The Genesis of Crescendo



So where did Crescendo come from?

It was 1999, and just a few months before our first test launch of the EKV payload – a big eye, a brain, and a rocket motor. No warhead needed since we slam into the soft underbelly of incoming nuclear warheads at mind-boggling speeds, and simply smash both of us to pieces… or maybe set it off…

But when first acquiring our warhead targets we are so distant from them that they look just like stars to our sensor. We needed to know about what actual stars might be lurking in the background of our test scene, so we could avoid chasing after them instead of a real target.

And who better to seek out that answer than an Astronomer? Me.

So I embarked on The Northern Sky Survey, mapping the sky longward of 700 nm wavelength (near IR). At first I was charged with mapping in 1 degree square sections of selected areas. But as we got closer to launch it became apparent that our guidance system was sloppier than intended, and so I needed to widen our search areas.

By the time I finished the survey, we were mapping 5 deg square regions of the sky. And with a sensor that can barely see 1 deg square, that means each survey region needed a 5×5 mosaic of images, 25 in all for each of a dozen regions.

That takes a huge effort from a lone Astronomer. I’d be up all night long imaging the target regions, then spend all day long reducing hundreds of megabytes of image data, getting a mere 1 hour of sleep per day, over a period of 3 solid months.

By the time I finished and handed in the survey, I had a headache that you wouldn’t believe. Over the next few days it became so bad that I had to go to the emergency room, get a spinal tap for analysis, and take 2 injections of Morphine to allay the pain.

At first they thought it was Viral Meningitis – a garbage diagnosis for when they don’t know what else to say. That typically lasts about a week and then dissipates. If it were bacterial meningitis, then I wouldn’t survive more than a week. But it dragged on for 3 solid months. While it didn’t quite kill me, everyone was worried that it might, and nobody knew what it was. Three solid months of nothing but Hydrocodone and sleeping while sitting up. I was a zombie for real.

Then one day it dissipated as rapidly as it had appeared. And there was zero dependency on the Hydrocodone thereafter.

I think it was really a re-expression of my childhood polio, much like shingles is a re-expression of childhood chickenpox. But that is too radical for most doctors to contemplate. Besides, most of them have never seen a case of polio. I was among the last victims in the early 1950’s.

But regardless, it was obviously a case that my immune system had been depressed by all the work and abuse of my sleep schedule.

… and then I noticed that I couldn’t understand my wife, Helene, very well whenever she spoke to me. I kept asking “what?”.  So we decided that I should go get my hearing checked. And when I did, the audiology showed a whopping 60-70 dB of threshold elevation in my treble range. I was shocked!

But the audiology has all the hallmarks of sensioneural hearing loss – like that which you get from attending too many rock concerts and standing as close to the stage as you can. Or from riding your Harley, with special muffler mods, without ear protection. Or from getting a job as a baggage handler at the airport without wearing your ear protection.

Nobody really knows how or why my hearing became impaired like that. Drugs? Illness? Maybe I had already damaged my ears from all my prior motorcycle riding and the illness just allowed the damage to blossom more fully? Who knows?

But I started noticing that all my compositions were ending up in the basement registers below middle-C. I couldn’t hear much above C5, an octave above middle-C.

Between the shocking audiology and my musical hearing loss, it seemed time to get hearing aids. And at first they were a real help, at least for talking with Helene. But I noticed that music didn’t sound right with my hearing aids. And there seemed to be nothing anyone could do about it.

Now heck, with my technical background, my computer and signal processing expertise, my musical background, my physics background and my solid understanding of sound, and my tenacious spirit, I decided that, who better to seek and find an answer to the problem of restoring musical hearing, than me? If anyone could find the answer, it would surely be me. It was a perfect storm of capability and need coming together.

It seems that the Universe has a way of kicking me in the ass every so often. But I haven’t been one to ever give up. First with the polio, making me everybody’s last choice for all the baseball teams. Then with the hearing.

But I always try to make lemonade out of lemons. And I have had plenty of practice doing that. So here goes…

Now, 16 years later, I am satisfied that I found the answers needed. It was a huge amount of work. Probably more than on any other project for me. But I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams! I hear more acutely now, with my damaged hearing and my Crescendo, than I ever heard before.

  • DM



Author: dbmcclain

Astrophysicist, spook, musician, Lisp aficionado, deaf guy

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