something to the air, it pulsates the air. But if that was the case it would be pulsating at 50 hats and 60 hats in the United States. And it doesn't seem to be.
SIEGEL: Tom Moir, I gather for you this is a professional detour. You were not busily studying strange sounds before this.
Professor MOIR: No, I have a day job, which I work on noise cancellation really, electrical noise cancellation. Sort of related, but I don't' normally go around recording strange noises in the night.
SIEGEL: And have you been contacted by the - I'll put it kindly - the Loch Ness Monster crowd that will have some other worldly explanation of the sound haunting Auckland, New Zealand?
Professor MOIR: You mustn't criticize the Loch Ness Monster.
SIEGEL: You are a transplanted Scotsman.
Professor MOIR: Yeah. She's good for the tourist industry, so I wouldn't knock the Loch Ness Monster.
SIEGEL: Well, perhaps the hum in Auckland will be good for tourism to New Zealand.
Professor MOIR: Yes, it might well be. You never know, we might get hum tourists in the future.
SIEGEL: That's Tom Moir in Auckland, New Zealand.